When is a game not a game?

I’ve been engaged in some discussion on twitter about The Blood Typing Game, which is designed to demonstrate the principles of blood typing to a ‘younger audience’ (whatever that might be). In this ‘game’ players have to draw blood from a patient, put it in test tubes, interpret the results and, based on this, select appropriate blood types for a transfusion. Now, this is a nicely designed piece of multimedia, it’s easy to use, the interface is intuitive, and it’s aesthetically pleasing. It also certainly supports learning about blood typing, through tutorials and the ability to practice and make mistakes. But does this make it a game?

For me this is essentially interactive educational multimedia. Fiona Trapani argues that it fits the definition of a game: “goal, clear rules, feedback and voluntary” but these factors are not unique to games. There are ‘game’ elements present: the use of ‘missions’, scores, leaderboards, achievements. There’s even a basic narrative (‘twins are brought into the emergency room…’) that doesn’t seem to go anywhere or influence the core interaction in any way. You could remove all of these ‘game’ elements and you’d still have a nicely designed, easy-to-use, piece of interactive media for learning.

So is this a game, or simply the gamification of  interactive educational media? I would have said the latter, for certain, but for Katie Piatt‘s comment that it is “playful”. I agree to some extent: you can take blood from the head instead of an arm, you can give the wrong blood type and make the patient scream, but the scope for exploration and play is very limited. Is this playfulness enough to make it a game? I’m not convinced.



  1. Katie Piatt

    Trying to think of an example of something less playful than this one which you would classify as a game, maybe the card game Snap. That’s a game right? I assume games have different amounts of the elements that make them games…and some are less ‘gamey’ that others in different respects. It might make them poor games, but games all the same…?

  2. Fiona Trapani

    I have been pondering your point, Nicola. I think that if the blood typing game were stripped of it’s ‘gamification’ that you are right, it would still be a good educational activity. In and of themselves, the game elements add little more than a temporary motivator for younger students (12-18 year olds), encouraging the ‘ludic’/ playfulness Katie identified. As it stands, this would be a good homework activity/ class activity, but I doubt that it would be used for an extended period. I would also still assert that it is a game, albeit a simple matching one (once you understand the blood typing rules) and would equate it to concentration or snap card games…. working at the knowledge building end of the educational spectrum.

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