Game-based, metaphor-enhanced (GaME) design is a process for engineering instructional games to prepare learners with the prior knowledge they need to learn later, more complex science concepts. The key step in the method is specifying a domain’s relational structure and then developing a game world based upon that structure. Reviewing relevant game design, cognitive science, and learning science theories, the author argues: (a) the need for GaME design; (b) that game worlds, complex concepts, and mental models are analogous systems; (c) how game-based technologies can provide a pragmatic and embodied context for making complex, introductory concepts intuitive; and (d) that the pragmatic, physical, and procedural aspects of games make them powerful learning tools that must be carefully designed. The author illustrates GaME design using Selene: A Lunar Creation GaME. Rigorous methods for design of instructional games will enhance control over learning outcomes.
Designing Games For Intuitive Concept Knowledge
Meaningful learning requires activation of relevant prior knowledge (Ausubel, 1962, 1963). Learners who encounter a new concept equipped with relevant, activated, adequate prior knowledge will find the new concept intuitive. When concepts are not intuitive, learners often struggle and may fail (Hestenes, Wells, & Swackhamer, 1992). When learners do not have prerequisite knowledge, instruction should provide relevant experience (Merrill, 2002). This chapter summarizes how game-based, metaphor-enhanced (GaME) learning objects can help learners construct viable prior knowledge from game play experience. Learners play a GaME to construct prerequisite knowledge that will prepare them for direct instruction.
The GaME research program is founded on the assumption that game-based technologies are powerful learning tools (Gee, 2003, 2005a). The program specializes in one type of learning objective and one event of instruction:
GaMEs are engineered to make complex concepts both embodied and intuitive. A GaME:
Is game-based. A GaME has goals, a system, and game play. The goal is to motivate targeted learning. In addition, transactions within the game world connect learning to the player’s sensory and perceptual systems.
Is metaphor-enhanced. GaME design applies cognitive science theories of analogical reasoning. The GaME world, its relational system, and the game goal are analogs for the targeted conceptual domain. The GaME lets learners construct sound and viable mental models of targeted conceptual domains.
Is a learning object. A GaME functions as a self-contained, decontextualized instructional module.
Accelerates the experience. A good novel or movie focuses on experience salient to its story and compresses days, years, and even lifetimes in a few hours. GaMEs focus on experience relevant to the targeted conceptual domain. Over a few hours of engineered game play, players experience days, years, and even lifetime equivalents of viable transactions with the target domain.
A GaME design team specifies the relational structure of the target domain and then defines an analogous GaME world of time, space, and the objects and relations that define them. Within the GaME world these become relevant lived experience for learners. Learners construct a model of how to progress through the GaME system. They form hypotheses and test them, developing a mental model analogous to the targeted domain by creating viable prior knowledge. Research has shown that lived experience in the physical world often leads to mental models that make science concepts counterintuitive (Hestenes et al., 1992). GaMEs are engineered for lived experience within a GaME world that makes science concepts intuitive.
A team of researchers, content experts, programmers, and designers has produced the first GaME prototype, Selene: A Lunar Creation GaME. In Selene players learn key lunar geology concepts: stratigraphy, accretion, differentiation, impact cratering, and volcanism. Selene is a concrete, transactional analog of introductory lunar geology.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Game Mechanics: The formal elements of the game, such as players (number, roles, interaction patterns), objectives, procedures, rules, resources, conflict, boundaries, and outcomes (Fullerton et al., 2004).
Structure Mapping Theory: The well-established analogical reasoning theory by cognitive scientist Dedre Gentner that people prefer to transfer relational structure from a known or relatively familiar domain to a relatively unfamiliar domain when the two share the same, dense relational structure (deep systematicity). The shared relational structure may be due to a higher order domain (the vehicle) that subsumes both the source and target. Analogizers highlight salient relational correspondences. They use the source domain to make inferences about the target domain.
Domain: A system of objects, their properties, and the relations between objects.
Isomorphic: (iso=equal; morph=structure or form) A one-to-one correspondence. As used in cognitive science analogy theory, this refers to a one-to-one relational correspondence between one conceptual domain and another.
Game Play: The player’s experience of a game derived through interactions with the game system.
Metaphor: A specific instantiation of analogical reasoning in which a source domain is mapped to a target domain.
Analogical Mapping: The process of putting two domains in correspondence by aligning each object in one domain with objects in another according to perceived relational structure.
Game World: The game system of objects, their properties, and the relations between objects.
Body-Syntonic: Syntonicity refers to things that are in harmony (e.g., piano strings) or oscillating at the same frequency (e.g., electrical circuits). Seymour Papert (1980) coined body-syntonic to refer to experiences that are related to one’s knowledge and sense about one’s body. Papert derived it from Sigmund Freud’s use of “ego syntonic” to describe instincts or ideas in resonance with the ego.
Analogical Reasoning: The cognitive process of placing two domains in correspondence by mapping relational structure from a concrete or familiar domain (the source) to a second domain (the target). (See structure mapping and mapping.)