The Benefits and Drawbacks of Incorporating Games and Simulations

As with any activity in learning, the key is to ensure that it is not simply “activity for activity-sake.” Gaming and simulations are no different in this regard. There are a few possible situations likely to occur. Ideally, the instructors and/or designers of the online learning environment are experienced, have extensive skills in developing interactive, authentic and engaging instruction. Further, they also have experience developing and/or implementing various types of complex and interactive games and simulations within the online learning context. Two, the instructors and/or designers are experienced within the online learning arena; however, are novices in evaluating, adapting, and/or implementing appropriate games and simulations within this context. Last, the online instructors are experienced face-to-face instructors with limited online teaching experience and have an even more limited background and/or information regarding gaming and simulations for learning in an online context.

In reviewing resources for our discussion, I came across an interesting article discussing the topic of “serious games” (Derryberry, n.d.). The article categorizes games as casual, serious, and advergames. The author contends that “serious games are designed with the intention of improving some specific aspect of learning, and players come to serious games with that expectation. Serious games are used in emergency services training, in military training, in corporate education, in health care, and in many other sectors of society. They can also be found at every level of education, at all kinds of schools and universities around the world. Game genre, complexity, and platforms are as varied as those found in casual games. Play, an important contributor to human development, maturation, and learning, is a mandatory ingredient of serious games” (Derryberry, n.d., p. 3). Further, “what sets serious games apart from the rest is the focus on specific and intentional learning outcomes to achieve serious, measurable, sustained changes in performance and behavior. Learning design represents a new, complex area of design for the game world. Learning designers have unique opportunities to make a significant contribution to game design teams by organizing game play to focus on changing, in a predefined way, the beliefs, skills, and/or behaviors of those who play the game, while preserving the entertainment aspects of the game experience” (Derryberry, n.d., p. 4).

The author further contends that the success of serious games in online learning environments is largely related to the learning preferences of digital natives, who prefer:

  • “Receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources
  • Parallel processing and multitasking
  • Processing pictures, sounds, and video before text
  • Random access to hyperlinked multimedia information
  • Interacting/networking simultaneously with many others
  • Learning “just-in-time”
  • Instant gratification and instant rewards
  • Learning that is relevant, instantly useful, and fun

The stimuli these learners seek when learning bear a striking similarity to those stimuli present in online games. Since online games, then, provide a stimulating environment that fosters development of critical skills and characteristics, it seems self-evident that serious games provide a natural environment in which to learn the necessary skills for today’s work” (Derryberry, n.d., p. 11).
It would appear that the literature and research are supportive of interactive, serious, complex gaming and simulations designed to meet criteria for effectiveness in an online environment. I agree completely. If my son is any indication (he is 10), gaming and simulations are excellent forums for him to learn in. On the other hand, there are still the digital immigrants who are not as tech savvy. For instance, my father (who also lives with me and my husband). He is 65 and under my patient tutelage has managed to learn some basic Facebook social games and a few iPad games, but certainly nothing as complex as discussed above. He is limited to fairly simple casual games, some hidden object games (of which if the puzzle gets too complicated he asks me to rescue him), and various degrees of learning apps I throw at him from time to time. For my father, the ADDIE Review Game would have met the criteria of engaging, interactive, and complex because it is out of his zone of proximal development. The rest of us, perhaps not so much.

ADDIE Review Electronic Game Critique – as per the checklist for an Effective Game or Simulation (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 103)

  1. Is the student directly involved in making decisions and learning from the outcomes? Yes. The student selects the answers to the questions in the game and receives immediate feedback regarding whether or not the answer is correct.
  2. Does the activity enable exploration of the complex nature of the real world? No. This activity falls short regarding exploration of any complexity, much less of nature in the real world.
  3. Does the game include tasks that provide elements of engagement, decision making, and knowledge acquisition from a new perspective? Yes and No. Yes the game includes tasks that provides elements of engagement and decision-making and possibly some knowledge acquisition; however, not necessarily from a new perspective, per se. It is possible to stretch the definition of perspective to allege that traditional knowledge acquisition through rote memorization and recall is different from the requirement of playing the game in that the game requires selection from a list of choices in a somewhat minimally interactive format. Unfortunately, despite this aspect the game is essentially based on basic knowledge acquisition and recall, and is not designed to elicit more complex thinking patterns or prescriptions evidencing advanced learning schema.
  4. Does the simulation activity require students to role-play or to assume a new perspective? Not particularly. See my answer to 3.
  5. Does the game or simulation provide a safe environment for exploration? Yes. The game does provide a safe environment for exploration. Assuming the participant know the answers, it provides a quick reaffirmation of their knowledge. On the other hand, if the participant is not clear on some point or other, there is no “real world” consequence to selecting the wrong answer other than learning the correct response.

Suggested Improvements

As a secondary science instructor I played this type of jeopardy style review game on more than one occasion. What made it engaging and interactive was playing the game with the students together. One suggestion I would make to improve this game would be to allow some type of interaction between the students. For example, there are iPad apps / iPhone apps such as “DrawSome.” The game gives one player the word and they have a limited palette with which to draw the image and get the other player to guess the word (basically, Pictionary in an app and asynchronously). Then, the other person gets to (1) watch the other person try to guess; (2) watch the other person draw; and, (3) try to figure out the word from a combination of letters (usually about 20 letters). You also see the other person’s picture when they have submitted their drawing and/or answer so know whom you are playing with. It seems silly, but I actually look forward to seeing a little 1 or 2 next to the game box telling me it is my turn to try to guess some word and see how other people think. For instance, I have already determined that culture makes a huge difference in this game. One person drew a character and wrote “30 Rock.” I am quite certain that anyone who actually watched the show would have gotten the answer, but I do not watch very much television and have never even seen the show. Needless to say, I was unable to guess the word. Another example is when a person drew two boxes and then wrote, “Go ….” It was obviously some sport team name, but I do not watch sports. I was able to figure out the answer was Kansas, but it was only because of deduction from the letters provided.

Obviously, this game would not qualify as a deeply interactive, learning and/or serious game along the lines discussed in the important criteria listed above. Nevertheless, it does include some elements the ADDIE game left out: a picture or icon representing the players, interaction with other players, reward system for getting the answers right, and it was still asynchronous allowing me to play with others at different times of the day.


Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated Ed. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Derryberry, A. (n.d.). Serious games: Online games for learning [White paper]. Retrieved from Adobe Resources website:


2 thoughts on “The Benefits and Drawbacks of Incorporating Games and Simulations

  1. “The Benefits and Drawbacks of Incorporating Games and Simulations
    | Lynn Munoz” Roman Shades was in fact in fact pleasurable
    and beneficial! Within todays society that is very difficult to deliver.
    Thx, Declan

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