Digital Pedagogy Toolbox: Use Games, But Use the Fun Parts!

In this fifth post in our Digital Pedagogy Toolbox blog series, Selina McGinnis digs into what makes games fun and explores how to use them to promote engagement in teaching and learning.

Post by Selina McGinnis, lead user experience/information architect, BCcampus

The Essence of Fun Isn’t in Scores

Using games as a tool to enhance engagement and strategic critical thinking skills is common in teaching and learning. In a recent Anarchy Hour podcast, that was later featured in the BCcampus Mixtape Podcast: Fun in B.C. Post-Secondary, we explored what can be learned from video game design when it comes to designing software and education. When you think about why people play games — why they’re fun — scores are hardly ever the reason. In fact, for a lot of people, they’re a source of stress. Although gamification using scores, achievements, and badges can be tempting because it’s straightforward, there is good reason to use the fun parts of games to build learning.

The Fun Part

People play games because it allows them to be

  • Social: Who can you collaborate with? Who else plays?
  • Challenged: Answers aren’t obvious. Maybe you need others to solve a problem.
  • Successful: Can someone with different skills or a creative solution be successful?
  • Immersed: Perhaps there’s a compelling story or mystery.
  • Free of real consequences: Escape the constraints of real life and explore potentially disastrous outcomes without real risk. Games also give you the ability to change your mind.

Example: Training Search-and-Rescue Volunteers with Tabletop Role-Play

I work with search-and-rescue volunteers who practice physical skills as well as knowledge and decision-making. Tabletop exercises are common in this field (the group is presented with a scenario and discusses how to approach it), but you can level it up by adding an element of randomness with dice.

We role-play scenarios using maps to give clues about the environment. Players discuss the risks and dangers they might encounter while scanning the map. They talk through first-aid scenarios and risk-assessments, while I, as the game facilitator, roll dice to see if a weather system will pass over directly or nearby. No two stories end up the same; it gives people countless scenarios to practice.

Role-playing games apply well to scenario-based learning. They can also be used to practice knowledge.

Set Up Your Own Role-Playing Game

To set up your own game, you need the following:

  • Motivating story: Why do the characters care about this adventure, and why should they bother solving the puzzle?
  • Map or scene: Where are the characters? What clues from their surroundings are there? Be sure to describe the scene as the storyteller so everyone can experience what the characters are experiencing.
  • Characters: Who are they pretending to be? What are their skills? Do they have the power to summon a hint?
  • Dice: Use dice to allow groups to play for a hint or clue.
  • Game plan: Decide what problems or puzzles your characters face, and consider these moments:
    • How can characters get an advantage or hint? Maybe if they roll higher than a three using their “superpower,” they get an additional piece of information to solve a puzzle. If they roll a one, however, you must find a way to make the puzzle more challenging.
    • What happens if the team fails? How does it impact the story? Is there another way they can be successful? (Maybe there’s a cave for them to check out.)
    • Do the characters get bonus skills? Maybe a character can add one to any roll about a particular topic (i.e., if they roll a two, they can make it a three).


Bringing fun to games can be as intricate as modifying Dungeons & Dragons, but it doesn’t have to be. Setting up opportunities for challenges in a social or solo scenario, where the outcomes don’t matter in the real world, can add moments of relief and engagement. The quest for a silly outcome can be motivating and freeing if fun, rather than scores, is the goal.

The Digital Pedagogy Toolbox blog series is a monthly blog post series that features highlights of interactive technologies and pedagogies in learning and teaching design. This series is an extended version of the BCcampus FLO Tech Tool Tip blog series. In these blogs you may find an activity that supports innovative and effective teaching practice in technology-infused learning environments, a short recipe for digital teaching and learning, or some tips on the pedagogical uses of a tool for instruction. 

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The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by cottonbro studio