The Power of Tangential Learning

(an article by James Portnow)

The problem with ‘educational games’ is that they often forget about (or are not aware enough of)  the ‘game’ aspect and instead focus only on the educational value. This results in direct attempts to teach rather than exposing the player to new knowledge through which they can instigate learning of their own volition.

In the realm of video games there is a huge divide between games designed for teaching, and games designed for entertainment. It is quite commonly believed that a game cannot both educate and be great entertainment (though in my opinion, if a game doesn’t give good entertainment value than in fails dismally as a game), a view which really needs to be re-evaluated.

‘Educational games’ or now, ‘serious games’ are generally created with the knowledge that if someone is interested in a topic they’ll learn more, faster, and with an eager disposition. They assume that by turning their topic into a game it will force that interest onto the player, making it more exciting, and thus help them learn better. Which is a noble thought, but this is just a ‘jazzing up’ of a topic the user does not care about, rather than trying to design something that the user wants to learn. Serious games need to create intrinsic motivation to learn in their users rather than attempt to force learning onto them.

Tangential learning is not what you learn by being taught but rather what you learn by being exposed to things in a context which you are already highly engaged in.”

James speaks here about ways to engage and encourage your audience to search things outside of your game, which is not exactly what I’m looking for, though it’s on the right track. What I want is ways to engage your audience within the game, without sacrificing that necessary element of ‘fun’.

“I do not believe we should sacrifice the soul of what we do in order to give it meaning. Games, first and foremost, need to be fun.

But what they must be is not all they can be.”



REF:The Power of Tangential Learning (2008, September 10). Edge. Retrieved from


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