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As interest in the use of games and gaming elements within learning environments grows, educators and designers may find it easier to account for winning than for losing and failure. This scoping review examines the role of failure and loss within game-based instructional interventions. Because of the varied methods and relatively small number of articles directly addressing the intersection between failure and loss within game-based instructional interventions, a scoping review was undertaken. This review included 14 peer-reviewed articles which explored a range of instructional contexts implementing failure state game mechanics. We identify several key takeaways that indicate how failure state mechanics may have considerable promise in meeting specific instructional goals during game-based instructional interventions. Perhaps most notable in the findings is the delicate relationship between perceived risk of failure relative to instructional utility. We define this relationship with a new term, unit of failure, which aims to assist practitioners in operationalizing failure and loss in game-based instructional interventions.


This is a post-print of an article published in TechTrends. The final authenticated version is available at:

Original Publication Citation

Powers, F.E., & Moore, R.L. (2021). When failure is an option: A scoping review of failure states in game-based learning. TechTrends. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1007/s11528-021-00606-8


0000-0003-1405-6753 (Powers), 0000-0002-5645-9297 (Moore)