Practical Applications and Lessons Learned

Before jumping in to game-enhanced learning, it is important to consider how this compares to other eLearning modes (video tutorials, learning management software, etc.) not only from the instructor perspective, but from the student’s perspective as well. One of the biggest weaknesses in Minecraft-based lesson plans is the ability of the instructor to “speak Minecraft” with students and draw parallels between the game world and reality. This, unfortunately, does not happen overnight. It means spending at least a couple hours in-game to understand why threat modeling fits so well. This is no different than any other science discipline, where line drawings on chalk boards are often used to represent high-level ideas on a microscopic level. Without fluency in these concepts, or having run the same experiment before, it is difficult to further illustrate those ideas with words.

From the student perspective, it is difficult to say if your lesson plan has worked because the true test is not about answering an essay prompt or filling out multiple choice questions, but will they recall the security advice or begin to apply the concepts you introduced at a later date. Clark and Mayer suggest there are five “promising features” that computer games offer over traditional eLearning modes (2016). Fully utilizing these elements are in many ways the “secret sauce” of game-based instruction.


The instructors’ ability to provide “over the shoulder” advice before or after students (or a group of students) make a move or implement a design idea can create a positive feedback loop for the entire class. Highlighting novel approaches as they happen is a great way to spark new ideas and can generate discussion topics organically.

Coaching can also take place before gameplay even begins; in the same way sports team might review a video recording of their competitor, we can review fort designs posted by the Minecraft community at large, and begin to critique their security efforts through the lens of threat modeling.


This evidence-based principle suggests that memory retention is enhanced when the “flow” of gameplay is maintained. When compared to control groups that were asked to type out their reasoning while using a video game enhanced learning module, the test groups that minimized disruption during gameplay performed better than their peers.

In this specific example, students were selecting answers from on-screen menus while in-game, which is not currently possible in Minecraft, but by designing the course in such a way that the student is given total freedom to decide not only what they are protecting in their Minecraft base, but also the complexity of their threat model and design, we help preserve autonomy and flow and their ability to self-explain.


It is interesting to note that this principle is already used frequently by game developers in the form of tutorials or linear introduction levels where the game introduces or demonstrates a concept, for example, that the “A” button will make your game character jump, then players have to immediately use this new information to advance to the next level.

Similarly, the process of threat modeling is greatly enhanced by the introduction of core concepts like risk, impact, and probability before they being hands-on in game coursework.


Through controlled experiments using educational video games, researchers have found information presented by voice rather than on screen text shows strong evidence for increased memory retention. This, coupled with the coaching principle, is a great reason to keep your class sizes small and interactive. Speaking from personal experience, one of the best aspects of teaching in a video-game-enhanced classroom is the instructor’s ability to see, translate, and share design ideas as they happen, without asking students to break away from the activity itself.


One of the easiest ways to leverage video games within a security education context is to pick a game that is easy to customize and speak in a conversational style. Minecraft is a great example of this because it allows players to not only build large structures block by block, but also modify the exterior environment to fit their needs. Similarly, asking students, and especially youth, to directly apply security knowledge or practice new security techniques like threat modeling to their personal life is much easier than bringing forward case studies about historic data breaches affecting millions of users.

At the same time, be aware that casually mentioning cyberthreats like online bullying and harassment are an extremely sensitive subject for those who have experienced it, especially in library workshop settings where participants are less familiar with each other. It is possible to overpersonalize, and given the norms established in most library settings around privacy and anonymity, you may want to begin classes or training sessions with a reminder to respect these boundaries.

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