Alan Amory, K. N., Jacky Vincent and Claudia Adams (1999). “The use of computer games as an educational tool: identification of appropriate game types and game elements.” British Journal of Educational Technology 30(4): 311-321.

The authors investigate which of four types of games subjects feel are most engaging and survey the subjects on which aspects of the games they felt important. Their intent is to find the game genre that would be best explored or developed for educational use. They choose to focus mainly on the three concepts identified by Malone (1981)-challenge, fantasy, and curiosity-which contribute to motivation to play games. They further look at individual elements of the games that contribute to these three concepts, such as logic, problem solving, response time, graphics, audio, feedback, etc. Their sample group was 20 freshman and sophomore biology students at the university, with equal male and female participants and a representatively racially diverse population. The four game types chosen were simulation (SimIsle), adventure (Zork Nemisis), strategy (Red Alert), and action/first person shooter (Duke Nukem). They found that the subjects preferred the adventure game most, closely followed by the strategy game. This simulation game was actually disliked. There was no difference in female versus male preferences but there were some differences in individual game element rating based on race.

While the survey instrument seems reasonable and the sample size adequate for study of this type, the choice of games seems limiting. The authors hypothesize SimIsle was dislike because of its interface design and lack of adequate feedback. This exemplifies more a lack of specific game design rather than genre specific game design. Taking this into account, any one of these games may be better or worse not because of genre but because of game design. It seems to do a research project of this type one would need a couple of the best, representative games from each category in order to judge if these are considerations of specific game design versus genre design. This study is valuable in the sense that at least we have more data to base further research studies off of. The only way game studies can advance is if the field releases data and continues evolving better ways of researching the advantages and situational uses most appropriate for educational gaming.

Barab, S., Thomas, M., Dodge, T., Carteaux, R., & Tuzun, H. (2005). “Making learning fun: Quest Atlantis, a game without guns.” Educational Technology Research & Development 53(1): 86-107.

Barab et al. develop an educational game to see if it is possible to utilize theories of Malone and others to create a game that is engaging-to both boys and girds, offers meaningful learning connected to standards, and is committed to social development/making the world better. The game is designed for elementary students between the ages of 9-12. Besides the software version of the game, they create a complete environment including comics, a novel, trading cards, etc. Besides the game theory, they rest much of the theory of their game on theory derived from Vygotsky, which is socially constructive. Their studies “showed that, when responding to personal narratives, students participating in QA offered character insights that were either deeper or better supported than did students in equivalent conditions; additionally, elementary students who used QA demonstrated statistically significant learning over time in the areas of science, social studies, and sense of academic efficacy” (p. 87). They classify their method as design-based research, a methodological approach developed by Collins (1992) and Brown (1992).

The researchers have developed one of the most complete and extensive educational game studies so far. They created a sophisticated game and surrounding game world to help test for the effectiveness of learning within a game environment. By providing external materials, they help jump start what often develops around successful games-a complex interaction not only within the game but with informational and entertaining websites, book and real world game development, etc. They have also shown that a game can be designed that engages both boys and girls, which has been pointed out as one difficulty of game development. One concern here is that while gender differences and interest in games without violence has been shown at elementary level, there often appears more of a divide in older male game players. As Castronova mentions in his Arden experiment, the game failed because there were no monster to kill and the adult literacy game Runner was a success because of it adherence to realistic violence typical of adult action adventure games. The question then is can a game of this nature be designed for middle school and high school students. One possible avenue to explore here is the recent success of the Nintendo Wii wtih its greater emphasis on family orientated games.

Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2),141-178.

Collins, A. (1992). Toward a Design Science of Education. In E. Scanlon & T. O’Shea (Eds.), Proceedings of the NATO advanced research workshop on new directions in advanced educational technology. (pp. 15-22). Berlin: Springer.

Brophy, J. (2008). “Developing Students’ Appreciation for What Is Taught in School.” Educational Psychologist 43(3): 132-141.

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Dickey, M. (2005). “Engaging By Design: How Engagement Strategies in Popular Computer and Video Games Can Inform Instructional Design.” Educational Technology, Research and Development 53(2): 67-83.

