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Using formal game design methods to embed learning outcomes into game mechanics and avoid emergent behaviour

Grey, Simon; Grey, David; Gordon, Neil; Purdy, Jon


David Grey

Jon Purdy


This paper offers an approach to designing game based learning experiences inspired by the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) model (Hunicke et al, 2004) and the elemental tetrad (Schell, 2008) model for game design. A case for game based learning as an active and social learning experience is presented including arguments from both teachers and game designers concerning the value of games as learning tools. The MDA model is introduced with a classic game- based example and a non-game based observation of human behaviour demonstrating a negative effect of extrinsic motivators (Pink, 2011) and the need to closely align or embed learning outcomes into game mechanics in order to deliver an effective learning experience. The MDA model will then be applied to create a game based learning experience with the goal of teaching some of the aspects of using source code control to groups of Computer Science students. First, clear aims in terms of learning outcomes for the game are set out. Following the learning outcomes the iterative design process is explained with careful consideration and reflection on the impact of specific design decisions on the potential learning experience, and the reasons those decisions have been made and where there may be conflict between mechanics contributing to learning and mechanics for reasons of gameplay. The paper will conclude with an evaluation of results from a trial of computer science students and staff, and the perceived effectiveness of the game at delivering specific learning outcomes, and the approach for game design will be assessed.


Grey, S., Grey, D., Gordon, N., & Purdy, J. (2017). Using formal game design methods to embed learning outcomes into game mechanics and avoid emergent behaviour. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 7(3), 63-73.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 30, 2017
Publication Date 2017-07
Deposit Date Sep 27, 2017
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal International journal of game-based learning (IJGBL)
Print ISSN 2155-6849
Electronic ISSN 2155-6857
Publisher IGI Global
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 3
Pages 63-73
Keywords Games design; Game Based Learning; MDA Model; Elemental Tetrad; Source Control; Subversion
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is a description of an article accepted for publication in International journal of game-based learning, 2017, v.7 issue 3. The full text is not currently available in this repository.


Article.pdf (1.3 Mb)

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