Home > Learning Games, Simulations > Simulations Vs. Games – How to Choose Among, When it Comes to Learning

Simulations Vs. Games – How to Choose Among, When it Comes to Learning

Simulations and games are a great set of tools to teach. Usually when it comes to making a decision about what is more suitable for a particular learning requirement, whether a simulation or a game, the decision is usually driven by personal preferences or past experiences.

Before we analyze what might be best for given situation lets consider the following facts:

Development Objectives

Games are played to be won

where as

Simulations are to be completed

Experience Objectives

Without imagination there is no game

where as

Without experience there is no simulation


Now lets take an example of the “Game of Football”. Hey, I am talking about the “Game” played on the field! Want to do something with football, virtually? Yes.. Ok, create a software utility that helps you learn how to dribble a football on your PC screen using mouse or keystrokes. It’s a simulation. Dribble it against a human or computer opponent, it’s a game. Both have their level of fun element. Add goal scoring to the game you made, its more fun. Add dribbling through obstacles in your simulation, again, its more fun.

Definitely fun is a spice for building games and simulations, but not a differentiating factor. Some simulations are more fun and some games are really boring. This is against the common belief that games have more amount of fun element involved. As a game designer, it’s your talent as a cook, how delicately you play around with spices.

Below I have listed some variables that can help decide whether a game or a simulations is more suited for a given learning situation. I am still working on them and will keep on fine tuning.. suggestions are welcome!

Learning Requirements Simulations Game Based Learning
Mission criticalness High Medium to Low
Required Learning Explicitness Controlled, guided By discovery or by chance
Learning modes Show, Guide and Test Test
Persistence of learning required Medium to High Medium to low
Skill building Medium to low High
Relative scale of Target System Large to Medium Small
Performance Support requirements High to Moderate Moderate to Low
Complexity of Target System Medium to low Highly complex to moderately complex
Targeted brain hemisphere Left Brain Learning Right Brain Learning
Number of variables in environment Medium to High Low
Design Effort Medium to Low High
Media Development Effort Medium to Low High
Technical Development Effort Medium to High Low to Medium


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