Machineers: What makes a good learning game? by Henrike Lode

Machineers: What makes a good learning game? by Henrike Lode

Henrike Lode is a game developer from Copenhagen, Denmark, born 1985 in East Germany. She studied ‘Media and Computing’ in Berlin, and helped students learn programming as a tutor/teaching assistant. As a scientific assistant at the research centre for computer games and interaction in Berlin she established and supervised a motion capture studio and held workshops teaching students how to use it. She then proceeded to take a Master’s degree in Game Design at ITU Copenhagen in order to get closer to realizing her dream: “make learning fun” and is currently founding a company with her team to further develop Machineers.

Despite the fact that more and more parents, teachers and game developers acknowledge the educational potential of computer games, good learning games are still rare. This is partly due to a lacking collaboration between educators and game designers/developers and partly due to poor research.

In their Master thesis project at ITU Copenhagen, Denmark, the Games students Henrike Lode, Niels Frederiksen and Giuseppe Franchi explored options of how to improve the design of learning games to achieve a better reception from players and provide a better learning experience. They developed the learning game Machineers, a 2D puzzle adventure that stealthily teaches logical thinking, problem solving and procedural literacy to children from 10 to 14 years. The term ‘procedural literacy’ describes the ability to read and write processes, a skill that serves as a basis for understanding programming and other higher cognitive skills, like creativity and innovation.

During their research they found that good educational games should move away from the behavioristic learning approach, where learning exercise and reward are not connected, which leads at best to extrinsic motivation and rote memorization. To use the full potential of learning games, the learning activity itself must be intrinsically motivating: game and learning content should not be not viewed separately but merged together.  In Machineers this was achieved by representing each learning aspect with a visual metaphor, which behaved exactly like the concept, but looked like an everyday object that the player was already familiar with. Those single pieces of information were then used as puzzle pieces that could be combined in a number of different ways, creating different meanings.

Intrinsic motivation was established by combining the puzzle elements to a bigger machine that would deliver strong audiovisual and also performative feedback.


Many children have developed some form of an aversion or a bias towards learning itself and learning games, which can be a problem for the learning experience. There is a good chance that keeping the serious purpose of the game secret and making the game look and feel like any other commercially available title helps establishing a positive mindset towards the game and increases the students motivation to engage with the material. This is why in Machineers there is a strong focus on high quality visuals, character, dialogue and story design.

This means also that the children can’t necessarily make the

connection between the experience in the game and the underlying context of abstract programming theory by themselves. Learning games are not meant to replace teachers and classrooms but instead should be used by teachers to enrich the lesson and encourage students to engage in the topic outside of the classroom.

So far Machineers has been tested quite a lot with children from 9 – 14 as well as older players to confirm its optimal usability, intuitive controls, use of help options, etc., but what we haven’t tested yet is how the game could be integrated into a classroom setting. This is where you come in. If you are teaching any IT or technology related subject or would like to use our game for any other reason in your class, please get in touch. The game is being constantly developed further,  with the next part of it to be released in September 2013 and the developers are always looking for play-testers and focus testers, preferably amongst children from 8 years upwards. With the help of your feedback they might be able to improve the game in a way so it will fit your needs.




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