In Okami, my character, Ameratsu, the dog goddess, came across an elder gentleman that needed a dog to dig at a specific place. Then, I immediately got swept in a mini-game involving protecting the gentleman from harm, and digging wherever the gentleman wanted me to.
Okami is filled with mini-games such as these. One mini-game involves using gestures to catch fish. Another is a whack-a-mole style game, with the difference that a specific mole needed to be bonked. Eventually, these games seem more like a distraction. These games use different gaming mechanics, and I only have to do well in the mini-game once to advance in the game. Generally, after I beat it, I have no reason to revisit it, so there’s no built-in replay value.
While the mini-games in Okami were uninspiring in terms of game play, how can mini-games in general be used for educational contexts? My previous discussions about educational snacks imply that short-term bursts of learning has the potential to be beneficial. Thus, mini-games can also act as educational snacks due to their duration.
However, if mini-games are presented such as how they were presented in games like Okami, mini-games may be rendered useless in educational contexts.The mini-game might have too many educational goals, that it may just be considered a separate game itself. Effort might be wasted putting educational goals in a mini-game when the player may only play it once at most.
Below are a few concerns and design considerations when considering mini-games in an educational context:
Frequency of Play: In Okami, most mini-games needed to be cleared or beaten once. In other games, mini-games aren’t eve required. How can someone fully learn and understand a concept if the learner has only encountered it once? Repetition in learning a concept is a key concern to using mini-games. One way to resolve this issue is to embed the mini-game into normal play, such that players may not even think it’s a mini-game. A math-based example of this is a character going shopping and the player must type in how much money to give to the shopkeeper rather than have that automatically deducted.
Kind of player you’re appealing to: For players that seek high scores, getting all the secret items, or just a high-achiever player, such players may play the mini-games over and over again just to get the highest score. But any other kind of player probably won’t have the patience nor motivation to play a mini-game without the proper incentive, whether it’s an item that helps them solve a problem, or unlocking a feature.
Educational Goal/s: Given the brevity of the mini-game itself, one can’t fully educate an abstract theory of something with just one mini-game alone. If a concept is too complicated, break it down into smaller, different kinds of mini-games. Unless you can guarantee that your player will want to play the game over and over again, it may not be worth the effort to load many concepts into different levels of a mini-game alone.
Now, the added challenge is not only to make a great educational game, but a great game with worthwhile, motivating, and useful mini-games.