Tips & Tricks

Thoughtful Game Based Learning Design

The missiles were flying in with devastating accuracy and the cannon fire wasn’t any less devastating. There seemed like there was nowhere to turn or run and hide. It was either flee by foot in the desert or die. The Zenler Daily article on “Thinking Like a Game Developer” ( & took me back to a night back in 1991 when I was at an Air Force Association meeting in Melbourne, Florida. The room was dark and a video was playing with no sound. What we were watching was the recording of Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) involvement in the air and ground attack on Kuwait City. Although it looked like a really advanced version of Asteroids it most certainly was no game!

What we saw that night were the actual images as seen on the CRT in the Joint STARS aircraft as the battle had happened. X’s and O’s with the X’s being coalition forces and the O’s were the Iraqi ground forces and looters. X’s  that were planes were swooping in rapidly from the Northeast and slowly plodding X’s coming from the south and enveloping the O’s were tanks and personnel carriers. X’s were also approaching from the southeast slowly through Kuwait city with all O’s headed for the main artery out of the city. It was very sobering to watch as an O would stop and then disappear. Later we saw photographs of the aftermath of this onslaught, it was deemed “The Highway of Death” and the “Mother of all Retreats” it was devastating and it wasn’t a game. But some would consider that it was games that trained the personnel behind the X’s, obviously the O’s didn’t have this advantage.

The scenario we had seen had been taught, simulated, and rehearsed countless times before any of the events we saw took place and had the 3 elements Karl Kapp had mentioned; starting with a challenge, focus on replayability and include a story narrative. They had a desired outcome and stream of events that needed to happen to achieve it, sounds like the challenge and the narrative together, in this case it was called a battle plan or plan of attack.. The training had to be replayable with feedback available immediately so the adjustments could be made before lives were put on the line. This was done in Tank, Aircraft, and manned vehicle simulators prior as well as the field exercises and briefings at all levels. They were well trained and ready for the “Organized Chaos” of battle.

Fast forward to just about 2 years ago I was in a local simulator company who has a system that has a large 270 degree simulation screen where combat troops can participate with tank crews, F/A 18, A-10, Navy Missile and/or Helicopter crews in a battle simulations in real time from different facilities next door or across the country. This now gives command the ability to design and refine training for specific missions utilizing all the assets needed, in simulation training across disciplines and services. The impact of this is huge! Through replaying and evaluating performance they can adjust before they enter the situation LIVE to increase their chances of success and decrease loses. It is a great return on investment for certain. In the case of combat game based training attaining engagement is really easy since the stakes are high. In our venue the challenge is to engage our audience with content that is not necessarily as exciting as a battle scenario. How do you come up with a game that will address the issues of sustaining a factory’s production output? Or “Boldly go where no one has gone before” in proper boiler maintenance for large buildings, and “Leap tall equations” in 6th grade Algebra? Making these and other such topics engaging and exciting are the challenge so all we need now is a narrative that will replay and we will have followed Karl’s lead! So let’s get busy!

About the author

Tom Burton