Design Principles for Serious Video Games in Mathematics Education: From Theory to Practice

Konstantinos Chorianopoulos, Michail Giannakos


There is growing interest in the employment of serious video games in science education, but there are no clear design principles. After surveying previous work in serious video game design, we highlighted the following design principles: 1) engage the students with narrative (hero, story), 2) employ familiar gameplay mechanics from popular video games, 3) engage students into constructive trial and error game-play and 4) situate collaborative learning. As illustrated examples we designed two math video games targeted to primary education students. The gameplay of the math video games embeds addition operations in a seamless way, which has been inspired by that of classic platform games. In this way, the students are adding numbers as part of popular gameplay mechanics and as a means to reach the video game objective, rather than as an end in itself. The employment of well-defined principles in the design of math video games should facilitate the evaluation of learning effectiveness by researchers. Moreover, educators can deploy alternative versions of the games in order to engage students with diverse learning styles. For example, some students might be motived and benefited by narrative, while others by collaboration, because it is unlikely that one type of serious video game might fit all learning styles. The proposed principles are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a starting point for extending the list and applying them in other cases of serious video games beyond mathematics and learning.


Design Principles; Education; Guidelines; Mathematics; Interaction Design; Serious Video Games

Full Text:



Arnab, S., Lim, T., Carvalho, M. B., Bellotti, F., de Freitas, S., Louchart, S., Suttie, N., Berta, R. and De Gloria, A., “Mapping learning and game mechanics for serious games analysis”. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12113, 2014

Becker, K., “Teaching with games: the Minesweeper and Asteroids experience. Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 17(2), 23-33, 2001.

Bellotti, F., Berta, R. & De Gloria, A., “Designing effective serious games: opportunities and challenges for research”. Special issue: creative learning with serious games. Int’l Journal of Emerging Technologies In Learning (IJET), 5, 22–35, 2010.

Bellotti, F., R. Berta, A. De Gloria, S. Arnab, S. de Freitas, K. Kiili, M. Ott. Designing Serious Games for education: from Pedagogical principles to Game Mechanisms. Proceedings of ECGBL Conference, Athens, 2011.

Bopp, M. Storytelling as a motivational tool in digital learning games. Didactics of Microlearning. Concepts, Discourses and Examples, 250-266, 2007.

Campbell, J., The hero's journey: Joseph Campbell on his life and work (Vol. 7). New World Library, 2003.

Crawford, C. The Art of Computer Game Design, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 1984.

Dondlinger, M. J., Educational video game design: A review of the literature. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1), 21-31, 2007.

Duke, R. D., Gaming: the future's language. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1974.

Garneli, B., Giannakos, M. N., Chorianopoulos, K., & Jaccheri, L. Learning by Playing and Learning by Making. In Serious Games Development and Applications (pp. 76-85). Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2013.

Gee, J. P. Deep learning properties of good digital games: How far can they go. Serious games: Mechanisms and effects, 67-82, 2009.

Gunter, G. A., Kenny, R. F. & Vick, E. H. A case for a formal design paradigm for serious games. The Journal of the International Digital Media and Arts Association, 3, 1, 93–105, 2006.

Huynh-Kim-Bang, B., Labat, L.-M. & Wisdom, J., Design patterns in serious games: a blue print for combining fun and learning, 2011. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from

Jeong, H. & Chi, M. T. H., Does collaborative learning lead to the construction of common knowledge?, 2000. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from

Johnson, S., Everything bad is good for you: How today’s popular culture is actually making us smarter. London: Allen Lane, 2005.

Kafai, Y. B., Playing and making games for learning instructionist and constructionist perspectives for game studies. Games and culture, 1(1), 36-40, 2006.

Kelle, S., Klemke, R. and Specht, M., ‘Design patterns for learning games’, Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, 3(6), 555–569, 2011.

Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. Storytelling alice motivates middle school girls to learn computer programming. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, 1455-1464, 2007.

Kiili, K., Ott, M., Jönkkäri. T (2012) Towards creative pedagogy: Empowering students to develop games. In proceedings of ECGBL, 2012.

Kirschner, P., Strijbos, J. W., Kreijns, K., & Beers, P. J., Designing electronic collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3), 47-66, 2004.

Lim, T., Louchart, S., Suttie, N., Ritchie, J. M., Aylett, R. S., Stănescu, I. A. et al. Strategies for effective digital games development and implementation. In Y. Baek & N. Whitton (Eds), Cases on digital game-based learning: methods, models, and strategies, IGI global, 168–198, 2013.

Malone, T.W., Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science 4, 333–369, 1981.

Owen, M., Structure and discourse in a telematic learning environment. Educational Technology & Society, 2000. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from

Rieber, L. P.. Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational technology research and development, 44(2), 43-58, 1996.

Ritterfeld, U., Cody, M., and Vorderer, P. Eds., Serious Games: Mechanisms and Effects, Routledge, New York, NY, USA, 2009.

Rodrigues, M., & Carvalho, P. S., Teaching physics with Angry Birds: exploring the kinematics and dynamics of the game. Physics Education, 48(4), 431-437, 2013.

Schaffer, D., Squire, K., Halverson, R., & Gee, J., Video Games and the Future of Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105–111, 2005.

Soloway, E., Guzdial, M., & Hay, K. E. (1994). Learner-centered design: The challenge for HCI in the 21st century. interactions, 1(2), 36-48.

Spalter, A. M., Simpson, R. M., Legrand, M., & Taichi, S., Considering a full range of teaching techniques for use in interactive educational software: a practical guide and brainstorming session. In Proceedings of IEEE/ASEE Frontiers in Education (FIE), 1-19, 2000.

Steinkuehler, C., & Duncan, S., Scientific habits of mind in virtual worlds. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17, 530–543, 2008.

Virvou, M., & Katsionis, G., On the usability and likeability of virtual reality games for education: The case of VR-ENGAGE. Computers & Education, 50(1), 154-178, 2008.

Vogler, C., The writer’s journey: Mythic structures for writers. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Serious Games Society

Creative Commons LicenseThe International Journal of Serious Games (IJSG) by Serious Games Society is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.