5 games every e-learning professional should play

You can narrow down someone’s age by whether they include spaces in their file names. If they do, they’re under 40.

That is a sweeping declaration, and quite possibly true.

Here’s another one… Gamers are a sub-culture dominated by young men.

This declaration, however, is stone-cold wrong. In fact, 63% of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly (hardly a sub-culture). Gamers are split 59% male / 41% female (approaching half / half) while 44% of them are over the age of 35 (not the pimply teenagers one might expect). [REF]

In other words, the playing of video games has normalised. As time marches on, not gaming is becoming abnormal.

Woman and man seated on a couch playing a video game.

So what does this trend mean for e-learning professionals? I don’t quite suggest that we start going to bed at 3 a.m.

What I do suggest is that we open our eyes to the immense power of games. As a profession, we need to investigate what is attracting and engaging so many of our colleagues, and consider how we can harness these forces for learning and development purposes.

And the best way to begin this journey of discovery is by playing games. Here are 5 that I contend have something worthwhile to teach us…

1. Lifesaver

Lifesaver immediately impressed me when I first played it.

The interactive film depicts real people in the real world, which maximises the authenticity of the learning environment, while the decision points at each stage gate prompt metacognition – which is geek speak for realising that you’re not quite as clever as you thought you were.

The branched scenario format empowers you to choose your own adventure. You experience the warm glow of wise decisions and the consequences of poor ones, and – importantly – you are prompted to revise your poor decisions so that the learning journey continues.

Some of the multiple-choice questions are unavoidably obvious; for example, do you “Check for danger and then help” or do you “Run to them now!”… Duh. However, the countdown timer at each decision point ramps up the urgency of your response, simulating the pressure cooker situation in which most people I suspect would not check for danger before rushing over to help.

Supplemented by extra content and links to further information, Lifesaver is my go-to example when recommending a game-based learning approach to instructional design.

2. PeaceMaker

Despite this game winning several prestigious awards, I hadn’t heard of PeaceMaker until Stacey Edmonds sang its praises.

This game simulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which you choose to be the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President, charged with making peace in the troubled region.

While similar to Lifesaver with its branched scenario format, its non-linear pathway reflects the complexity of the situation. Surprisingly quickly, your hipsteresque smugness evaporates as you realise that whatever you decide to do, your decisions will enrage someone.

I found this game impossible to “win”. Insert aha moment here.

3. Diner Dash

This little gem is a sentimental favourite of mine.

The premise of Diner Dash is beguilingly simple. You play the role of a waitress in a busy restaurant, and your job is to serve the customers as they arrive. Of course, simplicity devolves into chaos as the customers pile in and you find yourself desperately trying to serve them all.

Like the two games already mentioned, this one is meant to be a single player experience. However, as I explain in Game-based learning on a shoestring, I recommend it be deployed as a team-building activity.

4. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

As its name suggests, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a multi-player hoot. I thank Helen Blunden and David Kelly for drawing it to my attention.

In the virtual reality version of the game, the player wearing the headset is immersed in a room with a bomb. The other player(s) must relay the instructions in their bomb defusal manual to their friend so that he/she can defuse said bomb. The trouble is, the manual appears to have been written by a Bond villain.

It’s the type of thing at which engineers would annoyingly excel, while the rest of us infuriatingly fail. And yet it’s both fun and addictive.

As a corporate e-learning geek, I’m also impressed by the game’s rendition of the room. It underscores for me the potential of using virtual reality to simulate the office environment – which is typically dismissed as an unsuitable subject for this medium.

5. Battlefield 1

I could have listed any of the latest games released for Xbox or PlayStation, but as a history buff I’m drawn to Battlefield 1.

It’s brilliant. The graphics, the sounds, the historical context, the immersive realism, are nothing short of astonishing. We’ve come a long way since Activision’s Tennis.

Activision's Tennis video game on a vintage TV featuring two blocky players on court.

My point here is that the advancement of gaming technology is relentless. While we’ll never have the budget of Microsoft or Sony to build anything as sophisticated as Battlefield 1, it’s important we keep in touch with what’s going on in this space.

Not only can we be inspired by the big end of town and even pick up a few design tips, we need to familiarise ourselves with the world in which our target audience is living.

What other games do you recommend we play… and why?

