Handbook of Game-based Learning (MIT Press)

The Handbook of Game-based Learning, edited by Jan L. Plass, Richard E. Mayer, and Bruce D. Homer, is a comprehensive introduction to the latest research and theory on learning and instruction with computer games.

Handbook of Game-Based Learning cover art
Cover art by Keisha Milsom


Jan L. Plass

Jan L. Plass is Professor of Educational Communication and Technology and the inaugural holder of the Paulette Goddard Chair of Digital Media and Learning Sciences in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University

Richard E. Mayer

Richard E. Mayer is Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Bruce D. Homer

Bruce D. Homer is Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at the Graduate Center of City University New York.

Table of Contents

Part 1              Introduction to Game-Based Learning

Chapter 1        Theoretical Foundations of Game-Based Learning
Jan L. Plass, Bruce D. Homer, Richard E. Mayer,
and Charles K. Kinzer

Chapter 2        Play and Cognitive Development:
Bruce D. Homer, Charles Raffaele, and Hamadi Henderson

Chapter 3        Types of Engagement in Learning with Games
Ruth N. Schwartz and Jan L. Plass

Part 2              Theoretical Foundations of Game-Based Learning

Chapter 4        Cognitive Foundations of Game-Based Learning
Richard E. Mayer

Chapter 5        Affective Foundations of Game-Based Learning
                       Kristina Loderer, Reinhard Pekrun, and Jan L. Plass

Chapter 6        Motivational Foundations of Game-Based Learning
                        Richard M. Ryan and C. Scott Rigby

Chapter 7        Socio-Cultural Foundations of Game-Based Learning
                        Constance Steinkuehler and A. M. Tsaasan

Part 3              Design Foundations of Game-Based Learning                     

Chapter 8        Instructional Support, Feedback, and Coaching in
Game-Based Learning
                        James C. Lester, Randall D. Spain, Jonathan P. Rowe,
and Bradford W. Mott

Chapter 9        Self-Regulation and Reflection in Game-Based Learning
                        Michelle Taub, Amanda E. Bradbury, Nicholas V. Mudrick,
and Roger Azevedo

Chapter 10      Adaptivity and Personalization in Game-Based Learning       
                       Jan L. Plass and Shashank Pawar

Chapter 11      Narratives in Game-Based Learning
                        Michelle D. Dickey

Chapter 12      Multimedia Design Principles in Game-Based Learning
                        Brian Nelson and Younsu Kim

Chapter 13      Collaboration and Cooperation in Game-Based Learning
                        Fengfeng Ke

Chapter 14      Emerging Design Factors in Game-based Learning:
Emotional Design, Musical Score, and Game Mechanics Design
                        Shashank Pawar, Frankie Tam, and Jan L. Plass

Chapter 15      Emerging Design Factors in Game-based Learning:
Incentives, Social Presence, and Identity Design
                        Frankie Tam and Shashank Pawar

Part 4              Applications of Game-Based Learning

Chapter 16      Game-Based Learning in Science, Mathematics, Engineering,
and Technology
                        Eric Klopfer and Meredith Thompson

Chapter 17      Games as Language Learning Environments
                        Jonathon Reinhardt and Steven L. Thorne

Chapter 18      Games for Training of Cognitive Skills
                        Daphne Bavelier

Chapter 19      Games for Workforce Learning and Performance
                        Ruth C. Clark and Frank Nguyen

Chapter 20      Games for Assessment
                        Valerie J. Shute & Chen Sun

Chapter 21      Learning Analytics for Games
                        V. Elizabeth Owen and Ryan S. Baker

Gamification v. Game-based Learning v. Playful Learning

As somebody who works in the field of games and learning, I often get asked about gamification versus game-based learning. Is there a difference? Should there be one? To be sure, no broadly accepted definitions exist for either of these terms, but at the Games for Learning Institute at NYU and in my CREATE lab we believe gamification and games for learning represent two very distinct approaches to designing learning experiences. There are other views, of course, such as described by our friends at Filament Games.



We think of gamification as an attempt to apply specific game features to an existing learning environment in order to make it more motivating. Learning environment here could even mean a worksheet – often not the most interesting (or effective) way to learn. In order to get learners to engage in these activities anyway, gamification involves adding incentives such as stars, points, or rankings to encourage the learner to expend effort on the otherwise boring task. The learning task itself, however remains largely unchanged.


Game-based Learning

This is where Game-based learning comes into play. Going back to the example of the worksheet, when taking a game-based learning approach we ask whether worksheets are really the best way to learn about potentially interesting and certainly relevant topics such as the electoral college, the popular vote, estimating crowd sizes, or how wiretapping works, to name a few random ones that come to mind. In the games for learning approach, we go back to the drawing board of learning design and ask: How can we design game-based activities that are more interesting, meaningful, and, ultimately, more effective for learning than the existing task? In other words, we think about learning mechanics – the recurring activities in which learners engage while they play the game. We ground the design of these activities in discipline-specific applications of research from the Learning Sciences and related fields. The result is usually a new way of learning–and if we are really really lucky, learners actually agree that it is a good game. An example are our brain training games All you can E.T. and Gwakkamole, available for free on our DREAM platform. And as it turns out, the game mechanic itself, perhaps with the help of a narrative, is so interesting and engaging that we often don’t even use extrinsic rewards such as points or stars.


Playful Learning

Do we always have to design a game when we want to redesign a learning task? Through our work over the past decade we have come to believe that there is a highly interesting middle ground, which we describe as playful learning. When we take a playful learning approach, we may redesign the learning activity to make it more interesting and meaningful, but we use game features only in subtle ways, creating a playful learning experience rather than a full-blown game. An example can be seen in the StatsSims project, in which we used playful elements for the design of simulations for Intro to Statistics courses for high schools and colleges.

Gamification, Game-based Learning, and Playful Learning
Figure. Gamification, Game-based Learning, and Playful Learning: Three approaches to designing learning experiences


In summary, we use the terms gamification, game-based learning, and playful learning to describe three related yet distinct approaches to the design of learning experiences. Each has their place, but where gamification does not prioritize the redesign of the learning activity, game-based learning and playful learning are approaches that recognize that in many cases, we can do much better in designing activities for learning than worksheets.