Beyond Fun: Serious Games and Media – The Four Slates of Educational Experiences

The second chapter of Beyond Fun: Serious Games and Media – The Four Slates of Educational Experiences talks at length about typical learning curve and methodology that educational simulations should/do have.

Overview

The author, Clark Aldrich, gives an insight into the challenges that a computer simulation that tries to impart an educational experience must overcome. The author states, that during such simulations, the user typically goes through four stages, corresponding to his level of skill in the simulation, and thus, educational simulations should follow a structured learning curve to ease the user through these stages.

The stages are intuitively related to the level of comfort/skill that the user has acquired with the simulation – something that they build up over time. The user starts in the “Locker room”, where, the goals of the simulation should be explained to the user, in simple linear terms. This allows the user to understand and appreciate the real world analogy, and progress to the second stage – the “Shallow end of the pool”. Like its name, the second stage should provide a conducive learning environment, relying on walkthroughs of particular situations that might arise in the simulation. The second stage should typically, treat such situation in isolation.

Once the user has a grasp on some of the techniques that might be applicable in the simulation, he is on the path to stage three – the “Deep end of the pool”. This is where most of the learning takes place, and users are presented with combinations of situations from stage two, and are tasked with applying these simpler solutions to increasingly complex scenarios. The final stage – the “free swim”, is one of unconstrained engagement, where players spend time developing their skills, pushing the envelope of the experience.

 

Musings

The stages presented by the author, pretty accurately describe the progression in almost any game that we folks might have played.I now draw parallels between what the author states about the stages, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, one of my favorite games.

One starts with the overarching story like and the basic controls (stage 1), is given a walkthrough of the types of puzzles that he might be required to solve (stage 2), and then solves interesting combinations of these problems to finish the game(stage 3). The player can, then, if she wishes, replay the game, with additional things in mind – collect all secret life-power-ups and weapons, etc (stage 4).

An interesting thing to note is in Prince of Persia, stage 2 doesn’t have an explicit ending, and, there is no explicit transition point from stage 2 to stage 3. Rather, the player is instructed in the walkthrough like fashion each time she encounters a new type of puzzle. This is actually essential, to prevent information overload, and to keep the game interesting by giving the user a chance to apply what she has picked up incrementally.

Stage 1 and 2:

 

Examples of intersection of stages 2 and 3:

 

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