Games and Learning

Why are gamers so highly motivated? Why does an online game thrill the player, even when rewards are intangible or fictitious? The obvious answer is that it satisfies some needs that an individual might have.

If we use the paradigm of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on gaming, a lot of questions get resolved.

Let’s take the example of Farmville, the famous Zynga games product, available on Facebook.

Which needs are satisfied by Farmville?


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


1. Physiological needs – Games are a pleasurable activity, and players are having fun regardless of any other reason.

2. Safety and security needs – Tasks such as owning houses; building fences

3. Belongingness and Love needs – Connection with friends; Cooperatives with joint ventures; free gifts

4a. Self esteem needs – Status and climbing up a level; spending cash on a game which is also freely available. This includes being successful in the farm business, expansion in spa business, etc.

5. Cognitive needs – Tasks performed here map to bloom’s levels, including evaluation while making purchases etc.

6. Self-actualization needs – While the basic role is still of a farmer, other associated businesses allow the player to simulate wishes and desires.

The level of competition is at an intrinsic level only where you are competing to be the better farmer or reach a higher level. Since it is not multiplayer in absolute terms, competition is limited. The game presents the user with the usual challenge-task-reward format. It is created in a basic flash environment with cute graphics. However, is it a learning game?

A learning game is a game which would bring about a behavior change in the user, leading to an upgrade in the skill level.  A learning game is associated with some definitive content aimed at improving one particular skill or behavior.

Farmville simulates skills such as planning, organization and trade or barter. Whether these skills improve after playing this game for a long time is yet to be measured. A learning game incorporated with assessment can lead to measurement of whether the game has improved skills in any significant manner.

Serious learning games are used across sectors, such as strategic and tactical games for military, business, procedural simulations for health and other sectors.  Serious learning games have an underlying pedagogy and assessment as compared to games like Farmville, or Diners Dash.

The feedback is immediate and further motivates the learner to improve skills by replaying, as there is a positive element of challenge and competition.  There is also a belief in the learner that he or she will be able to improve skills and change behavior.

Learning games have some form of pedagogy, built in assessment and learning content integrated within the game in a manner that engages, involves and motivates the reader to learn.

Games encourage active form of learning. The learner moves from learning through a passive model to acquiring skills and changing behavior through an active model.


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