Dickey based on Malone and others research on elements of engagement in computer games, explores more recent game design to find what elements employed for engagement are successfully used in current commercial games with the intention of finding how they can inform design of learning environments and also educational gaming software. Building on Malone’s three elements of challenge, fantasy and curiosity, she explores point of view (POV), narrative arc, and interactive choice. With the move from outside perspectives of 2-dimensional games to the current 3 dimensional first person POV, players are more actively engaged in the game environment. The same benefits can be said she suggests from moving to a lecture-based classroom to a project-based classroom where the student is the agent of action in their learning development. Narrative elements help drive the plot in adventure and many strategy and action games. Games offer the opportunity for the player/character to interact and change the narrative storyline. Dickey says that narrative helps support the fantasy element of the environment and also parallels Bruner’s theories of narrative in human learning. Whereas educational games usually have very linear plot narratives, commercial games have more open narrative spaces where a framework is provide but much more choice is given the player in developing the narrative direction the game takes. This can especially be seen in RPGs and MMOGs. Dickey believes “elements of interactive design include the various dimensions of a setting, the roles and characters within a game environment, and “hooks” that afford actions and feedback to the players” (p. 75). Hooks or opportunities for character choice/decisions afford the most opportunities for interactivity. This to Dickey again should well be an important aspect of an engaging learning environment where students are making active decisions about and within the learning taking place.

Dickey seems to have developed a convincing theory of game design elements that should correspond to the design of engaging learning environments. Indeed much of her article ties the gaming literature to various learning concepts in cognitive and constructivist theories. It appears she has done extensive research into gaming. Her theory follows in the line of other recent game theory, especially Gee’s regarding the affordance of gaming for actively engaging users and how this could be applied to both learning environments and educational games. Her particular emphasis on narrative elements ties in Bruner’s theories in addition to other socioculture theories already brought in by Gee. Like most of the theoretical pieces written in the last decade, this begs the call for more research into verifying and further identifying the multiple elements that go into creating successful game and well as learning system design.

Dondlinger, M. (2007). “Educational Video Game Design: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Applied Educational Technology 4(1): 21-31.

Donlinger’s article is a literature review of articles focusing on the elements of educational game design. She focuses on the previous ten years, looking closely at 35 titles. She tries to distinguish between educational games and edutainment games first of all. While giving a definition for edutainment games, which she deems inferior due to their linearity, she appears to not clarify what other games she is looking at out of the realm of possible games that are more open ended, whether they are commercial games that could be used for education or open ended games designed with a specific educational purpose in mind. She goes on to look at elements of motivation, narrative context, goals and rules, interactivity and multiusery cues. Next she looks at some of the educational theory behind the game design such as constructivism, constructionism (not clearly delineated from the prior) and situated cognition. She then lists skills attributed to games, including 21st Century literacy, deduction and hypothesis testing, complex and abstract thinking, and visual and special processing. Finally she summarizes some of the findings related to gender differences in games and learning.

Dondlinger’s literature review is more closely aligned to my own focus than Aroutis Foster’s, which was on the more broad claims of games. Unfortunately I did not find her article until late in my own review. She offers a few resources I had not previously seen, especially Armory’s 1999 research study, which I found particularly valuable. However, I am leery to rely on her summaries and critiques of articles since a couple ideas she contributes to authors of articles she reviewed were actually of earlier works these writers were referencing. She credits Denis and Jouvelot whom she says “argue that competence, autonomy, and relatedness are factors that affect motivation” (p. 23) when this is the main focus of Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory for motivation (1985). She also cites Dickey for arguing “that a narrative context that promotes “challenge, fantasy, and curiosity”” leads to intrinsic motivation which comes from Malone’s much earlier research (1981). Those aspects aside her article gave me a list of references that included a few I had not seen and her summarization of gender differences in game design was useful for me to look at another aspect of game design for learning that I had not considered previously, although I was aware of gender differences in game choice and play.

Foster, A. (2008). “Games and Motivation to Learn Science: Personal Identity, Applicability, Relevance and Meaningfulness.” Journal of Interactive Learning Research 19(4): 597-614. (proof: to be published this fall)

Foster, A. N. and P. Mishra (2007). The Claims of Games: A Comprehensive Review and Directions for Future Research. 18th International Conference for the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE). San Antonio, TX.

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Gee, J. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Ke, F. (2008). “A case study of computer gaming for math: Engaged learning from gameplay?” Computers & Education 51: 1609-1620.

In Ke’s recent study, she takes researches what, if any benefits, drill and practice games have in math education. Much of the educational gaming literature has shied away from such games discussing that it does not fit with the theories of motivation and social learning that currently exists. The author suggests, however, that these games might improve automaticity of strategy use and fact acquisition. The sample group for the project consisted of 15 4th and 5th grade students participating in a summer math camp, categorized in a range of math abilities from poor to advanced, with 10 girls and 5 boys. Qualitative data was collected through observations, think-aloud while playing the game and interviews. Quantitative data was gathered through a pre-post test state standardized measure. Students played 8 different games over a two-week period. The results of the study indicate that no significant difference in math ability was attained, but attitudes toward math learning had improved.