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15 Comments on “5 games every e-learning professional should play”

  1. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Ryan, As you know I am an avid gamer and have been since the early playstation and Tomb Raider days. Games which I think we can learn things from as L&D people are Silent Hill (the original), In a time when graphics weren’t great and systems weren’t powerful, they created a chilling, and frightening game where the atmosphere and storytelling drove the game forward. It was little things like coping with rendering issues by utilising ‘fog’ as a way to hide the fact that drawing distance was quite short. This along with the resident evil series (again particularly the early one and of course the new on 7 which is in VR, show what can be done when you focus on engagement and the story you want to tell.

    Games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Fallout, Final Fantasy, skyrim and witcher etc with their learn by doing and experiencing (aided by text pops ups and hints) system of learning the game, create entire worlds with massive attention to detail, both in terms of things in the world and the back stories that drive not only the main characters but the vast majority of people you can interact with.

    Engagement is the key, deep engagement, and something that players or learners can care about. Give them a reason to keep coming back and they will.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Paul. Looks like I’ve got a few more games to explore!

    I think you’re right about engagement. The game has to be something your target audience considers worth playing, otherwise it’s just a gimmick.

  3. olahzsolt2013 Says:

    I often use Settlers of Catan as an example for L&D folks to understand the world of mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics. Catan does a great job combining social elements, resource management, strategy, surprise, chance and growing complexity. I would recommend it for everyone.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    I’ve never heard of it, Zsolt, but it sounds fascinating. I’ll check it out!

  5. Karl Kapp Says:

    Great list of games. I just want to add the idea of some cooperative board games such as Pandemic and Forbidden Island. Too often we only consider competitive games but cooperative games are great for learning professionals to consider. Since often our customers need to work cooperatively rather than competitively. And Zsolt’s idea of Settlers of Catan is a great game to play as well as is Silent Hill. The good and bad news is there are some many great games to play and so little time:)


  6. My daughter put Papa’s Cupcakeria on my iPad. Basically you take orders from various people and then assemble cupcakes to their specifications. It’s a good way of simulating a service environment. You are rewarded with “points” based on the amount of money your customer is willing to pay. It’s actually fairly complex and fun. For L&D folks, it’s an example of how you could build a game based on a business transaction.

  7. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Karl, and great point about cooperative games.

    Cheers Holly. Papa’s Cupcakeria sounds like fun :)

  8. Craig Weiss Says:

    Funny article. The average age btw of a person who plays games is 35. As someone creeping up towards 50 – I play games too. Diablo and Civilization still rule. In fact Civilization should be on this list. It offers everything from leadership development, to working with a team, to strategy, decision making, creative thinking, etc.

  9. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Cheers Craig!

  10. Ivaan Says:

    For resource management, multi-tasking, and creativity:
    SimCity and similiar
    Rollercoaster Tycoon and similar
    The Sims (maybe?)
    Age of Empires and similar
    Ark
    Minecraft
    etc…

    For real-time analysis and problem solving:
    Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and similar (underrated game in my highly biased opinion, get into it!)
    Counter Strike
    Any FPS game that requires quick reaction speed and constant awareness of the surrounding environment
    etc…

    Competitive Team Play Strategy (E-sports domain, I would highly argue these games are a sport in itself):
    Dota and similar
    Fifa and most sports games
    FPS games mentioned above
    Rocket League
    etc…

    For solo adventure, curiosity etc (simulated travelling):
    Any rpg
    Half-Life
    Dishonoured
    Farcry
    Assasins Creed
    GTA
    Anything open world
    etc…

    SO many games, could go on forever :) XD

  11. Ryan Tracey Says:

    That’s great, thanks Ivaan!

  12. Bidisha Roy Says:

    Impressive article! In today’s world, e-learning and games go hand-in-hand. Combining social elements, complexity, strategies make both game and learning all the more fun.

  13. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Cheers Bidisha :)

  14. Mark Says:

    Interesting to see Battlefield 1 mentioned, would be interesting to see both VR and AR included in the next battlefield which is released. When do you think we will see a VR and AR introduced into the elearning industry?

  15. Ryan Tracey Says:

    VR/AR in Battlefield 1 will be wild!

    When do I think we will see VR and AR introduced into the e-learning industry? Well, arguably they have already arrived, though they are by no means widespread.

    I predict the next couple of years will involve early adopters and pioneers exploring 360 videos and perhaps simplified platforms such as Cospaces, while those with deep pockets will engage specialist vendors to dip their toes into something truly immersive.

    In the longer term, it is my opinion that only if or when easy-to-use tools for VR/AR production reach the market will it revolutionise e-learning. (See “The Average Joe Imperative”.)


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