Game-Based Learning

What’s the Difference Between an App and a Game?

January 17, 2014

I’m a huge advocate for gamification and using games in the classroom, but I get nervous when I see some of the so-called games being marketed to teachers. Many are not games at all. They are apps! Games do something different that apps, and the difference matters. Here's why:

Problem Solving and Application

Games not only requires us to know something, but they also require us to do something with that knowledge. Games force us to problem solve. Sometimes this is directly related to content in science or social studies, and sometimes it is content related to the storyline of the game. We play games because we like to be challenged.

Some apps I play aren’t challenging from an intellectual perspective, and some apps don’t require application of the content. Rather, some apps focus on rote knowledge and skill demonstration instead of using knowledge in a new contexts or challenges.

Authentic Scenario and Story

Great games have a narrative or scenario that calls for players to dive into another world, place or time. I see some apps (that claim to be games) where the story makes no sense or there is no story at all.

Fantasy is great, but fantasy in the game must make sense. These don’t have to be epic RPG story lines--small scenarios and simulations work too. This is an important “look for."

As more and more teachers use technology in the classroom, we need to make sure that they know the difference between apps and games. I know there many other “look fors,” so let’s turn the question over to you. What is the difference between an app and a game, and how do we help each other know? Add to this checklist, and feel free to give examples of both!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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