What Makes a Well Designed Classroom Game?

About 2 years ago, a video game called Fortnite was hugely popular. Students were clamoring to spend every possible second on their devices playing this game. They spent hours watching videos of other people playing #Fortnite so that they could learn how to get a higher score, and every conversation included references about who had achieved what level of game play. It was a viral sensation that many students, in their words and in the words of their parents, felt addicted to. The first real sign of Fortnite’s popularity is “how much it annoyed schools.” (Tsukayama, H. 2018) Schools  held parent meetings to discuss the dangers of letting your child play Fortnite for seven or eight hours a night. There were staff meetings to brainstorm ways to block devices from connecting to the game during school hours. Teachers were trained to recognize the game on a screen so that misbehaving students could be reprimanded.Let’s look at the characteristics of Fortnite that made it so successful.

Fortnite is:

  • Free
  • Fun
  • Simple to learn
  • Fast

A game lasts about 20 minutes, so the commitment is low. It allows for collaborative play but can also be played alone. Part of what makes Fortnite so addictive is how easy it is to learn to play. After playing only a few games, players get much better at scoring very quickly. It’s also easy to advance in the game but it is highly competitive, leading players to imagine that if only they played one more time, they might be at a higher level than this friend, then play another game and be at an even higher level, and so on. 

The final component of Fortnite that makes it so addictive is that it’s easy but not too easy. There’s just enough of a challenge to keep it interesting, but not so much of a challenge that players get frustrated. Rewards such as boxes of supplies are given only randomly to the players. The rewards work as reinforcement to encourage players to continue playing and, because the rate of reinforcement is variable, extinction of the reinforced behavior is slow.

And that’s the sweet spot in game design – making it easy, but not too easy. Reward sometimes but not every time. Using game based learning, teachers can direct students as they solve problems and receive incremental intrinsic rewards like stars. As students advance in knowledge and skill application, they advance to higher levels of the game.  A well designed game increases engagement because it responds to player input by rewarding small victories and self-adjusting for learning differences (Felicia, P., & Mallon, B. 2014).  

References and further reading

Felicia, P., & Mallon, B. (2014). Game-based learning : challenges and opportunities. Newcastle upon Tyne, [England] : Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.

Ohio Teacher Will Use ‘Fortnite’ Video Game in Final Exam. (2018, April 10). Morning Edition. 

Riedel, C. (2013, February 7). Game Design: The Key to Education? Retrieved April 16, 2018, from The Journal website: https://thejournal.com/articles/2013/02/07/game-design-the-key-to-education.aspx

Stoll, D. (2018, April 4). Why Fortnite is so addictive. UWIRE Text, p. 1. 

Tsukayama, H. (2018, April 3). Everything you need to know about Fortnite and why it’s so popular. Washington Post.

Published by JustAddH2OTeacher

Science teacherpreneur

5 thoughts on “What Makes a Well Designed Classroom Game?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: