I can’t remember how I came across this journal article by Michele Dickey titled Engaging by Design: How engagement strategies in popular computer and video games can inform instructional design. It was published in 2005, so in technology years it is ancient. The author examines how the design of video games engage the player and how these design elements could be “integrated into both educational game design and the field of instructional design” (Dickey, 2005).

Through the course of this Games and Learning class, I have been trying to understand how video game design elements that are conducive to learning can be translated to a traditional educational environment. So far, I’ve had to cobble together what I think I understand from various sources. However, this article lays out ideas of what elements comprise engaged learning and the inherent game design elements that provide for an effective learning context.

Game Design to Instructional Design

Video games provide environments in which the player can actively explore. Players engage with the game by working toward goals through problem solving and trial and error (Dickey, 2005). Failure is a part of the experience. Taking risks is encouraged as the price for screwing up is low to none. Dickey discusses three ideas inherent to game design that could be implemented in the instructional design field are:

  • Player positioning, or point of view
  • Narrative
  • Interactive design

Point of View refers to the players position in a game for example, first-person, or third-person views. Players engage with, or in a sense, become a part of the environment (Dickey, 2005). This positioning can be translated to a classroom by shifting the focus, or control of education from the teacher to the student.

Narrative is described as a “means of reasoning and…of representation” (Dickey, 2005). Games can even provide the player with branching storylines where player choice affects the narrative and outcome of the game. Creating your own experiences within games is becoming more prevalent. Each player can have drastically different experiences with and perspectives of the same game. Players will discuss and compare these separate experiences outside of the game as well. Providing a context in which students can explore and learn can give them a reason to pursue the end goal of that narrative. A carrot on a stick, so to speak. Well, not a carrot. Carrots suck. How about a Snickers on a stick?

Interactive Design is the third element of game design that could be adapted to the classroom. This “element” is broken down by the author into various dimensions of interactivity: the physical, temporal, environmental, emotional, and ethical. These dimensions taken together describe the space where learning takes place and the players relationship to that space and the content it provides.

Designing instruction that gives learners the freedom and opportunity to explore the subject matter and experiment with their thought process, can not only help them learn, but help them learn how they learn. Being aware of how you learn and process information goes a long way to helping you learn more effectively. Most students are told how to learn, told how to think. That is counter-productive. We all need to be able to explore our environments in our own way and create our own experiences.


Dickey, M. D. (2005). Engaging by design: How engagement strategies in popular computer and video games can inform instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(2), 67-83.

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