Gameplay as learning: The use of game design to explain human evolution

Xavier Rubio-Campillo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Video games are one of the most engaging media at our disposal to communicate knowledge. They offer a unique combination of interaction and storytelling that allows players not only to observe virtual worlds but also to experiment with these imagined universes in ways that cannot simply be matched by any other media.

This potential is explained by the fact that the player needs to take an active role inside the recreated world. The world should always be crafted to strengthen game mechanics and this requirement presents a challenge to anyone that wants to use games for archaeological outreach; the most scientifically accurate version of the past will be meaningless if the story, characters and dynamics of the game cannot capture the interest of the player.

The need for engaging experiences suggests that educational video games should never forget the basic requirement that any game needs to be fun. However, the dialogue between these two parallel goals poses some unique questions: what are the best approaches to combine learning with engagement? How does the goal of scientific dissemination affect gameplay? Can an educational game even compete with high-budget projects while seeking for players’ interests?

We explore here how game design provides tools to overcome these challenges exemplified by the case of Ancestors: Stories of Atapuerca. This project aimed at presenting recent discoveries at the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site of Atapuerca (Spain). The discussion on the game design principles used for this initiative highlights possible ways to improve the design of video games purposely created for scientific communication on human evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunicating the Past in the Digital Age
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the International Conference on Digital Methods in Teaching and Learning in Archaeology (12th-13th October 2018)
EditorsSebastian Hageneuer
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherUbiquity Press Ltd.
ISBN (Electronic)9781911529859
ISBN (Print)9781911529842
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2020


  • prehistory
  • game design
  • archaeological outreach
  • digital learning
  • video games

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