Background and Motivation for the Study
Since the 1970s, a new generation of students has emerged: the digital natives (Prensky, 2001). They are technology-savvy, use digital devices, process information in parallel, and play games frequently. For this generation, video games have become a medium for entertainment, for socializing, performing collaborative activities, and also for learning (Gallardeau, 2005). On the other hand, traditional teaching does not always acknowledge the needs of this new generation and, as a result, learning in traditional settings is often perceived as boring or unappealing. Furthermore, digital natives develop skills that are not always acknowledged or measured by traditional instruction. For example, the Flynn effect suggests that young children’s IQs are constantly increasing but their academic results in mathematics are still poor.
The development of educational games has served the purpose of creating content that is both appealing and educational for this new generation. Using these games, players learn by doing and by experimenting in a constructivist manner. Indeed, video games represent ideal learning environments in which users can improve their skills and learn in a safe and controlled manner. They often implement well-known instructional strategies such as social learning, discovery learning, or zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978). According to Gee (2004), a variety of learning principles are built into good video games. Such skills include critical learning, design principles, semiotic principles, and semiotic domain principles.
Despite an unsuccessful start with edutainment technology (education + entertainment), serious games are now much more appealing and can compete with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games thanks to more affordable and manageable technology (of e.g., game engines). They are increasingly accepted as a truly potential educational medium (Van Eck, 2006). However, despite promising features, there is a lack of experimental studies on their effectiveness at both motivational and educational levels. The findings on their effectiveness are often contradictory and the evaluations anecdotal, descriptive, or judgmental (Leemkuil, De Jong, & Ootes, 2000), and there is no consensus on a common standard for the design of educational games (Squire, 2002).
The authors suggest that one of the reasons for the discrepancy in the design techniques used and the results collected is that users differ in their personalities and learning styles. They believe that, because users’ personalities dictate the way they interact in the game and ultimately the way they learn, there is a need to tailor the content in a way that appeals to each user and that promotes learning activities. Because video games represent a highly emotional experience as well as a structured problem-solving system, their potential can be employed in a “user-centred” approach, to provide educational content that individually stimulates users’ emotions and cognitive skills. The expectation is that by “reaching” students and adapting to their needs, the learning activity will be seamless and more effective.