Zelda breath of the Wild and learning design

I love this game. My wife and I have played it every evening after work for about 5 weeks non-stop now.

By the way, this post is riddled with spoilers about Breath of the Wild.

However, the further down the rabbit hole you go the more it speaks to you as a learning designer and the more it reveals as a clever piece of entertainment and learning scaffolding.

Win their hearts

A clever colleague of my always mentions that a module should be meaningful and you need to win their hearts early. Zelda, breaks you straight into a magical world where you start scraping around but the landscape in the distance tells you there’s going to be adventure to be had once you’ve passed your basics.

Endless scenery – https://www.zelda.com/breath-of-the-wild/

Engage with your student early

To start with, your companion is an mysterious old man who guides you between all the early action so you know where you’re going. Also interestingly he is also a bit un-hinged, you’re never quite sure who’s side he’s on until later… this may just be me but it adds to the early game excitement.

The mysterious old man – https://zelda.gamepedia.com/King_Rhoam

Teach in your own style

The best IDs and teachers are able to be creative and teach using methods and techniques that they find engaging. In Zelda, the whole land is based on an early Japanese era and Shinto like shrines. You can tell that for the designers it was like second nature for them to invent these things and challenges because somewhere in their history they’ve engaged with those ideas first hand.

It’s like in Fable 3, the game is based on a dirty old-English industrial revolution and you can tell again that the designers have been taught this througout their history lessons and it’s imprinted in their culture.

Alignment – Formatives lead to Summatives

All of Zelda’s game play and stories is so well set up as training for the ultimate final assessment, calamity Ganon (or calamity Gammon as he was re-named in our house). The daily grind is scaffolding your learning for making elixers, fighting tips and solving puzzles which… apply in the champion bosses (formatives). The champion bosses require lots of effort put in before upgrading your character and button skills before you could stand a chance of flooring them. This then leads to the final boss, Calamity Ganon (the summative) which we can see is going to involve calling on all our training and upgrades so far.

The formatives are aligned to the summative.

Calamity Ganon Fanart – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/623185667161763399/?lp=true

All of the Zelda grind is scaffolded learning to achieve when you need it. Not much more to say there 😀

Surprising Learning

I talked about this in another blog post, however the Zelda game never ceases to surprise you. The designers team have played with scale of monsters and NPDs, the sound team have pushed the boundaries of music and effects and the level designers have surprised you with challenges.

The world is humungous and each corner brings with it a surprising and new engaging new race. Some are quite close to human, others are a twist on a beast + human. But each one has their own personality and brings with it a new surprise and technique to learn from them.

Let them find their own path

An early design feature of Zelda was to let the player find their own way of doing things, you can cut down logs or knock barrels over to solve puzzles, it doesn’t matter, you can do it. You can skip sections if you want, or you can complete every activity you ever cared to, it’s your own path.

It’s the same in learning design, an adult learner will likely come to your module with their own ways of doing things and is likely to try to approach the problems in their own way or have covered something before. This game allows you to explore many different ways of winning and you can solve them how you want.

Collect Kurok seeds or not, it’s your choice – https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2017/03/09/what-to-do-with-korok-seeds-in-legend-of-zelda-breath-of-the-wild/


Well yeah… obviously!

What a game


You’re a Damsel in distress and nowt’ more than an object

This series is by, Anita Sarkeesian, who talks us through a history of the “Damsel in Distress” mechanic used by many popular games from the digital age, referenceing games like Mario, Zelda, Prince of Persia… pretty much a lot of games. It takes a very well laid out approach to identifying what to look for, what mindset it may put the player in and rounds with a challenge that “game makers can do better”. The video essay explores how Damsels in games are powerless, stupid and nothing more than a ball in a game between two male characters, an object. Not I hear you fuming, a great image.

While the video is a very good essay piece and was interesting, it does feel very narrow minded. She definitely uses some popular games to prove her point but you’re still left with a feeling of unbalance; She fails to explore the hundreds of other games that have “jack all” (nothing) to do with Damsels and more to do with sweets (Candy Crush saga) or strong women characters (the Halo series).

Feminist Frequency
Feminist Frequency

The video is still worth taking the time to watch, monotonous as it is as I have no doubt it will set you thinking. Bring on Part II and we’ll see if the view balances.


In response to this, enjoy this graphic 🙂

Dad re-writes Donkey Kong for girl to be hero
Dad re-writes Donkey Kong for girl to be hero

The super meetup of digital and government thought leaders, CITIZEN2013


Can citizens really be customers? Can public bodies really ‘engage’ with citizens? Can the public sector achieve the same ease of doing business online as achieved by the big online brands? On June 13, 2013 the second CITIZEN conference will take place to try to answer these questions.

Now this is exciting, I’ve got a ticket to go to CITIZEN2013, albeit it’s to help out and get some Voxpops, however I’m still going and couldn’t be more chuffed.

This year it’s on June 13th at the Park Plaza Westminister Bridge Hotel and my word are there going to be some outstanding speakers. It’s worth noting too the number of top women speakers, thank goodness; A view on democracy and politics from what is a very male dominated workforce. (146 women out of 504 people, House of Commons, 2012)

So, first up on the list to tell you about is Elizabeth Linder, who is currently Facebook’s Political and Government specialist. She’s not shy of all the big digital wigs and has worked at Google and Youtube already with similarly huge roles.


Second, and even more Government is Martha Lane Fox who co-founded lastmintue.com and is now the “UK’s Digital Champion and chair of Go On UK” whatever that is 😛

Martha Lane Fox
Martha Lane Fox

Maybe the next post, I’ll attempt to shut my gaping mouth and talk a little about what’s being discussed at CITIZEN2013 this year and it’s relevance to the other Governement Digital meetups I’ve attended.

Raising the cost to cut use…

Mathematically, “raising the cost of objects to cut their use” will work, eg, beer, cigarettes, petrol. Ethically however, it could be interpreted as rich people telling less rich people what they can and can’t buy as the price change affects their consumption more.

So having millionaires deciding budget changes for a majority of non-millionaires, is that sensible?

Cartoon about millionaires in UK Cabinet
Cartoon about millionaires in UK Cabinet –


Making the switch to Agile, part one

Switching to Agile. Not the simplest thing in the world, however… very very worth it.

Our office at Thought Den made the switch last year and while it’s a great idea all this transparency, updates and team responsibility it’s not a simple thing to do.

So I’ve written a two part blog post about it over at the Thought Den blog with our “learns” so far. It’s like a little heads-up if you’re thinking about making the change, read about it here.

Fear is to be expected when a company director swans into the studio after a fancy workshop in London saying, “We’re going to change how we do EVERYTHING!”.

Fear not…



Hacking apart the environment…

Who’s going to the Environment Agency hack day?

We will be bringing together around 80 software and hardware developers, Environment Agency experts and interesting data. The goal is to create cool demos that showcase how technology can help us all be more green and environmentally responsible.


Environment Hack logo
Environment Hack logo

A great way to source the wisdom of the crowd. I’m heading along on the Sunday to see and record some of the progress.