Conceptually, the core mechanism Educational game designers try to use is Enacted experience. They try to design game activities such that natural participation in the game environment produces an experience of understanding. At least instinctually, the underlying motivation for this circuitous approach to instructional design here is that Enacted experiences can create intense personal connection to authored targets. In other words, they hope to “Make kids love learning!”
Most games deploy this mechanism (Games effectively develop players’ skills), but outside the educational game genre, Skill development in games is subservient to other intrinsically meaningful purposes.
The experiences in educational games rarely feel enacted. The “teacher’s” hand is usually too heavy; players feel like helpless rats in someone else’s maze. Enacted experiences require participant-situated cause and effect.
Even when the experiences do feel enacted (e.g. maybe in Oregon Trail), they don’t meaningfully succeed in enabling players: Educational games are a doomed approach to creating enabling environments. But they may build enthusiasm for a domain or begin to instill its values—weak forms of Enacted experiences can bootstrap active participation in enabling environments.