Games of Skill (Type 3 of 4) - Simulations For Abilities

An in-depth look at the third of the four categories of game-based learning: Games of Skill, or "Simulations". This will include a definition, how it connects to Bloom's Taxonomy, several examples, and what instructors can learn from their use.

Last Time

Games of Concept (Type 2 of 4) - Applications For Mastery

Last week we learned about Games of Concept and their unique role in education. Due to their complex structure, systematic approach to learning, and variable application of new concepts, these games are perfect for supporting for instruction within Applying and Analyzing within Bloom's Taxonomy. They are also great for providing comprehensive assessment; however, they are usually both expensive and specific in scope, limited their interdisciplinary application. As we move up and increase our reach within Bloom's Taxonomy, we must pass the baton to a more complex type of educational games.

Games Of Skill - "Simulations"

Just like my posts on Games of Data and Games of Concept, this post comes with the following information:

  • Definitions of Skill and Games of Skill

  • The steps involved with producing a Game of Skill

  • How it is used in learning (Bloom's Taxonomy)

  • Top Strengths and Weaknesses

This time, you will receive three examples that round-out some of today's most popular and widely-appreciated uses for Games of Skill. But first, a definition.

Defining Our Terms


The ability to use one's knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.


Skill (In Education):

See above.

Examples of Skills:

  • Dissecting Animals

  • Synthesizing Themes from Historical Documents

  • Deciphering Trends in Statistical Data

  • Designing an HTML Webpage

  • Instructing 4th Grader in Social Studies

  • Debating on Topics using Sound Arguments

  • Repairing a Car's Engine

  • Negotiating a Contract

Games of Skill:

Activities which use game mechanics to help students learn, practice, and refine their skills through immersive application; that is, using a simulated environment to create meaningful learning at the most applicable level.

The key difference between Games of Skill and Games of Concept is the idea of immersive application. While games of concept use a series of challenges to teach players concepts through exercise, Games of Skill often rely on lifelike or realistic environments that will allow their players to develop both conscious and subconscious understanding of their skills as connected to the real world.

Let's look at a few examples of this.

Flight Simulators are an incredibly-useful resource for flight academies due to their low cost, low risk, and intensive feedback. Instructors like the one depicted above can simulate different environments, challenges, and emergency situations for students to give them opportunities to practice how they would behave in those situations. While some flight simulators use a physical cockpit with screens to provide an authentic experience, there are commercially-available virtual reality flight simulators with simple headsets and joysticks that are used in introductory flight programs or for entertainment. Government research has shown that flight simulators are excellent sources of supplemental training for flight school students.

Student Congress is a competitive debate event in which students write, present, discuss, and vote on fictional pieces of legislation as they collectively simulate the United States House of Representatives. Recognized by the National Speech & Debate Association and hosted in over 40,000 high schools nationally, this event requires students to not only understand and be able to articulate issues of national important like gun control, drug administration, healthcare, war, and so on, but it also requires them to follow the official parliamentary procedures when it comes to creating an agenda, delivering speeches, making comments, and voting on legislature. Adult judges will rank students based on their poise, argumentation, and articulation in a three-hour session of student congress, and finalists will often undergo an additional three-hour session of legislation in order to select final awards for the most outstanding representatives. Due to the comprehensive nature of this event, students who compete in local and national events of student congress develop skills in legislative research, argument formulation, public speaking, cross-examination, negotiation, and critical listening. Many of them go on to participate in law, executive leadership, or instructional practice due to their refined skills in these areas.

VirTra is labeled by its website as "judgmental use of force & de-escalation scenario training." Or, in the words of Wired, it is "the virtual reality simulator that helps teach cops when to shoot." VirTra is used in police training to provide opportunities for cadets to encounter high-energy situations and practice the skills they need in either stabilizing the situation or knowing precisely when to use force. Thanks to the safety and immersive qualities of this game, cadets can get meaningful feedback from their trainers as they encounter a variety of situations from domestic disputes to riots. Many experts are optimistic that virtual reality training can help reduce incidents of police brutality in the United States, and the implementation of these programs has proven both cost-effective and widely-appreciated by their training forces.

