What makes a game (1) suitable for adults, (2) fun to play, and (3) supportive of teaching points? We have all seen versions of television game shows that try to do these things, and the first time or two employees in a class may play along. After that, these games become predictable, less fun, and maybe less related to the teaching points of the class.

Originally, I named this article “Lame Games” but I changed the title for two reasons. First, because there is a game called “Lame” and it has less to do with the objective of the article. Second, I don’t want to disparage the television show-themed games: they do have their place, and if not abused by overuse they can be effective. I call what I am suggesting “Games for Adults.” Not a great name, but it will have to do.

What makes a learning game “lame”?

There are several things that take the fun and learning out of a learning game. “Lame” if you will.

First, repeating the same television-themed game several times for review purposes in a half-day course makes it predictable and boring. Not only that, but many of your employees will have played the same game in other courses, in other companies, at social gatherings, and so on. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and people rightly expect a challenge, perhaps even a little mystery.

Second, because the game is part of a course, it can become just more work. Cool graphics on the leaderboard and exhortatory instructions don’t motivate learning.

Is there any strategy possible in the game? Is there any way to affect the scores or the outcome of the game? Can the players be challenged to make decisions about the play of the game?

Is the game just a puzzle? Is the solution checked for all the players, or only the winner? Is there a way for the winner (or any player) to challenge the others to “prove me wrong”?

What to do about lame games?

First, avoid them. Look for alternatives by reading game reviews and ideas online.

  • Games for ESL (English as a Second Language): This may or may not be a niche concern—unless your employees are not native speakers of English. Though most of the games listed on this site are intended for classroom use, many can be modified to work in video-based conference apps. Note the caution stated on the site: “ESL games for adults should be carefully planned, related to current classwork, and have a clear language goal in mind. Not all games are created equal either—we have to make sure we choose the right ones for our audience and classroom set-up.”
  • Games for medical education: This site is a long list of ideas that were originally intended for in-service training where everyone is in the same room. Not all of them are convertible into distant eLearning form for groups, but many of them are.
  • Finally, there are the online sites that specialize in reviews of software, including the categories of most interest to instructional designers and developers:

???????Second, roll your own games that avoid the lameness. You really should start with the suggestions of champion eLearning designer Connie Malamed. Convert the concepts to fit eLearning and distance learning.

Another great set of adult game ideas that can be converted to work in eLearning and distance learning can be found, of all places, in Cosmopolitan magazine. Skip the tequila and the games like chess. Games like Virtual Taboo and 9 Truths can be modified with some appropriate imagination. Heads Up and Scattergories should be easy conversions as well.