Simulations and Games






Here's Our Quest: Call to Adventure

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the most prolific groups of researchers on the educational value of learning and games works in the School of Education. Members of this group (Games, Learning, & Society) advised our approach to developing the Engaging to Learn: Simulations & Games program.

When the Engage Award Program prepared to tell the story of 2007-2009 Innovation Award focused on Simulations and Games for Learning at an annual Educause Learning Initiative conference, staff decided to make a game for the audience to play to describe the program. Because we wanted to apply sound principles of experiential learning, the presentation needed to be more than an expository-type demo. The quest metaphor from Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” was used as the basis for the card game, and included a Call to Adventure, Road of Trials, Achieving the Boon, and Return to the Ordinary World.

The result was GameQuest!


GameQuest is being played:

  • @ Educause Learning Initiative, January 2008, San Antonio
  • @ Engage Faculty Advisory Group
  • @ DoIT Managers
  • @ Academic Technology Brown Bag
  • @ Learning Technology Developent Council
  • @ Minnesota and other universities
  • @ Educause, October 2008, Orlando
  • @ Penn State, August 2010

If you are using GameQuest and are not listed above, email us at to let us know, so we can add you to this list!

More about the Engaging to Learn: Simulations & Games Program

Our Assets and Strategies

Time: 1 year

  • Meeting in small groups with the Engage Faculty Advisory Group and interested faculty to discuss development of an awards program with a focus on learning with simulations and games
  • Development of a campus communications plan that began with an informational letter to the Chancellor, and continues with publication of stories of campus faculty who are teaching with games or simulations
  • Meeting with the campus technology support group, ComETS (Community of Educational Technology Support Staff) to keep them informed about the program and the faculty involved
  • Creating a staff learning plan for an internal, ongoing review of the literature with staff presentations to staff

Road of Trials

Time: 19 months

  • A demonstration event by faculty of their current uses of simulations and games in the classroom, attended by more than 100 faculty and staff
  • A Call for Proposals that resulted in the selection for funding of 17 faculty and instructor proposals to develop “rapid prototypes” of their game or simulation ideas
  • The expectation that staff would provide 32 hours of work in the spring to each project, and that award recipients would provide up to 2 hours/week to their projects
  • An evaluation of Phase II by faculty and staff, which showed that the new, risky, uncertain approach to innovation and exploration had been highly valued by faculty and instructor participants
  • Development of 13 of the rapid prototypes into working games and simulations
  • Partnering with a local game designer group, Filament, for feedback on the game and simulation ideas as well as on the design process for building games
  • A focus on evaluation as projects are 1) tested by student users during development this fall and spring, and 2) the simulation or game is ultimately integrated into the teaching plan (research shows that effective learning with simulations or games includes the thoughtful integration of the game or simulation into the class with the inclusion of a frontloading session before playing, and a guided reflection session afterwards).

Rapid Prototype Process - Guiding Principles

  1. Design before you develop
  2. Move fast and don’t invest much time at first in creating prototype designs. Iterate, iterate, iterate…
  3. All prototypes are wrong and incomplete
  4. Stay low fidelity and in black and white as long as you can when creating prototypes
  5. Get other people from outside the design team to comment on and give constructive feedback for each major design iteration. (prospective learners are ideal)
  6. Go back and successively refine front-end analysis (goals, objectives, constraints, content scope, etc.) to ensure integrity
  7. Relax and go with the flow even though you may not like the initial designs emerging within the group. User feedback and successive iterations will help iron out the kinks and the product will gradually get better.


A small selection of the research on learning and games that guided our program development:

Aldrich, C. (2005). Learning by doing: A comprehensive guide to simulations, computer games and pedagogy on e-learning and other educational experiences.

Carstens, A., & Beck, J. Get ready for the gamer generation. TechTrends, 49(3), 22-25.

DeJong, T. (2005). The guided discovery principle in multimedia learning.The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning.(In R.E. Mayer (Ed.).)

Fortugno, N., & Zimmerman, E. (2005). Soapbox: Learning to play to learn- lessons in educational game design.

Freitas, S., & Oliver, M. (2006). How can exploratory learning with games and simulations within the curriculum be most effectively evaluated? Computers and Education, 46, 249-264.

Gosen, J., & Washbush, J. (2004). A review of scholarship on assessing experiential learning effectiveness. Simulation and Gaming, 35(2), 270-293.

Hays, R. T. (2005). The effectiveness of instructional games: A literature review and discussion. (Technical Report 2005-2004.)

Lloyd, R. P. (2001). Serious design for serious play in physics. Educational Technology, 41(1), 10-28.

Moreno, R., & Flowerday, T. (2006). Students' choice of animated pedagogical agents in science learning: A test of the similarity-attraction hypothesis on gender and ethnicity. Contemporary Education Psychology, 31, 186.

Moreno, R. (2004). Decreasing cognitive load for novice students:Effects of explanatory versus corrective feedback in discovery-based multimedia. Instructional Science, 32, 99-113.

O'Neil, H. F., Wainess, R., & Baker, E. L. (2005). Classification of learning outcomes: Evidence from the computer games literature. The Curriculum Journal, 16(4), 455-474.

Paas, F., Tuovinen, J. E., Van Merrienboer, Jeroen J. G., & Darabi, A. A. (2005). A motivational perspective on the relation between mental effort and performance: Optimizing learner involvement in instruction. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 53(3), 25-34.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rieber, L. P., Tzeng, S., & Tibble, K. (2004). Discovery learning, representation, and explanation within a computer-based simulation: Finding the right mix. Learning and Instruction, 14, 307-323.

Rieber, L. P. (2005). Multimedia learning in games, simulations, and microworlds. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning., In R.E. Mayer (Ed.).

Shaffer, D. W. (2006). Epistemic frames for epistemic games. Computers and Education, 46, 223-234.
U.S. Federal News Service. (2006, Serious games report measures learning, recommends effective game design. ProQuest Research Library.

Quests in literature which guided the development of our presentation: