Gaming in education: ‘We don’t need no stinking badges’

Educators and game designers say gamification is not about adding games to classes, but designing classes as games


When video game designer and writer Lee Sheldon designed a physical fitness class called “Skeleton Chase,” he didn’t ask any students to climb into a sewer drain.

Yet, one student, who saw it as the best means to attain his goal, did so, anyway. Sheldon showed a photograph of the student climbing into the tunnel to a small gathering of politicians, educators, and industry leaders May 16 on Capitol Hill. “If you get a student to do that,” he said, pointing to the photo, “you have engagement.”

Sheldon was one of a handful of game designers to speak about gaming in education as part of the launch of Excelsior College’s new Center for Game and Simulation-Based Learning.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Nearly 70 percent of parents of children who play video games believe that video games provide mental stimulation or education.

At Friday’s event, Sheldon stressed that gaming in education does not mean simply adding video games into a classroom.

Sheldon, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is renowned for his work in video games. He’s written and designed dozens of them, including Star Trek: Infinite Space and a series of games based on the mystery novels of Agatha Christie. He’s designed several computer games for students, including a game that teaches engineering by helping an Irish family emigrate to Mars.

But in many of his own courses, the games are decidedly low-tech, making use of basic sets and actors in place of computer graphics.

“It’s not a game added to a class,” Sheldon said. “It’s a class designed as a game.”

(Next page: Why Sheldon says digital badges are unnecessary)

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at