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Have You Got Game? A Brief Overview of Games in Education

Submitted by on July 10, 2013 – 1:39 pmNo Comment

Games and Gamification are quickly becoming the new buzz words in education. While the concept of using games to teach is not new, recent innovations in technology make games much more useful for educators. The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education identifies games as one of the six “technologies to watch” with an adoption horizon of two to three years. However, games are not one-size-fits all. Let’s take a brief look at three of the more popular game types and see how they might be used an educational context.


MMOs are Massive Multiplayer Online Games; MMORPG is a sub-genre of MMO and stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. One of the most famous of these is World of Warcraft (WoW), which has been used to teach topics as varied as Economics, Leadership, Language Arts, and Digital Citizenship.


Screenshot of WoW, a popular MMORPG

MMOs are characterized by online, multiplayer gameplay in a fantasy world. Each player interacts with the game and other players through an “avatar,” or player-created character. MMOs are quest based, and most quests are designed to be complete by a group of players working together. This team dynamic gives rise to “guilds” where players join a group in order to engage in collaborative play.

Helpful resources: For ideas on how to use MMOs in an academic setting, check out the WoW in School Wiki and 10 Ways Teachers Are Using MMORPGs In The Classroom.


Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are narratives or storylines  part of an online community, but players perform tasks in the real world to complete quests in the game. Two examples of ARGs include the following:

World Without Oil

Players from around the world imagined the impact of a global oil crisis and created a collaborative digital narrative about how the crisis affected their daily lives:

Reality Ends Here

Incoming students at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts meet and collaborate with other freshman and alumni to solve puzzles and earn game cards.

Reality ends here

Screenshot of Reality Ends Here log-in page

Helpful resources: For more information on ARGs, check out ARGNet: Alternate Reality Gaming Network.


Badging is more of a game-based learning strategy than a game, and it’s part of a growing micro-credentialing movement gaining popularity in industry and in education. Gaming badges are like earning a merit badge in the Cub Scouts, except they’re digital.

Digital badges awards users for meeting a set of skills or competencies. The Mozilla Open Badges Project set the standard for Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI), and badges can be earned, issued, and displayed in a number of different places (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) using the Mozilla Backpack.

mozilla open badges

Mozilla Open Badges lets you earn, issue, and display badges.

EDUCAUSE, the Smithsonian, Purdue University, and many other institutions and organizations are beginning to issue badges for a variety of skills. Badges are also becoming increasingly popular in MOOCs to certify MOOC completion and/or level of participation. There are a growing number of badge-related applications that work with the Mozilla OBI, such as Credly and BadgeOS for WordPress. Some learning management systems, like Moodle, are also developing ways to integrate badges into the LMS.

Your Turn

So how about it? Are you game for a game? Whether you are the MMO adventuring type, an ARG guru, or just looking to add a badge to your backpack, games can offer a variety of exciting and innovative ways to engage twenty-first century learners. Tell us about your quest!


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