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The Computer Games Journal

, Volume 4, Issue 3–4, pp 169–186 | Cite as

Games You Can’t Win

  • Dana Ruggiero
  • Katrin Becker
Article

Abstract

A common notion in games for learning is that the player must win the game. But is it always necessary for the player to win in order to ‘get’ the message that the game is trying to portray? When we think back on our most memorable learning experiences, we find that these lessons are often things we learned through failure rather than success. There is a class of games where ‘winning’ doesn’t look the way we typically expect it to look. Some games do not allow their players to win, and their underlying message is more akin to that found in a cautionary tale. We refer to these games as games you can’t win, and they form a distinctly different approach to game design. Games such as Sweatshop (Littleloud, 2011), Darfur is Dying (MTVu, 2006), and September 12th (Newsgaming, 2005) are games you cannot conceivably win, and they are designed that way deliberately. This paper presents a critique on serious games that are unwinnable by design. We examine the concepts of games and learning, the design of unwinnable games, design strategies for unhappy and/or unwinnable learning games, and ways to measure the success of games you can’t win. We also briefly consider potential issues and future directions, and we conclude that the messages delivered via games you can’t win are more powerful than those of games in which you can win.

Keywords

Unwinnable Unhappy endstate Educational games Game design 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bath Spa UniversityBathUK
  2. 2.Mount Royal UniversityCalgaryCanada

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