Common Components of Serious Games

I have spent the bulk of this week exploring many different sources discussing the different components of serious games.  As I sit down to write my initial blog I feel overwhelmed with lots of knowledge about serious games.  I must have read five or six articles just today about serious games.  Although I am overwhelmed I feel like I can begin to compile a list of common components of serious games.  The following is a list of some common components of serious games.  I have included sources and justification for each component.  This is by no means my final list of components but is merely a start. 


(The components are in no particular order)

1.       Interactivity “In the context of digital games, interactivity is defined as a game property that allows users to influence the quality and course of events occurring in the game world,” (Klimmt and Vorderen 2007 as cited in Serious Games: Social Change Why They Should Work Ch. 16, Klimmt, Christopher).  Additionally, players act and make a decision then the game responds (Gee, James in Good Video Games and Good Learning).  “Learner-generated content will be recognized as one of the principle design mechanisms for learners to demonstrate mastery of a game’s learning objectives,” (Derryberry, Anne 2007).

2.      Narrative Context/Storyline Serious games should have reasonable, comprehensive, and interesting stories (Klimmt, Christopher, Ch. 16).  Serious games should be entertaining, (Derryberry, Anne 2007).

3.      Serious games allows transference of new skills to the real world.  (Derryberry, Anne, 2007).

4.      Purpose “Serious games are designed with the intention of improving some specific aspect of learning, players come with this expectation,” (Derryberry, Anne 2007).  “In a nutshell, if a serious game has no impact on the player in a real life context, it misses its pivotal purpose.  For this reason, the game’s purpose acts as the driving force that shapes the dynamic and the coherence of the game system as a whole,” (Mitgutsch, K and Alvarado, N).

5.      Rules (Including clear goals?)

6.      Well-ordered, challenging problems Serious games should order problems so that they build in difficulty and build based on the skill set the student or player has built up over the course of play. (Gee, Good Video Games and Good Learning).

Please feel free to comment or offer suggestions, as I said this is just a start.


Derryberry, Anne. (2007). Serious Games: online games for learning. Retrieved Online January 23, 2014 from

Mitgutsch, Konstantin and Alvarado, Narda. Purposeful by Design? A Serious Game Design Assessment  Framework. Retrieved online January 23, 2014 from        

Klimmt, Christopher. Serious Games: Mechanisms and Effects. Serious Games and Social Change Why They (Should) Work, Ch. 16.  Retrieved online January 23, 2014 from


James Paul Gee

Good Video Games and Good Learning




7 thoughts on “Common Components of Serious Games

  1. Sara, I always like to read your blogs because they are always very comprehensive. Have you moved out of Alaska yet? I know that last semester you mentioned Kansas? My son-in-law is in the Air Force and they are waiting for their next assignment…sometime in the next week.
    Anyway, I am not sure how you were able to limit the number of criteria to 6. I guess I will have to really work on my list…I think I have about 15…which is way too many. I especially like #5 (rules). I am such a “rule” person…I can never get in the “12 items or less” line when I have 13 items…and I count other cart’s items and seethe inside when there are more than 12 : ). So, I like to know the rules so I can make sure I keep within the boundaries and know the plan.

    #4 “purpose” is good as well. I think that the game should not only have a purpose for the student, but it should also have a purpose for the teacher. Why is the game being played? What will the students learn? How will it help my students understand the lesson I am trying to teach? etc.

    For interactivity (#1), I agree with your comments on the game interacting with the player. I also like the idea of interactivity going on between players. Think about Monopoly, etc…so much of the game is player interaction. Discussing decisions, hearing players verbalize their strategies, etc. I think this player/player interaction is important. When players interact with each other, they learn from each other and have the chance to change strategy. Also, interaction occurs between players based on choices another player makes…bringing reality to the game since so much of our decisions in “real life” are based on what others in our lives do.

    In #2 you discussed a “storyline”. As an English teacher, I love teaching stories. And, I believe that each of us wants to be involved in a story. One of my favorite authors says, “If life is not difficult, then we have no story to tell” I think that is true with a game. I hear my students discuss video games and the stories they always tell have to do with overcoming the hard stuff. Conquering a level, etc. Even my 27 year old daughter was bragging about overcoming a difficult level in Candy Crush the other day.

    I could go on and on with my thoughts, but probably should stop here so you can read other comments.

    • Gary, Wow! Good luck to your son-in-law. Due to medical issues we are no longer moving to Kansas, which seems crazy since we had everything all set. We are still moving, only now we have no idea where and the date is fast approaching. Lots of praying and seeking the positive!

      I don’t know that my list is “comprehensive” and I do think there are more things that should be in a serious game, however in all honesty I worked for hours last night and was overwhelmed. So, rather than not turn my blog in on time I decided to write what I had found so far. I am anxious to read your list to see what you came up with. I have never thought about the “purpose” until I began researching; without a clear purpose I feel like the game will not be effective or address what the teacher or creator is aiming to address. Also, the storyline is the piece that makes the serious game entertaining and engaging. I love the quote you included, “If life is not difficult, then we have no story to tell.” This rings very true for my families current situation with the move.

      Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments.

  2. Sara,
    You have a great list, and it is totally different than my list, and others. This makes me a little nervous as we are suppose to come up with a list in our groups. I’m assuming our lists can’t have thirty items, but everyone has great ideas…

    Good luck on the moving. I think moving in and out of Alaska should be placed on a different scale than moving within the lower 48, and if life were a game we would get extra points or something.

    • Thomas,

      I have noticed that as well as I look at other blog postings. I think the best way to compromise is to pick 2-3 things you are passionate about including in the components and focus on those. I have also worked on trying to incorporate two components into one by wording it in such a way that combining two is feasible.

      Now I am curious about your blog. I will have to look at it. It is so beautiful outside, though. I may have to work for a bit and head out for a run….no I will MUST go outside and run.


  3. Sara,
    I agree with the other comments that you have put together an excellent list of criteria. It will be interesting to see how each group is able to narrow them down to a reasonable number. As I’ve read through other blogs, I have noticed an incredible number of ideas. One thing I noticed is that many of the criteria have similar meaning despite having different titles. Narrowing our group list down may actually be easier than is seems. For instance, you mentioned interactivity as one of your criteria. Several other blog sites used a similar criteria only it was referred to as risk taking, feedback, or hierarchy. Several others mentioned some form of teamwork or collaboration. As our groups begin evaluating our lists, it will be important to find criteria that are similar which will help us develop a practical set of ideas. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Donna Massin says:

    I like that you have included interactivity. I agree that this is a very important criteria for a serious game. Players should affect how the game progresses. i think that interactivity increases higher level thinking skills as players plan their actions.

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