Are Good Games Also Good Problems?: Content Analysis of Problem Types and Learning Principles in Environmental Education Games

Are Good Games Also Good Problems?: Content Analysis of Problem Types and Learning Principles in Environmental Education Games

Yu-Hao Lee (Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/ijgbl.2013100104
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Based on theories from problem-based learning, this study content analyzed how educational messages are communicated to players in 108 web-based educational games. An argument of digital game based learning was also examined. Specifically the argument that good games will engage players with problems to solve, include more learning features to support problem-solving, and are more popular because of these learning features. This study found that the majority of games communicated environmental messages not as problems to solve and reflect upon, but as explicit values and facts to accept and memorize. The games that used ill-defined problems (i.e. multiple solutions) incorporated more learning principles than games that used well-defined problems (i.e. fixed solutions) and explicit facts. However, number of learning features did not predict game popularity.
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An increasing number of digital games are used as educational tools in schools, professional trainings, and for health interventions (e.g., Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, & Tuzun, 2005; Peng, 2009; Squire & Barab, 2004). These games used for purposes other than pure entertainment are known as serious games (Michael & Chen, 2006). It is estimated that more than 125 million US dollars are invested into developing educational serious games every year (Blunt, 2007).

With an increasing number of educational serious games used for formal and informal learning, little is known about their content and quality. Hays (2005) conducted a literature review of 106 articles on educational games and found that the effects of educational games were inconsistent. While some games are effective in certain fields, other games did not show any effects in comparison to traditional pedagogical methods. Kebritchi and Hirumi (2008) reviewed 55 educational games and found that 24 of the games stated that pedagogical theories were incorporated into their design. Kebritchi and Hirumi’s (2008) approach provided a general categorization of the pedagogical theories incorporated into game design. However the method excluded games that did not report their theoretical foundation or did not respond to the researchers. Thus, it does not provide a comprehensive understanding about how well educational game links to theory. Without comprehensive knowledge about how well existing serious games are designed according to theory, teachers, parents, and policy maker cannot determine whether serious games should be used in curriculums, or which games are better suited for their goals.

This study seeks to fill this gap by conducting content analysis on 108 online serious games. This study not only provide an overview of the learning potential of existing serious game design, this study also examined an argument of digital game based learning (DGBL) that good games communicate their messages as problems for players to solve, incorporate more features that facilitates learning, and are more popular because they are better problem-solving experiences for players (e.g., Gee, 2003, 2007; Prensky, 2001). This study can contribute to the literature of DGBL and has practical implications for serious game design and education practitioners.

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