Expert Interviews > Eric Klopfer

Eric KlopferEric Klopfer is Associate Professor and the Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program ( and the Director of Education Arcade ( His research explores simulations and games on desktop computers as well as mobile devices like smart phones and tablets. Klopfer’s work combines the construction of new software tools with implementation, research, and development of new pedagogical supports that transition the use of these tools to broader use in formal and informal learning. He is the co-author of the book Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo and author of Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games. He is working on a new book about the intersection of academia and private industry around technology enabled classroom innovations. He is also the director of The Education Arcade, which is advancing the development and use of games in K-12 education, as well as co-founder and President of the non-profit Learning Games Network.

What is it about (computer) games that interests you most?

I think what interests me the most is the ability of games to get people to engage in difficult activities, and enjoy it.  This is what Seymour Papert called "Hard Fun" (he was using it in the context of kids programming in Logo, but it applies to people playing games too).  The idea is that players aren't having fun in spite of what they are doing being hard, but they are having fun because it is hard.  

What do you think makes a really good (computer) game?

Related to my first response, it is a game that manages to be both hard and fun. That means it can't be too hard, or too easy.  And it can't be "just fun".  I think the notion of giving people badges as rewards for various activities isn't what it is about.  That just focuses on fun without connecting that deeply to the hard challenges of games.  

What are the most important lessons you have learned about how to engage players in (computer) games?

I think one of the things that I have learned is that people have a much broader interest in games than they think they do. While people may think they only like casual games, when given an opportunity to play an RPG they really like it.

How do you go about designing a game? Where do you get your ideas? How important is the notion of authenticity in your games and simulations?

Sometimes the ideas come from playing other games and thinking about how we might apply that to a problem we have been thinking about.  Other times it comes from learning about a concept in a unique way and thinking of how that could be applied to a game.  For educational games we are committed to iterating between game designs and learning goals.  Not putting either one out there at the expense of the other, but considering them both equally.

What advice would you give a novice (computer) game designer?

Play lots of games.  Play lots of styles of games.  Talk about what you are doing with others.  Don't confuse game design and development, which are linked but distinct.

Do you think that games have a place in education? If so, how do you think they can most effectively be used? If not, what are your reservations?

Since I do work in educational games the answer is yes.  The way we think about using them is an advance of formal learning.  So that students in a class become familiar with an idea through game play and then use class time to formalize the study of that topic.

How important do you think that graphical quality, and realism, is in computer games?

Don't confuse graphical quality with realism.  I think aesthetics is extremely important to the experience.  But that doesn't mean realistic high polygon 3d graphics.  There are many ways of capturing an aesthetic from anime to 3d to cartoons, etc. Thinking about the aesthetic and its match for the audience and game are important.

Where do you see the future of (computer) games?

I see a lot going on on the mobile space.  And I see a lot trying to reach outside of the traditional gamer market - social games, casual games, and consoles that appeal to a broader range of people.

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