A review of Emotify! The Power of the Human Element in Game-based Learning, Serious Games, and Experiential Education, by Michael Sutton and Kevin Allen

The challenge in doing a 900-word review of a 220+page book is that I can only comment on the key points and elements, and summarize the rest. What I can say is that Michael Sutton and Kevin Allen have produced a guide for a wide range of learning designers and managers, depending on their situations and experience. The text deserves careful reading and may require re-evaluation of one’s own biases about game-based learning.

When I accepted the request to review Emotify!, I expected a book that addressed “building, buying, and delivering” game-based learning. That is the title of Chapter 5, and one of my first notes says, “Why didn’t they just cut to the chase?” But after closer reading, I realized I was too hasty with that question. There is so much more to this book than those mechanical considerations. I found that my understanding was better served by going back and reading the rest of what the authors had to say. The content is deep.

A strategy for adopting game-based learning

Emotify! presents a strategy for adopting games as the basis for learning in an organization. Not for ALL learning: the authors are fair in their presentation of the merits of other approaches and the situations where they are appropriate. At the same time, they make clear the many ways in which lectures, webinars, and slide-based eLearning are not adequate formats for today’s learning and performance challenges and for life-long learning. Game-based learning (GBL), serious games, and experiential learning belong in many contexts beyond the ones that readers might expect.

Depending on where the reader is on the journey of exploration of games and experiential learning, there are chapters that should be read first by readers who have some familiarity with or are “sold” on the concepts, by those who need help convincing others, and by those with a mandate and in a hurry to develop and implement, and there are chapters that can be skipped initially by those readers. There are chapters that should be read first by those who are just starting the journey, by those who have particular needs (immersive learning environments), and chapters that can probably be skipped (initially) by any of those groups. I have organized this review for each of these groups of readers.

More than one way to approach Emotify!

I am going to make some suggestions about what I believe is a productive way to approach the book. Certainly, you can read straight through from the Introduction to the Epilogue. The chapters chunk the content in a logical way. However, if you are impatient (as I am) or needing to make a decision about GBL, here are some alternative ways to go that seem to me may be helpful to you.

All readers

All readers should take in the first two pages of the Introduction and then skip to the Outline of the text that begins on page 29 in order to get an understanding of the scope of the book.

If you are new to GBL

Readers who are new to the idea of games and experiential learning might want to begin with the first three chapters. These present the problems with most corporate learning and the rationale for game-based learning. Then, go to Chapter 9 that addresses the principles and reasoning behind adopting GBL. If you feel a little lost after the PDCA Framework section (Plan-Do-Check-Act) in Chapter 9, go back to one of the two next suggestions I will make.

If you need to sell the idea of GBL to your team

If you need to sell the idea of GBL to your team, go to Chapters 6 ("Creating Your Following"), Chapter7 ("Crafting Your Show"), and Chapter 8 ("Tracking and Evaluating"). Then read Chapter 9 (or finish it) on "Disruptive Educational Transformation".

If you need to sell your boss on the idea of GBL

Prepare your plan. Chapter 2 ("Game Quest? Why Now?"), Chapter 3 ("The Right Approach: Choosing Among Excellent Alternatives"), and then Chapters 6 and 7 as named above. Then all of Chapter 9 for the framework of implementation.

If you already have a mandate for GBL

Chapter 3 as above, then Chapter 5 ("Building, Buying, Delivering"), Chapter 8 ("Tracking and Evaluating"), and Chapter 9. If part of your mandate, read Chapter 4 ("Special Case: Immersive Learning Environments").

Back to all readers

The "Epilogue: Learning or Losing" is the mandatory finish for everyone. Then go back and read the chapters you skipped, all of them.

My epilogue for this review

If it wasn’t already clear, I recommend Sutton and Allen’s Emotify! The Power of the Human Element in Game-based Learning, Serious Games, and Experiential Education no matter where you are in your journey or your career. There is a lot to consider, to learn, to pilot, and to adopt. If you don’t mind my dropping a couple of names, there are good reasons that Sue Bohle, executive director of the Serious Games Association, and Karl Kapp, EdD, author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction and Play to Learn, and many other experts also recommend it.


Sutton, Michael J. and Kevin Allen (2019) Emotify! The Power of the Human Element in Game-based Learning, Serious Games, and Experiential Education. Miami: EI Games, LLC