The Impact of a Racing Feature on Middle School Science Students' Performance in an Educational Game: The Effect of Content-Free Game-Actions

The Impact of a Racing Feature on Middle School Science Students' Performance in an Educational Game: The Effect of Content-Free Game-Actions

Marilyn Ault (University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA), Jana Craig-Hare (University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA) and Bruce Frey (University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2016070102
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Reason Racer is an online, rate-based, multiplayer game designed to engage middle school students in the knowledge and skills related to scientific argumentation. Several game features are included as design considerations unrelated to science content or argumentation. One specific feature, a competitive racing component that occurs in between challenging tasks, is the subject of this analysis. The effect of two conditions on 72 ninth grade students' performance was analyzed: game play with a competitive racing component (Race) and game play without a competitive racing component (No-Race). A counterbalanced design was used with two randomly assigned groups playing the game using two different science scenarios. When students played with a racing component interspersed between challenging tasks they completed the tasks more quickly and accurately than when they did not experience the racing component. These findings are discussed in terms of game design and the use of game features not related to academic content.
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Literature Review


The overall effectiveness of educational games in engaging students in difficult subjects has been well demonstrated (Plass et al., 2013; Shin, Sutherland, Norris, & Soloway, 2012; Squire & Jenkins, 2003; Van Eck, 2006; Vogel et al., 2006). Games motivate learners and may make them more receptive to learning (Plass et al., 2013). Educational game developers utilize the concept of flow as one design consideration used to engage players and establish the motivation to play. What is needed, however, are examples of how this construct is implemented within educational games.

This study examined the effect of a particular feature, a competitive car-racing experience unrelated to the academic content, in a game designed to engage students in the difficult skill of scientific argumentation. Reason Racer is a rally-race, arcade-style casual educational game specifically designed to engage students by including many features that have been identified as creating a sense of flow. A separate study demonstrated that middle school students who played the game as a part of science class improved in knowledge and skills related to scientific argumentation as well as improved in their confidence and motivation to engage in science, when compared to students who did not have access to the game (Ault, Craig-Hare, Frey, Ellis, & Bulgren, 2015). This study examined the impact that the competitive racing component, one game feature designed to create a sense of flow, had on students’ performance.

Creating the Experience of Flow in Games

The concept of “flow” is an accepted construct describing intense engagement in an activity (Csíkszentmihályi, 1975, 1997). Flow describes the experience of feeling totally involved in an activity such as during a game when the player achieves a state of total focus, complete immersion, and limited awareness of time. It is generally assumed that the experience involves intense involvement and concentration, as well as enjoyment. The experience of flow draws players into playing a game over and over, seemingly “compelling” them to play (Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell, 2002; Koster, 2005; Lazzaro, 2004). Authors of a series of studies, summarized by Hoffman and Novak (2009), suggest that flow is a complex process, influenced by many elements. Features demonstrated to elicit a sense of flow include focused goals, ease of learning, simplicity of play, immediate feedback, quick rewards, and fast-paced game-play (Tams, 2006; Wallace & Robbins, 2006; Waugh, 2006), reward systems and challenges (Evans et al., 2013; Hamlen, 2013), interactivity (Huang, 2003, 2006; Skadberg & Kimmell, 2004; Choi, Kim, & Kim, 2000), ease of use and perceived usefulness (Agarwal & Karahanna, 2000; Hsu & Lu, 2004; Sanchez-Franco, 2006); and attractiveness, novelty, and playfulness (Agarwal & Karahanna, 2000; Huang 2003, 2006; Skadberg & Kimmel, 2004; Choi, Kim, & Kim, 2000).

Game developers strive to create a sense of flow during game play because when a player achieves a state of total or compete focus, complete immersion, and limited awareness of time there is also created a strong desire to repeat or extend the experience. This is identified as a compulsion to play, the drive to play a game over and over (Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell, 2002; Koster, 2005; Lazzaro, 2004). Educational game developers focus on creating a sense of flow during play in order to provide an environment in which students strive to improve their performance.

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