Integrate Game Design into Elearning

Hacking Game Design: How To Integrate Game Design into Elearning (Includes Examples, etc.)

Before I jump head first into the main subject, I want to put this article in context. First of all, I am not a gamer. My interest in video games is *mostly* strategic. Most of the time…I follow the narrative,…consider the dialogue,…pay attention to the game mechanics,…and,…how the UI (or User Interface) is laid out.

And, what I like to do is analyze the game rules (or constraints) put into the game.

In other words, I try to see “success patterns” that greatly enhance engagement, and, how I can translate them to elearning.

With that said, I hope this article makes sense to you.

Branching conversation systems

For decades, video game designers have used scenarios and more specifically, branching conversation systems (also called, natural language interactions, dialogue systems, narrative designs, interactive storytelling, conversational games, conversational puzzles, conversational move, cognitive conflict, or conversation modeling.)

As you can tell by the sheer number of terms, conversations are a staple in modern video games.

So anyway, here are two absorbing video games that I think you should get into right away.

L.A. NOIRE — You are a detective completing cases—linear scenarios with set objectives—to progress through the story.

DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION — an action role-playing game where you take part in conversations with non-player characters (NPCs.)

La Noir and Deus Ex
Note: I found Deus EX tough to play simply for the sake of analysis; so I’ll share a super-valuable workaround with you (details below).

Now, both of these game make use of very impressive branching conversation systems.

Which translates to elearning design.

The heads up display style

A Heads Up Display, often called a HUD, provides a graphical overlay of information without requiring you to navigate, or look away.

This is the Heads Up Display (H-U-D) of LA Noire.
LA Noire’s gameplay includes sequence of branching conversation systems, similar to a sequence of questions in scenario-based elearning.
In LA Noire you’re interrogating suspects. Usually, deciding if the suspect is telling the truth, if they’re lying, or you simply doubt what they’re saying.

If you think about it… LA Noire is very similar to elearning for soft skills, albeit well-produced.

The future is bright for scenario-based elearning

A pillar of the Deus Ex gameplay is the social interaction.

In other words, your fate is decided by how good you are at conversation puzzles.

If you reverse engineer the gameplay, you can reduce it to a narrative structure and scenario questions in the form of conversations.

The simple hack that will help you skip gameplay

In many cases, you won’t have the patience to learn a game fully (when all you want to do is understand its mechanics and UI.)

And so, what do you do?

It’s very simple: After you’re familiar with a game, go to YouTube and type, “[game name] walkthrough”

For example, “la noire walkthrough” will bring up a video like this:

Watching a video game being played by someone else can allow you to focus on design analysis.

Simply put, this means… you don’t have to play the game to deconstruct it.

If you’ve got the gist of a game, why not consider what’s going on strategically instead of getting lost in the play?

Focus on how to translate game mechanics into learning mechanics.

Gameplay walkthroughs and a method to my madness

There’s another reason you may want to rely on gameplay walkthroughs.

What I like to do is “transfer” the game design to my elearning authoring tool.

I’ll take screen captures of the gameplay, and put them into Articulate Storyline. (This is a “sneaky” but ethical design trick.)

In your elearning authoring tool, attempt to reverse engineer the branching conversation system, or other relevant information like…
(1) The Story,…
(2) The Interactions, and,…
(3) The results of decisions.

Now, besides watching gameplay on YouTube, it would be wise to read the game documentation. (Most video games are documented online extensively, which makes research easy for everyone.)

For example, all the Deus Ex dialogue and social challenges have been mapped and shared. So you don’t need to play Deus Ex (hundreds and hundreds of times) to understand how it plays out.

A word about hacking game design

In all honesty, I believe what I have shared with you should complement the elearning you’re already working on.

I’ve learned the best idea is one that is your own, and, you just need iterate on it.

With that said, hack game design. Because you might improve the learning experience by borrowing a trick or two from a video game.


Would you like to get an e-mail from me with more hacks/tricks?

Every Monday, I send out an exclusive email with a strategy I’m using. It might include design tips, storytelling hacks, engagement strategies, and — of course — all sorts of creative ideas I get.

Try it out for a week! Unsubscribing is easy, and there’s great advice coming next Monday. Just submit your email in the opt in (or here) and you’re set.

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