Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

21 May 2007

Evaluating learning game design quality

Clark @ 8:50 AM

The quest has raged on and on: where’s the data on how effective games are? And the problem has continued: well, how do you evaluate the quality of the design of the game? Because, unless you feel confident the game is designed properly, you can’t decide whether a bad outcome (or even a good one) is due to the game, or something else. We have criteria for instructional design, but how can we compare?

I think this is an important issue that may be the biggest barrier we’ve had to trying to get the data people are demanding: real evaluations of games. There are other barriers: people doing evaluations but not wanting to publicize it as a competitive advantage, doing games but not evaluating them, but I’d argue that it’s hard to compare until you feel you’re comparing a well-designed game to a well-designed alternative. Clark Aldrich has done some good independent evaluation with Virtual Leader, and demonstrated improvements, but I’d like to see more on different scopes of games, in different domains, for a range of cognitive skills (and, as always, I’m not talking about tarted-up quiz show ‘frame games’ but meaningful cognitive decisions).

So, it occurred to me, the answer is in a framework for game design. Which, ahem, is what my whole book is based upon. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, frankly. And, before you accuse me of too much self-serving thinking, I do want to point out that I’ve been looking for other systematic frameworks for learning game design, and haven’t found them.

I’ve read Prensky, Aldrich, Gee, and now am on Shaffer, (and others, but these are the ones who’ve been writing specifically about learning games) and I see great stuff, but I haven’t seen what I can term a systematic design approach other than mine (again, I know how this sounds, but such a design approach was my very specific goal and opportunity). They all cover at least some elements of design, and I made an effort to review their approaches and make sure they didn’t have anything I didn’t at least explicitly consider.

And I’m happy to be wrong, but I have tried to be fairly exhaustive because I do care. And I’m sure there’s more richness that can be wrapped around what I’ve done (I’ve added some thoughts myself since the book came out), but I still think the core framework is sound and I’ve been looking at this for over 10 years (since my first article on the topic came out) and really more like 25 (when I first told my boss at DesignWare that we could be doing much more meaningful games than spelling drills).

So, what’s my point? I think that maybe what could be done and hasn’t been is to operationalize (a word I used to hate, but don’t have a better one to hand) my framework as an evaluation instrument as well as a design framework. It’s tough, because how do you evaluate how well the story integrated the decisions? Yet that’s what you have to come to grips with. It’s not something I can do in my copious spare time (independent, with children; what’s spare time?), but I think there’s an argument to be made that it’d be a useful contribution for someone to do. Ph.D. thesis, anyone?


  1. Clark,

    Oddly enough, your post and this one from Patrick Dunn came through my reader at the exact same moment. I’m not sure if this is quite what you’re talking about, but he points to the 400 Rules of Game Design. It’s not quite an “evaluation instrument” but it does provide some framework for thinking about game design.


    Comment by Cammy Bean — 21 May 2007 @ 9:54 AM

  2. Cammy, thanks for the pointer. I’ve seen Noah’s beginning of this list. Patrick asked what the 400 rules of elearning would be, I’m also wondering what the 400 rules of learning game design would be.

    Comment by Clark — 21 May 2007 @ 1:53 PM

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