Narrative Driven Instructional Design: 3 Ways Serious Games Produce Compelling Learning

Narrative Driven Instructional Design: 3 Ways Serious Games Produce Compelling Learning
Summary: Stories should be a part of any Instructional Designers tool kit; they are a powerful technique to help learners explore and understand concepts. But stories are an underused component of Learning and Development; here we explore narrative driven Instructional Design, what we can learn from serious games, and how to weave stories into your designs.

How Serious Games Produce Compelling Learning Through Narrative Driven Instructional Design

Despite videogames now exceeding the film industry in terms of revenue, entertainment games are not traditionally acclaimed for their well written scripts. It’s not the dialogue that generally attracts people to games. That’s not to say the dialogue and the characters are not important; they are, but they often take a back seat to the ‘action’ (aka game mechanics).

The game mechanics are the key reason why games are so enthralling, however in recent years more and more narrative based games have appeared on the market, games such as Dear Esther, Heavy Rain, Portal, and The Last of Us to name just a few. These games have combined great game play with strong storylines and believable characters to create experiences that are incredibly strong and compelling.

These games have proven to be immensely popular because they offer the player more control of the storyline, of what happens to them; they begin to feel as if they are telling their own story. Game designers are experts in making you feel as though you have control of your actions; when you time the leap off the ledge, which bad guy you shoot first etc. but narrative-based games give us control on an emotional level, and that is why they are so compelling. This is what we need to see more of in Learning and Development.

Narrative Driven Instructional Design In Learning And Development

1. It’s All About The Empathy.

We love stories because they give meaning to events. They help us understand ourselves and they help to bind societies together. We love to hear about the hero’s journey, the rise from a ‘nobody’ to a ‘somebody’, or to hear a story of overcoming adversity. We love to hear stories about different people’s point of view, or to take us away to another land to experience things we could only ever dream of doing. No matter what the story, they almost always revolve around an entity, whether that is an individual, a group of individuals a family, an animal, you name it. That is because we can build empathy with that character. We can intimately get to know them and begin to care for their plight.

We are starting to see this approach become more common in eLearning, where a central character is struggling with a concept or situation that represents the learning outcomes, and we travel alongside that character as they explore and ultimately resolve that challenge.

In serious games and simulations (or gamification, if you prefer that term) you don’t watch another person go on the journey to self-discovery; you yourself travel the path and explore the concepts. You have the control about the narrative. You make the choices, you drive the experience. Of course you want to succeed and, because it’s personalized, you truly care about the outcome.

2. Step Away From Formality.

Have you ever wondered why some of the most popular brands today are where they are? Brands such as Virgin, or Google, or Coca Cola? Yes they have great products and huge marketing budgets but they didn’t start out that way. These and many other popular brands did something different in the way they talked to consumers. They used language and messaging that put them on the same level as their customers. They talked to them like every day human beings.

Our communication in all aspects of our lives is becoming less formal. However, eLearning language and tone seems to be stuck in the doldrums of formality. And when you make something formal, it jars with our everyday lives, it doesn’t feel as real as it could. It’s not how we talk.

To help learners identify with your characters they need to feel real. To write a compelling script for the modern day learner it needs to reflect the language used in the workplace.

3. Explore The 93% Of Communication That Is Non Verbal.

OK the 93% statistic is not 100% accurate, as communication requirements vary from situation to situation, but the point is that a large proportion of our communication is nonverbal; with body language and tone of voice making up the bulk of how we communicate. When you do data dump learning, or formal script writing, or just use a voice over you miss out on these important elements. Or worst of all emphasis in voice over can feel fake… and that will turn your learners off.

This is probably one of the most challenging aspects of script writing for learning solutions as you need to bring in external actors to voice or act your characters, or you need to animate your characters to bring them to life, but it is achievable. For any representation of a character from static 2D to animated 3D facial expressions and postures are really important aspects but are often forgotten. For audio, make sure to get a good actor, it’s defiantly worth it, spend time coaching them and don’t forget to script in pauses, the tone and pace of delivery is just as important as the words.

Final Word

You don’t have to go the whole hog and produce a AAA eLearning or serious games title to create compelling learning, but with so much demand on learners time during working hours, and so many great examples of what draws our learners attention during leisure time, why wouldn’t you try to leverage some of the techniques used to make your learning and development more effective and more engaging. And of course as an Instructional Designer, creating a whole universe with realistic characters and challenges is a whole heap of fun. They used to say everyone has a novel in them; well, I don’t know about a novel, but I know for sure that everyone has a great story to tell!