Game-Based Learning Talk

A quest to transform education through game-based learning

Designing an Educational Alternate Reality Game

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In designing the Finding Identity educational alternate reality game, I found some areas in which the design of an educational ARG differs from the design of a  more traditional ARG (such as the ones tied to movies/TV or the purely entertainment type).  Here are some of the design issues I’ve come across thus far:


Game Structure

Educational ARGs require more structure than do traditional ARGs  because they have to be able to assess learning.  Also, time constraints may require additional structure to be placed on the game.

  • Pre-designed Activities and/or Puzzles – In order to assess learning, educational ARGs need to present tasks in which students can provide evidence of their learning, such as through media creation or blog posts.  In traditional ARGs, the puzzles and activities can be more open-ended and not require specific deliverables from all players.
  • Storyline – It’s more difficult to allow the narrative in an educational ARG to be as open-ended and player-driven as in traditional ARGs because of the pre-designed puzzles or activities mentioned above.  In a strictly player-driven narrative, it would be difficult for the instructor (puppetmaster) to create valid assessment tasks “on-the-fly” (not impossible though but you would need a very creative instructor and/or game design).
  • Game Entry – In an educational ARG, it’s more difficult to have different points of entry (“rabbit holes”) into the game because of assessment requirements (assuming players are assessed on the same activities and tasks).  In addition, if the game design calls for group play and intergroup feedback (such as in Finding Identity), players will need to start the game from a single point of entry (or at least with the same starting activity).

Collaboration vs. Competition

Traditional ARG – Collaboration is generally emphasized more than competition because the players are all interested in solving puzzles, doing tasks, etc. as quickly as possible in order to advance the narrative.

Educational ARG – Because there are grades at stake, there is a different dynamic between collaboration and competition, esp. if the students are working together in groups (such as in Finding Identity).  On one hand, students need to collaborate just as in traditional ARGs, but, on the other hand, students also are motivated to compete against one another for better grades.  Balancing the collaboration and competition is a key to an effective educational ARG.


Having students comment on the accomplishments/creations of others’ is an excellent task to include in an educational ARG for the following reasons:

  • Allows students to learn from each other
  • Allows students to reflect on their own learning
  • Provides the instructor with formative feedback on students’ learning
  • Motivates students to produce high quality deliverables because they know others will be commenting on them


An educational ARG can contain various assessment opportunities, including:

  • Deliverables from assignments and puzzles
  • Students’ comments on other students’ deliverables
  • In-game and post-game discussions
  • In-game and post-game tests

Creating an Alternate Reality

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of designing an educational ARG is in regards to creating a scenario that is not only educational but can also be believable, engaging, and relevant to the players.  If the scenario comes off as too “educational,” it will not only be demotivating for many of the players but also turn the game into a “non-game” and more of a school assignment.  This is a little ironic because of the well-known ARG mantra, “This is not a game.”  In the case of an educational ARG, the game needs to try to be believable (“not a game”) while at the same time be a fun, enjoyable, and engaging series of activities (“a game”).


This concludes my summary of the design of the Finding Identity educational alternate reality game.  I hope that this information has allowed you to formulate some new ideas how educational ARGs can be designed to be excellent learning tools in various areas of education and training.  For more information and research about ARGs, please visit the research section on my website.  Thanks, and happy designing!


Written by randyfuj

July 20, 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in Education

Tagged with , , ,

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