Games effectively develop players’ skills

Game designers are some of the best teachers in the world. They create environments which reliably teach complex skills—often without words. And people love the experience, unlike most educational experiences.

But beware, “educational game” designers: Skill development in games is subservient to other intrinsically meaningful purposes

Games are participatory

A game is a Participatory environment; that’s what distinguishes it from television and movies played on the same TV. And Participatory environments support learning.

Games are scaffolded

Game designers carefully deploy Cognitive scaffolding to ensure players are building the skills they need to enjoy and master the game.

Fine-grained task progressions as cognitive scaffolding: In Braid, levels are carefully sequenced and structured to (wordlessly) introduce concepts incrementally. Completing a level often requires a player to demonstrate that he understands something, so making progress in the game is the same as coming to understand new things.

Constraints as cognitive scaffolding: In the Witness, it rapidly becomes clear that the only interactive elements are ones which look like a circle connected to a line, and the only possible interaction is tracing a line.

Metacognitive supports as cognitive scaffolding: Because they’re dynamic media, games are also able to provide dynamic supports for metacognition. In particular, Games help players evaluate their developing skills and Games help players make and adapt plans.

Games are full of enacted experiences

A game is an Enacted experience, so in games like Braid (unlike in a naive Educational game), players don’t feel that they are being “taught.” Emotionally, their experience is that they’re constructing their own understanding, which can be intensely satisfying; see also Enacted experiences can create intense personal connection to authored targets.

See also Educational games try to teach through enacted experiences.