Games and Learning

Learning and Fantasy Video Games

This cycle I am critiquing the article “Endogenous fantasy and learning in digital games” written by M. P. J. Habgood, S. E. Ainsworth and S. Benford of the University of Nottingham, UK. I chose this article for a purely selfish reason. This paper will not help me in my professional or personal life. I didn’t think this article would enlighten me very much on the concept of games based learning. I chose this article because I love fantasy games, specifically role-playing fantasy games and I wanted to know if the fantasy aspect of games directly affects learning.

The article references some familiar names such as Jim Gee and Yasmin Kafai, but focuses mainly on a study that was conducted in the 1980s by Thomas W. Malone that examines endogenous fantasy and how, or if, it affects learning. Malone’s findings are that yes, endogenous (or intrinsic) fantasy contribute more to learning than exogenous (or extrinsic) fantasy in digital games. Habgood et al. disagree with these findings, and argue that core mechanics and flow are more important to learning than intrinsic fantasy aspects.

1978 version of BREAKOUT, now with color!

I agree with the authors findings that contradict the original study, however not for the same reasons. Examining Malone’s work, I don’t believe he used games that evoked a sense of endogenous fantasy in the players. Malone and Lepper define endogenous fantasy as “one that evokes mental images of physical or social situations not actually present” (Malone & Lepper, 1987, p.240). First, he studied BREAKOUT, a 1976 Atari game. In this game you are shown a paddle, ball and bricks. The player’s goal is to move the paddle so that it bounces the ball into the bricks and “breaks” them. The game is not very visually appealing (as expected, as it is an early video game) and does not have any text associated with it. I do not see how a player would intrinsically paint a picture in their head of an actual brick wall, and themselves bouncing balls off it with the end goal to break the wall. If a player were to do so while playing the game it would significantly hinder their game play as the game is very fast paced. Second, he did an ablation study of the game DARTS where he slowing added in visual elements until the students expressed a greater interest in the game. Eventually balloons were inserted into the game, and they became the target of the darts. Players try and burst balloons that are on an axis by entering the correct fraction number attributed to that balloon. Habgood et al. ask this question in their paper “Can a balloon that appears on a computer display really be anymore physically real, or unreal than a rectangle or a cross?” and I would like to propose that no, it does not matter, and that this does not qualify as endogenous fantasy as there is no mental picture created by the player, the image is clearly visible on the screen and there is no need to generate a different image in the mind.

Although I chose this article for my own reasons, I am happy with the article and it’s findings. Closer to the end of the paper, the authors discuss was really matters in games when it comes to learning and they conclude that flow and game core mechanics were more important to learning than intrinsic fantasy. I would be interested to see a study conducted now that games have becomes so advanced in graphic capabilities, and to see if endogenous fantasy does play a part in education and learning.


Habgood, M. P. J., Ainsworth, S. E., & Benford, S. (2005). Endogenous fantasy and learning in digital games. Simulation & Gaming, 36(4), 483-498.

Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. Aptitude, learning, and instruction, 3(1987), 223-253.

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