Paper: Designing Effective Serious Games

Designing Effective Serious Games: Opportunities and Challenges for Research
F. Bellotti, R. Berta, and A. De Gloria [2010]

The research done for this paper is extensive (over 100 references) and extremely informative. The topics range from the very basic "What is a Serious Game", to actual "game design" of serious games and possible research that can be done in the future. I'll write a summary of the topics that caught my attention, but this paper deserves a read on its own.

Serious Games are gaining more and more popularity do to the fact that they effectively address several e-learning problems. Games can present users with realistic and compelling challenges, they provide the player with immediate feedback, they allow players to explore different courses of action and more importantly, they place the learner in an active role, which allows them to remember up to 90% of the information presented, but games also have some limitations. For example, the 'suspension of disbelief' that is required in a game can negatively influence the learning process. Also, game features like difficulty level, duration, aesthetic, etc. can hinder the instructional goal. "There is a need for scientific and engineering methods for building games as means that provide effective learning experiences".

The term "Serious Game" was firstly used in 2002 with the start of the Serious Game Initiative. They were initially conceived to train people for specific tasks in particular jobs. Now they span everything from advancing social causes to promoting better health to marketing.

Serious Games do not target exclusively hardcore gamers, they also target casual gamers which is an emerging market thanks to the brain training games, virtual pet games, and the like.

The use of Virtual Worlds in Serious Games is becoming more and more common, as they allow to overcome the barrier of time and space for geographically distributed users. The success of Second Life is proof of this.

To properly design a Serious Game, it should be strongly grounded in proper educational foundations. It must incorporate sound cognitive, learning, and pedagogical principles into their design and structure. Something that is commonly ignored in some of the current "unguided or minimally guided" instructional approaches. It has been proven that guidance in general only looses it's usfulness when the learner has sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide "internal guidance". Also, the use of FWE (Fading Worked Examples) is something that can be used to develop Serious Games, even if they have not been fully explored as a learning tool in games.

Intelligent tutoring has proven effective for learning, but its application in the field of gaming is more difficult, because games need to be appealing and meaningful.

Among the different tools and methodologies for the development of Serious Games are:
Delta3D (a Game Engine that supports efficient AI-enhanced Games), StoryTec (a storytelling platform), ALIGN (architecture designed to maximize re-use in developing adaptive Serious Games), RETAIN (a SG design paradigm), SeGAE (an environment that allows the modification of the game design), The Experience Management Framework (allows semi-autonomous characters that show believable behaviours), Thespian (an interactive drama system), Emergent narrative (a narrative framework), FAtiMA (an agent structure), OCC (theory of emotions), etc.

Regarding game mechanics, the author states that players should be able to learn simply by trying to overcome the game's challenges, but still, care should be taken to not create an "eccessively compelling" game, asi it might prevent a player from concentrating on the instructional material. Interestingly, if a game's mechanic is sufficiently interesting, it doesn't need a detailed story specification, as this leaves more space for knowledge adquisition.

Many other topics need further research as we currently don't know how they affect the effectiveness of the different types of Serious Games. What we do know, is that serious games provide a different learning experience, that is far more effective than traditional e-learning experiences.

Read the paper here. [You need to be registered to read it (free)]
Bellotti, F., Berta, R., & De Gloria, A. (2010). Designing Effective Serious Games: Opportunities and Challenges for Research. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 22-35.

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