Educational Games vs. Edutainment vs. Gamification


With all the “games for class” and “games for learning” recently, I’ve had the above on my mind again, and I think it’s important to clarify what the above terms mean.

I want to be clear that I don’t think any of the above are inherently bad things. All of them have their advocates and their opponents, and they all bring valid points to the table. On the other hand, it is frustrating when people argue for or against one term when they mean the other.

Arguing is a funny thing, because if people listened, they might realize their argument has no connection to the conversation. Hysterical.

Okay, let’s get on with it. We’ll start with the most well-understood of these concepts and move our way down:

Educational Games

Games for the purpose of educating people.
Primary goal: education
Secondary goal: fun
Examples: Math Blaster, Jumpstart,, Understanding Games

These are the kind of games that were made with teaching others in mind. People learn best when they’re actively engaged and using the material, so merging games with education is a natural combination.

Some of them—the best ones—have enjoyable gameplay to begin with. I think about some of the games in Jumpstart 3rd Grade, specifically the giving directions game or the one where you explore the planet with a spaceship. Those were awesome. They masked the teaching they were doing well.

Unfortunately, the games are often targeted at a very specific audience, which limits their appeal immediately. Sometimes it’s a real factor, like the fact that the fun is derived from solving addition problems. Other times it’s psychological (no less real): playing a game “meant” for 5th graders doesn’t really make a high school student eager to play, regardless of how good the game is.

The true weakness in this model of gaming is in making the education before the game. Contrary to popular belief, just because something is a “game” doesn’t mean it’s “fun”. When games are made to teach, they often forget the “fun” part in the process.

Great parody: Frog Fractions


Games that happen to educate along the way.
Primary goal: fun
Secondary goal: education
Examples: Koe (hopefully)

Edutainment is the true godsend: the perfect hybrid of gaming and education. Like how watching an interesting documentary or TV series might teach you about the world while you enjoy it. The chief function of the game is to have fun, and because you’re having fun, the learning that exists in the background will come naturally.

Their weakness is perhaps their speed. Other methods, because they strip away all but the essentials, focus entirely on the concepts themselves. With that said, whereas a textbook may deliver the same core material in a third the time, edutainment gives a variety of examples in a way that allows players to hang onto the material longer. Moreover, while it may take longer, it won’t be as painful as a textbook, and the additional exposure time is one of the biggest necessities for any learner.

Learning languages makes edutainment easy to come across: games and movies made for native speakers. The primary goal for any of these things is enjoyment, and the secondary goal—learning the language the game is presented in—comes naturally. Some games are better suited than others (I’d argue that RPGs are more beneficial than fighting games, for instance), but all of them present a fun way to interact with the language.

The line between educational games and edutainment blurs, and it borders on semantics and opinions. A simple litmus test if a game is edutainment or not is whether or not you feel the game can be fun even if you aren’t learning anything from it.


Systems that make gaming enjoyable applied to real life.
Primary goal: education
Secondary goal: education
Examples: Coursera, Duolingo

Ever since 2010, this term has become popular in the workplace and education world as a way of effortlessly improving productivity. Which is to say, “gamification” is taking the elements that make games fun and addictive, and applying them to the workplace.

This article describes gamification in education well, but if you don’t have the time, here’s the takeaway. Gamification brings systems like leveling up, badges, and goal-based-progress to education while forgoing traditional testing schemes and “permanent records”, if you will.

Traditional class: Study daily. Take quizzes occasionally. One test with few if any retakes. Scoring a 40 will be a death sentence. An 80 on a retake might bring the total grade up to 60. The goal is to get a very-difficult-to-attain 100. Class moves together at a set pace.

Gamified class: Study daily. Take quizzes daily. Take tests occasionally. Scoring a 40 is fine. Scoring an 80 on a retake will bring your total points either up to 80 or 120, depening on your schematic. In any case, it’s always upward. The goal is to get as many points (experience) as possible. Topics come up as students become familiar with the requisite material.

Imagine a course syllabus in which you had to cover basic topics A, B, C, and D, and advanced topics 1, 2, 3, and 4. In the beginning students are allowed into an online platform that tracks their progress in the form of quizzes, projects, tests, lectures, and activities. They can access only A and B at the beginning. But upon completion of major projects in either A or B, C and D open up. Perhaps completion of A and D opens up 1, and completion of C and D opens up 2, for example. Completing any quiz or project awards students experience and “trophies” in which they can potentially show off to their friends. Enough experience gets them level ups, and perhaps their level or number of trophies determines their final grade.

Gamification’s strength lies in three aspects: continuous upward advancement, taking pressure off of “permanent grades”, and students taking control of the direction of their education. It’s weakness is primarily in the amount of work the teacher needs to do, and requiring the teacher to be up-to-date with different aspects of the course instead of just focusing on a single activity students are working on at any given moment. For teachers, most of this work takes place in setting everything up. After a year or two, the workload levels off.

The best of the three?

All three have their place in the world, but gamification and edutainment are clearly in the lead. They’re apples and oranges though—totally different concepts that we should be aware of. On the other hand, educational gaming (which is comparable to edutainment) often fails in its purpose because it neither delivers the material in a fun way nor especially quickly.

Implement gamification in education! Make more edutainment!

The world will learn more efficiently.

1 thought on “Educational Games vs. Edutainment vs. Gamification

  1. Pingback: One Year of TJRPG! | The Japanese Role Playing Game

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