Skip to main content
Log in

When Failure Is an Option: a Scoping Review of Failure States in Game-Based Learning

TechTrends Aims and scope Submit manuscript


As interest in the use of games and gaming elements within learning environments grows, educators and designers may find it easier to account for winning than for losing and failure. This scoping review examines the role of failure and loss within game-based instructional interventions. Because of the varied methods and relatively small number of articles directly addressing the intersection between failure and loss within game-based instructional interventions, a scoping review was undertaken. This review included 14 peer-reviewed articles which explored a range of instructional contexts implementing failure state game mechanics. We identify several key takeaways that indicate how failure state mechanics may have considerable promise in meeting specific instructional goals during game-based instructional interventions. Perhaps most notable in the findings is the delicate relationship between perceived risk of failure relative to instructional utility. We define this relationship with a new term, unit of failure, which aims to assist practitioners in operationalizing failure and loss in game-based instructional interventions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert L. Moore.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Not applicable.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Powers, F.E., Moore, R.L. When Failure Is an Option: a Scoping Review of Failure States in Game-Based Learning. TechTrends 65, 615–625 (2021).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: