You can’t declare it’s a game, your learners will tell you if it is or not.
I found a game for my iPad that I really liked. A casual gamer, so that while it has a story, I can play it without having to get too crazy about learning timing issues or complicated commands.
I played it through, and several different times again with different characters, and eagerly awaited the sequel. Which finally occurred and I was again progressing through the game. Er, until the end, and that’s where this story begins.
When I got to the last boss, suddenly I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t beat the boss! Instead of happily progressing, suddenly I was grinding to get my character to level up, and trying again, while looking for more special equipment. It was suddenly frustrating, not fun.
Now, I’d pretty well just bashed my way through: no finesse in movement. But that had worked. So if I was supposed to pick up more nuanced movements and commands, there had been no incentive. Well, I finally beat the boss after numerous attempts, and then the game was over, but I hadn’t really found out what I’d done that worked.
Again, I started with a different character, and again it was fun. Up until the end, and again I was faced with the unbeatable boss. Again I ground, and again I finally succeeded, but it was still an anti-climax after so much fun prior to that point.
The point here is not to complain about this particular game, but to point out that getting the experience right matters. When I run my game design lectures and/or workshops, I point out that as Will Wright once told me, tuning is 9/10ths of the work. And it’s got to go all the way through, with the right audience. It may be that they didn’t test the end with a casual gamer like me, but it was a jarring ending to what had been.
Now, in most of the formal learning situations we design for, we have sticks as well as carrots, so we aren’t expecting our learners to pay for the privilege of completing our learning experience, but it’s important to understand what learner experience we think would be reasonable and shoot for achieving that. It’s subjective, so asking them is just fine, but you want to set metrics for the user experience (tested for after you ensure usability isn’t a barrier and you are achieving your learning outcomes) and then tune until you get them. Or, of course, until you find out you won’t on your current budget and adjust your expectations, but doing so consciously.
As I say, you don’t turn a scenario into a game, you tune it into a game. And even when you are not shooting for a game, this applies to learning experience design as well. Emotions and subjective experience matters, so do consider testing and tuning until you achieve the experience you need.