Instructional Games and the Added Element of Fantasy

Designing Digitally


Instructional Games - Designing Digitally

There is often some question as to the validity of fantasy in an instructional game. Do elearning activities always have to be realistic in order to promote learning? Does the element of fantasy add anything of value to the experience?

The researcher Thomas W. Malone set out to study why games are fun and motivational. He ultimately came up with three components that made games motivating and enjoyable. They are: challenge, curiosity, and fantasy. His opinion was that “fantasy was a key element to making an instructional game motivational.”

In Malone’s view, there are two main reasons that elements of fantasy are beneficial to a learning game: cognitive and emotional. Let’s take a look at each of these and explore the relationship between fantasy and each of them.

The cognitive element

There are several cognitive advantages to the use of fantasy in instructional games:

  • Convert old information to form a better understanding of newer concepts. The trainee can utilize information they already have to test in different scenarios within the context of an elearning game. In this setting, there is no fear of failure of making the wrong choice. In many cases, the information isn’t brand new, but the goal is to get the learner to apply the knowledge in a different way. The key is to provide a fantasy-based game that requires the user to use the same knowledge they would need in a real-life situation.
  • Visual imagery enhances recall. People remember events and places because they have a meaning attached. This is called episodic memory. Visual imagery plays a powerful role in memory and recall of information. Elearning games with striking graphics are more likely to cause the content to be memorable to the user.
  • Stimulation of curiosity. Instructional games with an element of fantasy tend to present a player with the element of surprise. Unknown factors keep the learner guessing, which is beneficial for cognitive development.

The emotional effect

There is one big emotional component that makes fantasy-based games advantageous for learners.

  • Absence of the fear factor. A learner can engage with a fantasy game without the attachment of real-world anxieties. They can work on skills they may be lacking in and not have the concern of failure weighing on them. For example, Gina may know that she has a hard time closing sales with potential customers. Within the parameters of a fantasy-based game, she doesn’t feel the apprehension of possible failure, but can instead freely try different techniques. The goal is that she will grow comfortable closing leads and find a technique that works well for her. Gina will apply the confidence she gained inside the game to her real-life encounters with clients.

Should instructional games always include fantasy?

The short answer is “no.” While the advantages discussed are true and valid, there does come a point when a trainee needs to gain experience in a realistic scenario. If one thinks of a training program as a ladder, with the top being applying the knowledge obtained to each real-world interaction with clients or customers, the fantasy learning game can be viewed as an integral rung on that ladder.