Can we design an examination in the same manner as a video game?


When students write examinations, Bowen (2012, p. 173) mentions that instructors can force mastery of course content only in a punitive, learn/fail model. He further points out that with video games, challenges are increasingly difficult and built-in. Can we design an examination in the same manner as a video game? Bowen believes so. He suggests that instead of weekly examinations, courses could be designed around levels. A student can attempt a level as many times as they wish until they either finish all of them (a grade of A) or the course ends. This idea is seen in research by Hess and Gunter (2013), who designed an online course about American history. Students learned in the Conspiracy Code environment, which is used for massively multiplayer online role playing games. Their research discovered that although students took longer to complete the game-based course when compared to the equivalent non-game course student, the students in the game-based course performed better and had more reasons for being motivated.


I am all aboard for this approach to course design. Having designed several video games myself, I know the addictive qualities of video games that could be injected into a course. An important aspect of any video game is excitement and anticipation of what is to come in future levels. If the progress through a course module could be designed to mimic this aspect, students would be eager to learn one topic in a course, so that they could then apply it to a more advanced topic. I have concerns though about consistency between course sections where some students learn in a game-based environment and others do not. The research by Hess and Gunter revealed that students in the game-based course had an average of 97.8%, whereas students in the traditional course had an 88.2% average (2013, p. 379). Furthermore, the authors did not have any evidence to support why this significant difference had occurred (2013, p. 381). From experience, I know that video games can always be mastered by playing the same levels over and over again. Luck can also be a factor. Mastering the content of a course however, does not fall under these same rules. For example, I could take a physics examinations over and over again and not perform much better. It is simply an area that I do not excel at.


I have gone from feeling enthusiastic about designing examinations like video games to feeling cautious. I agree that traditional methods of examinations are not effective anymore. They are fearful, one shot chances for students to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a course (Fenwick & Parsons, 2009, p. 32). Examinations designed in the same manner as video games relax the constraints of time, allow students to take more risks, and encourage ongoing evaluation. However, I can now see that examinations cannot be designed exactly like video games. There needs to be consistency in evaluation between students taking game-based examinations compared to those who are not. Modern gaming is very lenient when it comes to losing, which is not the case in a learn/fail examination model. Modern video games typically have unlimited lives, frequent checkpoints for retry opportunities, and online resources if the gamer is struggling. In contrast, traditional video games have a set number of lives and few if any checkpoints. I find it bizarre that I have come to notion that modern examinations may need to be designed around traditional video games in order to be valid and reliable.


If I were to redesign my examinations around video games, I would follow the traditional model of video games as opposed to the current one. Students may learn better with this design method, but they should not be given higher chances of success than students who write traditional examinations. The design of the game-based examinations would need to ensure this. When a video game is designed, especially a competitive, multiplayer one, the fairness and increasingly difficult challenges are tested thoroughly by quality assurance specialists. This same methodology should be applied to examination design. The testing could be done by the instructor, their colleagues, and any other stakeholders for the course. It is also crucially important to determine if there is a significant difference between student grades for game-based and non-game-based examinations. If there is a significant difference, the video game should be adjusted or dismissed. It may be possible that video games do not adapt well to certain subject areas. If there is no significant difference, then something wonderful has been created to help students learn.


Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fenwick, T. J., & Parsons, J. (2009). The Art of Evaluation: A Resource for Educators and Trainers (Second ed.). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.

Hess, T., & Gunter, G. (2013). Serious game-based and nongame-based online courses: Learning experiences and outcomes. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(3), 372-385.


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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