What is Game-Based Learning?

At Quest, we define games as carefully designed, student-driven systems that are narrative-based, structured, interactive and immersive.

Why games? In the past decade or so, leading educational researchers have discovered that games allow for some of the richest learning experiences.

  • Games ask us to collaborate with others and learn by doing.
  • Games let us know if we are failing or succeeding at a moment’s notice and allow us to retry, or “iterate,” after a failure or loss.
  • Unlike traditional educational systems, failure is a necessary and integral part of the “game.” It creates a context for students to be motivated to try again and succeed.
  • Learning experiences in games don’t feel like spoon-fed education. Learning experiences feel like play.

At Quest to Learn, learning happens by doing.

“We were being responsive to a need we saw… young people were being disengaged from school”

Katie Salen-Tekinbas, Co-Founder of Quest to Learn

What does this look like in the classroom?

Game-based learning takes a variety of forms at Quest to Learn. For instance, in ninth grade Biology, students spend the year as workers in a fictional bio-tech company, and their job is to clone dinosaurs and create stable ecosystems for them. By inhabiting the role of biotech scientists, the students learn about genetics, biology and ecology.

Educational games are at the core of Quest’s curriculum. Sixth graders use Dr. Smallz, where they play the role of designers, scientists, doctors and detectives as they explore cellular biology and the human body. And ninth graders use Storyweavers, a collaborative storytelling role-playing game. These games not only engage students in the learning process, but also allow teachers to assess students in real time and provide feedback on learning experiences immediately. For more on how Quest to Learn uses games for assessment, please visit the Edutopia link here.

Quest to Learn - Feels Like Play

The 7 Principles of Game-Based Learning

Everyone is a participant A shared culture and practice exists where everyone contributes. This often means that different students contribute different types of expertise.

Challenge Challenge is constant. A “need to know” challenges students to solve a problem whose resources have been placed just out of reach.

Learning happens by doing Learning is active and experiential. Students learn by proposing, testing, playing with, and validating theories about the world.

Feedback is immediate and ongoing Students receive ongoing feedback on their progress, learning, and assessment goals.

Failure is reframed as “iteration” Opportunities exist for students and teachers to learn through failure. All learning experiences should embrace a process of testing and iteration.

Everything is interconnected Students can share their work, skill, and knowledge with others across networks, groups, and communities.

It kind of feels like play Learning experiences are engaging, student-centered, and organized to support inquiry and creativity.

Inside the Q2L Community


“One of our primary goals for our students is that by the time they graduate from Quest to Learn they will be true systems thinkers and designers, understanding that the important challenges in the world can’t be solved in simple ways, and must be approached from many different perspectives and angles”

Jen Rygalski


“Not only is Quest play-based, but it is narrative-based…we think in terms of stories and once we are learning within a story it becomes more interesting to us.”

Rebecca Miller
Upper School Parent


“I like going to Quest because we have more freedom in the way we work. We don’t just fill out math sheets. We learn different strategies for solving problems and can do it our own way.”

Sydney Railla
6th grade student

Quest to Learn In The Press

Fast Company

“Each Quest teacher comes together in a team with a game designer and a curriculum designer every trimester. Together they create curricula that are grounded in the New York State standards and relevant to the lives of young people today. They also make games to address specific learning or assessment goals, focusing on areas where students typically struggle.”

Read the article at Fast Company



is the average student attendance rate at Q2L


of Q2L students were proficient on the 2015 ELA exam compared to 30.4% of students citywide.