While the author relates factors of increasing levels of challenge based on user success, scoring, and language feedback of success/failure that are often mentioned by Gee and previously Malone as possible factors of gaming success at motivating continued play, Malone noted that boys actually disliked being verbally told that they were correct or incorrect but preferred more visual cues to success/failure and Gee referred to these factors as being present in engaging, complex and successful commercial games. The games used by the researcher, a suite of web-based games by Astra-Eagle, are in not completely indicative then of what Malone or Gee were referring to. That the games did increase attitudes toward math learning may be beneficial. While the author generalizes somewhat to all forms of games, the results perhaps do support previous notions that skill and drill games do little more than add some audio and visual stimulation to tradition skill and drill worksheets. Again, more appears needed to be done to examine features of game play required for prolonged engagement and learning to take place, especially in middle and high school students.

Losh, E. (2008). The Play’s the Thing: The Arden “Failure” and the Future of the Educational Games Movement. 2008 Meaningful Play: Designing and Studying Games That Matter. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI: 1-24.

In Losh’s paper, she examines the “failure” of the Arden Project, a game developed by Indiana University under the direction of Edward Castronova, an economics researcher. Castronova had previously studied economics within existing commercial MMOGs such as World of Warcraft but wanted to design his own MMOG in order to control and manipulate variables within the game to do further economic experiments. At the same time, the team decided on making the game based on Shakespearean content and puzzles. in order to look at learning going on within the game. They based the game off an existing RPG, Neverwinter Nights-a game that allows for heavy modification-building their Shakespeare game on top of it. Unfortunately, as Castronova himself admitted, the game was no fun without both monsters and puzzles. Since no one wanted to play the game for a sustained period, there was no way to do the experiments he desired.

Losh finds several problems with Castronova’s attempt other than the lack of monsters. Developing and transforming Shakespeare’s works has always presented problems she claims. Specifically she points to Hegel and others who point to several of his works that are difficult to stage especially ones such as Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is one of four the game is roughly based on. In addition, she points to problems inherent in translating controlling forms of narratives to interactive gameplay, and character choices for players were limiting and not central to Shakespearean themes. She also points out that the game engine they chose to base their work on was limiting, In all, Losh brings out valid points to be considered when exploring a games failure. To create a commercially successful game in itself is difficult. Failure of the game then does not have to be about lack of violence but can be many possible factors.

Malone, T. (1981). “Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction.” Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal 5(4): 333-369.

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Kambouri, M., Thomas, S., and Mellar, H (2006). “Playing the literacy game: a case study in adult education.” Learning, Media and Technology 31(4): 395-410.

Kambouri et al studied the effects of a game designed to help teach adult literacy skills. This game was designed in the action genre along the lines of the popular Tomb Raider series at the time, and set in a dark futuristic world similar to the movie Blade Runner. One of the main tenants of the game design was to adhere to principals which made the genre fun, one of the main being acts of violence. As this was an adult literacy game, this was acceptable as long as violence was depicted to graphically or too often. (How that was determined is unclear). Data was collected at three different learning centers through observation, aptitude questionnaires, and pre- post- interviews. There were 13 subjects in the study, 3 female, and all were between the age of 18-29. All participants claimed to enjoy playing video games previously. The authors conclude that the game was successful at engaging the learners and helped them increase their literacy skills.

It is beneficial for the field of educational games to see success in using games for learning in adult learners. Often educational games are tested in elementary settings where engagement in learning is not as seemingly difficult to begin with. While the article provides contextual evidence from interviews and observations to support that literacy practices were taking place during the game play, it fails to provide evidence that the games helped achieve a measurable degree of learning. To have evidence literacy skills are being used in the game is not the same as evidence that they are improving literacy skills. While it is positive to see that a game designed to increase literacy skills can be engaging and does encourage students to exercise literacy skills, whether or not their skills are improving is also critical. The authors do admit their was difficulty by the game designers for including formal assessment and perhaps this led to the lack of this type of data, but it was not clearly mentioned in the results. This study is important in showing educationally designed video games can be engaging, but it is also limited to a narrow audience for generalizing as well. The game can be said to be engaging for male gamer players between the age of 18 and 29 perhaps, but to say all people within this range would be a large stretch to argue. Though it is claimed more people in this age group play games than do not, what about the ones who do not play games. Also, three females is too small a number to claim even all female game players within this age group would like the game since the literature on gaming notes girls often prefer other game environments to action/adventure ones.

