How Narrative Enhances Serious Games Training

Designing Digitally


One of the greatest challenges faced by training developers is capturing and holding the attention of an increasingly distracted audience. This is especially true in an eLearning environment where the learner is asked to focus on the lesson at hand, and not on the many other things he would rather be doing. One way to gain the attention and interest of your audience is to use non-traditional tools and techniques like serious games. Serious games training, as in videogame playing, engages the participant on multiple levels by incorporating a variety of techniques that are both entertaining and educational. But is it enough to simply add visual effects and interesting game mechanics to a training course?

Much of what appeals to video game players is the narrative of the game they’re playing. After all, who doesn’t love a good story? This same principle should be applied when designing serious games for use in training your workforce. The narrative of a serious game is what captures the interest of your learners and creates a desire to complete the course. In this way, narrative enhances serious games training and engages the participant on an entirely different level.

Immersion in the story increases engagement

Anyone who has ever witnessed a child listening with rapt attention to a story being told knows what it means to be immersed in the narrative. Our imagination takes over, and we become entirely engaged in the story. This engagement is what training developers are seeking when they design their courses – complete engagement with the lesson. Building narrative into serious games creates this immersion in the story and in what’s being taught.

According to the authors of one in-depth study, getting learners involved in the narrative of a lesson triggers an emotional response, which in turn connects them to the lesson in a profound way. This intense connection leads to creative problem-solving, critical thinking and ultimately much greater retention of the lesson material.

How to build narrative into your serious games training

At its core, narrative is a story that unfolds as we experience it. When building narrative into serious games training, the learner/participant becomes a co-creator of the story and to the extent allowed, directs the narrative. It is the responsibility of the serious game developer to design the framework and environment that allows lesson participants to travel through the story and uncover the information you have for them.

To be clear, narrative storytelling within a serious game isn’t required to be topical or even realistic. A technique that uses fantasy worlds or made-up characters can stimulate even more imagination on the part of learners. What is necessary is a connection between the story and the knowledge or information you want your learners to retain. You can then develop a narrative around the material, complete with plot, character and environment of your creation.

One technique for narrative creation uses the hero archetype, with the learner in the starring role. As the serious game progresses, the learner/participant meets challenges and uses previously gained skills and information to overcome them and advance in the story. Each lesson provides greater and more challenging obstacles, with new information to learn and skills to master. When designed correctly, this narrative technique can transmit information and knowledge without a learner ever feeling that they were involved in a training session at all.

Care must be taken when designing serious games training with a narrative, however. Developers must make sure that the learning objectives and lesson materials are fully explained and presented; otherwise your training may devolve into just another video game. Knowledge checks and skills assessments need to test for complete comprehension before allowing the narrative to progress.

Here at Designing Digitally, Inc., we create serious games and eLearning courses that engage, entertain and enlighten your workforce. If you want to find out more about how using narrative within serious games can make your training more engaging and effective, let us know. We’ll work with you to develop a customized serious game for just about any training need. Click here to contact us and find out more.