Digital vs Analog: The Value of Divergent Game Types

In the relatively new field of game studies, digital games have attracted the most attention of researchers and scholars. While technology continued to improve, so did the acceptance of digital games as a viable medium for interactive storytelling and artistic expression. In today’s world, most people walk around with mobile devices that play games that look about as good as they did on game consoles a few years ago. As such, digital games have become much more pervasive in society and it is much easier to see them as legitimate fields of study. The problem is that while digital games garner so much attention in game studies as a field of scholarship, very little work has been done on analog games in comparison.

Since games come in numerous formats and vary in purpose and style of play, they are used in classes several different ways. In order to be used effectively, the needs of the students are a primary concern, since the goals and objectives of the class determine whether the use of games is a feasible, practical option (Conover, 1974). In addition, if a game is considered useful in a classroom setting, the teacher should pay special attention to how students engage with in-game tasks as well as their cognitive attempts to take advantage of the immersive benefits of the game (Murray, 1999). Over the years, numerous teachers and researchers studied how games can improve various factors of language acquisition. Most of the studies focus on digital games, but the rationale can apply to analog games as well.


One relevant study by Bridge and Radford (2014) examined the digital version of the board game Diplomacy as a pedagogical tool for language learning. Due to the game’s online capabilities, one of the strengths that the article mentions is the ability to play the game outside of class. By having students play the game on their own time, the teacher saves precious time which would be taken up if he/she used the physical version in class. While the face-to-face interaction which comes with using the analog game is applicable and valuable for teaching strategic language use, the usefulness of the digital version cannot be denied.

An issue that comes with playing board games with other people is the personalities of some players may be stronger than others, influencing the decisions of more passive players. In face-to-face interactions, refusing or disagreeing with another player could be challenging due to the close proximity. When looking at the article by Bridge and Radford, we can assume that more passive players “might feel more at ease using electronic communication than verbal negotiations—and therefore might be more likely to engage because of the computer interface” (p. 431). The digital version also made it easier for the instructor to assess the students on their Willingness to Communicate (WtC), since they could write comments for everyone to see online.

In addition to the practical advantages the digital version entails, the students being studied responded quite favorably to playing Diplomacy. Most found the game useful in terms of critical thinking as well as learning about international relations theory/practice in addition to being fun to play (p. 433). By using this game centered on interpersonal communication and negotiation, the teacher can take advantage of an authentic material for pragmatic purposes and fostering WtC.

While the field of digital games as it relates to language instruction has received a great deal of attention in scholarly articles recently, analog games have not gotten as much attention, even though the volume and diversity of these games have improved just as well. In addition, analog games can provide an environment that is just as safe and contained as digital games to practice English language use, developing the potential to instill motivation and WtC within English language learners.

Just as with any kind of authentic material adapted for classroom usage, the teacher has to choose what is appropriate for the class as a whole. Some of the inferences that researchers have made concern how board games take considerably more time to set up than digital games and contain several small pieces, where one accidental bump could ruin an entire activity. However, several new games have been developed which are composed of nothing more than a handful of cards and a pile of chips.


With proper preparation and scaffolding, the teacher can use games to teach various language features, regardless if they are digital or analog. Understanding the advantages and limitations of each game type is important when choosing which game to use.

If you would like to learn more about analog games, Analog Game Studies is a great place to
start. In addition to the numerous links and articles on using analog games to teach, you can also download a PDF download of their book Analog Game Studies off of their website for free.

If you would like to learn more about the different ways you can use digital games in the classroom, stay tuned for more updates from Games2Teach or go to our ‘Explore’ section to see other resources out there.

-Ben Pearson

3 thoughts on “Digital vs Analog: The Value of Divergent Game Types

  1. James York


    It’s great to see other researchers paying attention to the potential benefits of analog games. I agree that in the game-based learning field, we often tack the word “digital” to the start (as seen in the notion of DGBLL) which makes it harder for us analog game researchers to find a suitable place to publish as a result, because we are clearly not “CALL,” right?

    I think there are a number of issues with digital games in traditional classroom (monolingual) settings that analog games seem to fulfill better. I’ve been doing work out here in Japan with analog games. Mostly pedagogical considerations of how analog games can be used as part of a TBLT approach to language learning with low-level learners. I’ve a few papers (hopefully) coming out next year, but nothing solid at this point in time. If you are interested, please take a look at the Japan Game Lab, where me and a few colleagues post about our projects. But enough about me, I’d love to hear more about your own projects in the future!

    Keep up the good work. All the best,


    1. Games2Teach Admin Post author

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! And yes, it is always good to hear from others who see how games correlate with education, let alone analog games. This is certainly a field that deserves more recognition than it is currently getting, due to the focused attention digital games have in game-based research. As you know, board games have started to have a renaissance and getting published in a field that is not “trendy” can be very difficult. That is why it is beneficial for us researchers to stick together!

      Your work on Japan Game Lab is very interesting and lines up very well with a lot of the work that I have done with analog games in a TBLT setting (mostly using hidden-roles games to promote various negotiation skills in intermediate ESL learners). I would love to hear more about your research and collaborate sometime in the future if you are interested. Either way, I will be in touch.

      Happy new year!

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