Ryan, R., Deci, E. (2000). “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.” American Psychologist 55(1): 68-78.

In this article, Deci and Ryan explicate their Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of motivation that has developed over the past couple decades. In it they discuss the varieties of motivation from amotivation to intrinsic motivation to extrinsic motivation. They note that most child development researchers find a high level of intrinsic motivation in children to explore the world. However, societal and other factors work to reduce this as one needs to conform to societies expectations. Their theory aims to help at identify those factors that reduce motivation and those that maintain or encourage motivation. While admitting intrinsic motivation is superior to extrinsic, they also establish that some forms of extrinsic motivation (when the individual has control or choice in means of extrinsic motivation) are necessary. Three main components of SDT are the individual’s needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

This theory seems to be backed up by many studies done between the 1970s to today in the fields of psychology but also education and other social sciences. It appears to have implications for education as well as relating to some of the theories about what makes video games engaging. The ability to achieve competence is often looked at in games at the adjustable degree of levels of difficulty in order for the gamer to be successful. Autonomy is often looked at in terms of game players having choices of avatars to represent identity and also choices within the game to determine the player’s fate. Finally relatedness is seen in many of the MMOG type games as well as in the communities that develop around even single player games.

Shaffer, D. (2009). Wag the Kennel: Games, Frames, and the Problem of
Assessment. Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. R. Ferdig. Hershey, PA, Information Science Reference. 3: 577-592.

In this chapter, Shaffer, a leading researcher in educational gaming at the University of Wisconsin, summarizes the benefits of using gaming worlds for learning. Games primarily do this through their ability to immerse students in active worlds where the students can take on powerful identities that are part of the social context of the game. They are a way of learning by doing and participating in a shared community of knowledge and knowledge building rather than passive recipients of facts as in most traditional classroom environments. Shaffer claims this is backed by research in the first few paragraphs, citing several references. Afterwards, he argues the main point of the chapter: no matter how good the games learning experiences are, the extent of learning possible in a classroom using games is determined by the assessments used and to some extent the curriculum. If these do not measure for the types of skill, thinking, and knowledge built through game use, learning outcomes will be difficult to show. Because assessments currently value basic skills mastery, the only games currently valued “such as Math Blaster or Zombie division, are little more than fancy wrapping around traditional skill-and-drill activities that are historically aligned with an industrial approach to education, in which schools bear striking similarities to factories” (578). Shaffer then goes on to critique the current “grammar of assessment,” explicate a “grammar of innovation” and finally promote “a new grammar of learning” that takes into account the creative thinking and innovation that occurs in more sophisticated gaming practices.

This article provides another useful approach for appreciating the learning taking place in creative gameplay. It moves beyond the typical piece advocating for games and looks at how games fit into the current k-12 educational environment, critiquing the current practice of assessment. It offers an insightful look at how assessment based on innovation might look while leaving open the door for further exploration of this issue. By using this approach, Shaffer might make the appeal of learning through game play more attractive to some skeptics as well as provides a framework for more social and creative types of learning that do not necessarily involve digital games. The one weakness of the article in my opinion is the citation of research supporting gaming for learning. Of the “research” articles he sights, only one may be considered an empirically based research article, the others articles and books are all theoretical pieces advocating games based on their social learning environments but have no research foundation. It appears that the last several years of this theory an advocation are now being taken for granted as proven. This could well be a dilemma for the field if not addressed by more empirical research.

Steinkuehler, C. (2008). “Massively Multiplayer Online Games as an Educational Technology: An Outline for Research.” Educational Technology 48(1): 10-21.

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Steinkuehler, C. A. (2008). Cognition and literacy in massively multiplayer online games. Handbook of Research on New Literacies. M. K. J. Coiro, C. Lankshear, & D. Leu. Mahwah NJ, Erlbaum: 611-634.

The following is not so much a review as providing some useful exercpts of the chapter for possible use in reference for future articles since this chapter is quite similar to the previous article reviewed. Click here to view.

Warren, S., Dondlinger, M., Barab, S. (2008). “A MUVE Towards PBL Writing: Effects of a Digital Learning Environment Designed To Improve Elementary Student Writing.” Journal of Research on Technology 41(1): 113-140.