Endogenous vs. Exogenous Games

Title : From Content to Context: Videogames as Designed Experience (Squire, 2006)

Summary : Kurt Squire is a big name in educational video games, and a paper by him is always worth reading. This paper is about games as a designed experience [1] , but I wanted to focus on his discussion of Endogenous vs. Exogenous games. If you have the time, though, you should skim the entire article!


In Exogenous games, the learning context is external to the gameplay, as opposed to internalized like in Endogenous games. The article breaks this down further by contrasting the two terms:

  • Learner is...

    • Exogenous: An empty receptacle. An example is Math Blaster, where the learner is “motivated” to learn a prescribed set of skills and facts.
    • Endogenous: An active, sense-making, social organism. An example is Grand Theft Auto, where the learner brings existing identities and experiences that color interpretations of the game experience.
  • Knowledge is...

    • Exogenous: Knowledge of discrete facts. The facts are “true” by authority (generally the authority of the game designer).
    • Endogenous: Tool set used to solve problems. The right answer in Civilization is that which is efficacious for solving problems in the game world.
  • Learning is...

    • Exogenous: Memorizing. Learners reproduce a set of prescribed facts, such as mathematics tables.
    • Endogenous: Doing, experimenting, discovering for the purposes of action in the world. Players learn in role-playing games for the purposes of acting within an identity.
  • Instruction is...

    • Exogenous: Transmission. The goal of a drill and practice game is to transmit information effectively and to “train” a set of desired responses.
    • Endogenous: Making meaning/construction, discovery, social negotiation process. Instruction in Supercharged! involves creating a set of well designed experiences that elicit identities and encourage learners to confront existing beliefs, perform skills in context, and reflect on their understandings.
  • Social model is...

    • Exogenous: “Claustrophobic.” Players are expected to solve problems alone; using outside resources is generally “cheating.”
    • Endogenous: Fundamentally group oriented. Games are designed to be played collectively, in affinity groups, and distributed across multiple media. They are designed with complexity to spawn affinity groups and communities that support game play.
  • Pre-knowledge is...

    • Exogenous: Set of facts, knowledge, and skills to be assessed for proper pacing. In Math Blaster, players’ self-efficacy in mathematics is not addressed.
    • Endogenous: Knowledge to be leveraged, played upon. Pre-knowledge is expected to color perception, ideas, and strategies. In Environmental Detectives, challenges are structured so that players become increasingly competent and learn to see the value of mathematics.
  • Identity is...

    • Exogenous: Something to be cajoled. If players are not “motivated” to do math, the game developer’s job is to create an “exciting” context for the learner.
    • Endogenous: Something to be recruited, managed, built over time. In Environmental Detectives, learners develop identities as scientists.
  • Context is...

    • Exogenous: A motivational wrapper. The context in Math Blaster is something to make learning more palatable
    • Endogenous: The “content” of the experience. In Civilization, the geographical-materialist game model is the argument that situates activity and drives learning.

My Thoughts

The biggest take-away : If you’re making a game, seriously ask yourself if it’s Endo- or Exo-. Any programmer can make an Exogenous game; a real Educational Game Developer makes Endogenous games!

Formal Abstract

Interactive immersive entertainment, or videogame playing, has emerged as a major entertainment and educational medium. As research and development initiatives proliferate, educational researchers might benefit by developing more grounded theories about them. This article argues for framing game play as a designed experience. Players’ understandings are developed through cycles of performance within the gameworlds, which instantiate particular theories of the world (ideological worlds). Players develop new identities both through game play and through the gaming communities in which these identities are enacted. Thus research that examines game-based learning needs to account for both kinds of interactions within the game-world and in broader social contexts. Examples from curriculum developed for Civilization III and Supercharged! show how games can communicate powerful ideas and open new identity trajectories for learners.


  1. Squire, K. (2006). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational researcher, 35(8), 19-29.


[1]Designed Experiences are semi-controlled experiences for students that fits with the “learning by doing” metaphor - that is, people learn when they actively are doing something. The text gives a great example of this phenomenon when teaching students history via Civilization III. The students were playing as land-starved European countries that needed more resources in order to fight their wars; the natural solution was to develop colonies in the Africas and Americas and exploiting those resources. These gameplay decisions mimic the same route that history took, and launched some neat class discussions on the motivations of colonization. Designed Experiences are a very cool way to teach, so this article might get a follow-up blog post to really explore the concept!