Games of Skill in Learning

So where do Games of Skill fit into the hierarchy of cognitive development?

Right here:

Unlike the previous two categories Games of Skill are not specialized in a specific level in Bloom's Taxonomy. Instead, they represent a tool for accelerating the rate at which students progress through the levels of learning.

Take the VirTra police training game as an example. At first, the virtual reality exercises might be used to help cadets remember the list of steps they need to take when confronting a criminal and understand how their actions affect certain outcomes. Then the simulation can be be changed to show newer or more difficult scenarios for the cadet to respond to (via variable application). This would allow the cadet the ability to

apply their knowledge in unexpected hostile environments, and analyze situations by their common elements. Finally, the simulation could be used to help cadets reflect on their previous performances, evaluating their decisions and helping them create a better plan of action for when they encounter similar situations in the real world.

In the hands of a skilled instructor, Games of Skill can be one of the most powerful resources for effective training that could ever be implemented at the instructional level.

Games of Skill: Top Strengths

1. Accelerating Cognitive Development

As stated above, Games of Skill help improve the process of moving students from lower levels of thinking (remember, understand) to higher levels of thinking (evaluate, create). This is because it creates clear, realistic, and relevant goals for every step in the student's development, helping them construct a framework for their learning and focusing on the most important aspects of the topic as they develop.

2. Providing Comprehensive Feedback

Like Games of Concept, Games of Skill can provide a great deal of data about how players interact with its content. Students can learn about their habits and areas of improvement by studying their own behavior, which can help maximize the productivity of their training.

3. Reducing Cost and Risk of Training

Games like the flight simulator and VirTra are widely used by training programs and the government because they are much cheaper and safer than attempting to recreate relevant situations in the real world. As photo-mapping, 3D-imaging, virtual reality, and cognitive controller technology becomes cheaper and more powerful, it will become even easier for instructors to use simulated environments to help students experiences quasi-realistic situations with none of the associated cost or risk of harm.

Games of Concept: Top Weaknesses

1. Cost To Develop & Implement

Out of the four categories of games, these are by far the most costly to develop and implement. Multi-billion dollar corporations can be dedicated entirely to the development of a simulator for one particular skill, and their products often require special equipment or personnel to run it. This can make Games of Skill very specialized in scope, and difficult to access for some people.

2. Motor-sensory Deficiencies

There are some skills which cannot be reasonably recreated in a simulated environment regardless of the resources involved. However, this list seems to shrink every year, as improvements and technology approach the capacity to realistically simulate most of human life.

Conclusion: What Did We Learn?

  1. Skills are the ability to use one's knowledge effectively in performance.

  2. Games of Skill use immersive application to help students master certain skills by providing realistic environments in which to practice their learning.

  3. Unlike games of Data or Concept, Games of Skill are not specific to a level in Bloom's Taxonomy. Instead, they accelerate the progression of students from the lower levels of thinking (remember, understand) to higher levels of thinking (evaluate, create)

  4. Games of Concept are the subject of major operations by the U.S. government, military, and training programs due to their effective use.

  5. However, they are also incredibly expensive to develop and as a result will generally focus on hyper-specific and marketable skillsets.

Games of Skill are usually the darlings of popular newspapers and journals when they talk about "games in learning." Popular media will point to these virtual reality experiences and sometimes argue that the future of education will rest entirely on the development of these simulations for future students. However, there is one last category of game-based learning that is more flexible, prevalent, and interdisciplinary than games of skill. It is our subject of study next week.

Next Time

We will investigate Gamification and discuss the role it plays in helping students achieve metacognition and empowered engagement in learning. We will then demonstrate key ways that educators are using this philosophy, as well as areas of potential for the field in the future.

Next Post:

"Gamification (Type 4 of 4) - Designing Student Engagement (Part 1/2)"

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