Game Mechanics of Serious Game

29 October 2021, by Anne-Sophie Vandamme


Serious games are increasingly used in professional learning in all fields, including public health. How does a serious game allow the continuous acquisition of knowledge? Below we discuss the main game mechanics that participate in the learning experience.


Serious games are games used as part of building the capacity and skills of staff in all areas, including public health. A serious game strikes a balance between acquiring knowledge and experiencing the game. The mechanics of the game are basic processes that allow you to advance in the game and generate the engagement of learners.

The Basics of Game Mechanics


Serious games are games used as part of building the skills and competencies of staff. Training managers are increasingly turning to this training method because of the results obtained in terms of knowledge retention and the improvement in performance observed. The rise of the use of smartphones and tablets accompanies the development of serious games.


Game mechanics used in serious games determine their real impact on capacity building, and the democratization of mobile media makes it possible to extend these mechanics. They regulate the modalities of play, the interaction, and the progression of the learner in the game.


The serious game and its mechanics allow users to learn by immersing in a work situation close to reality. This immersion puts the learner at the centre of the learning experience and increases their engagement in their learning journey. Learners are encouraged to learn as the game unfolds, they face situations close to reality and must mobilize their knowledge to deepen and improve them. A serious game strikes a balance between acquiring knowledge and experiencing the game. The mechanics of the game are basic processes that allow you to advance in the game and generate the engagement of learners.

Common Game Mechanics



| Motivation for success is addressed via branching |


Branching assumes that there may be different ways of approaching and solving a problem and, therefore, there is no single correct answer. It makes it possible to develop scenarios with multiple subdivisions. Each path taken leads to new choices between different paths. Every choice comes with its result and consequences. Branching scenarios are required to be plausible, and therefore realistic. The mechanics of branching allows the learner, by his/her choices, to determine the course of the game.

Points and badges


| Motivation for success is addressed through the collection of points and badges | 

Points are awarded by completing activities in the game. They measure progress in the game and help learners track their progress, establishing a score and status categorizing scores by slice into statuses. The accumulation of points often leads to badges. Badges are rewards obtained throughout a serious game and allow you to validate:

  • Milestones in the game
  • One learner’s progress over others
  • The quality of the progression
  • Membership in a high-performing group

The virtual achievement of a badge testifies to the acquisition of a skill, and / or the finalization of a stage of the game. Badges provide positive reinforcement for the targeted behavior.



| Motivation for success is addressed via game levels.|


Levels can be independent of one another or can be used to subdivide overly complex knowledge into different stages and allow for calculated progression in learning.


Levels tell the learner the different stages of the game, and level the progression from the top. Levels allow learners to situate themselves in the game, visualizing what is to come and what is accomplished. When an objective is achieved, crossing a level is allowed, indicating the acquisition of the knowledge of the level. Levels are milestones of success that allow learners to advance to a higher level and therefore unlock new objectives with the acquisition of points, and badges, the progress in the ranking table associated with them.

Ranking and dashboard


| Motivation for success is addressed via a ranking. |


The ranking allows comparison between learners via a dashboard. It brings a social character to the game and illustrates the acquisition of points and badges and therefore the success of the learner by comparing himself/herself to others. The display is usually in descending order, with the top performers at the top of the board, but restricted displays focusing on learners of similar levels can also be prioritized. Ranking brings a sense of competition, which boosts motivation. It is done according to established criteria; the simplicity of the criteria ensures reasonable differences between learners. If the ranking creates huge gaps, it can be a factor of demotivation.


Via the dashboard and its ranking, the learner receives recognition of his progress, the efforts made and the successes in comparison with others. The recognition is made public.



| Motivation is addressed through challenges |


Challenges help keep learners engaged in the game by involving them more intensely. They push the learner to put their knowledge into practice. As with levels, crossing a challenge validates a success and gives it recognition.

Time constraints


| Motivation for success is addressed via the time constraint. |


A countdown mechanism can boost adrenaline levels and the desire to reach the goal as quickly as possible. Giving a limited time to achieve a goal engages learners in a competition, that is, the ranking in the dashboard.

Progress Bar


| Motivation for success is addressed via the progress bar. |


This allows the learner to visualize his progress towards his goal in the game, to clearly appreciate the distance that separates him from his goal and to work to better progress in the game. It is associated with the desire to complete the goal.

Game mechanics impact both the game’s entertaining experience and the quality of learning. Games can be designed as collaborative games, or competitive games, or a combination of both. Because they create different gaming experiences, these games will not appeal to the same audiences. Indeed, when designing a serious game, it is important to know how to balance the share of the game mechanics against the learning objectives of the game.


What is your point of view? Come and share with us your experiences in serious game design or serious game experience!

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