A Theoretical Framework for Serious Game Design: Exploring Pedagogy, Play and Fidelity and their Implications for the Design Process

A Theoretical Framework for Serious Game Design: Exploring Pedagogy, Play and Fidelity and their Implications for the Design Process

Pauline Rooney (Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/ijgbl.2012100103
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Abstract

It is widely acknowledged that digital games can provide an engaging, motivating and “fun” experience for students. However an entertaining game does not necessarily constitute a meaningful, valuable learning experience. For this reason, experts espouse the importance of underpinning serious games with a sound theoretical framework which integrates and balances theories from two fields of practice: pedagogy and game design (Kiili, 2005; Seeney & Routledge, 2009). Additionally, with the advent of sophisticated, immersive technologies, and increasing interest in the opportunities for constructivist learning offered by these technologies, concepts of fidelity and its impact on student learning and engagement, have emerged (Aldrich, 2005; Harteveld et al., 2007, 2010). This paper will explore a triadic theoretical framework for serious game design comprising play, pedagogy and fidelity. It will outline underpinning theories, review key literatures and identify challenges and issues involved in balancing these elements in the process of serious game design.
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Introduction

While games have been used for educational purposes for some time (Levine, 2006), they have attracted increasing interest among educators in recent times due to the exponential rise of digital gaming in popular culture, and claims regarding the potential of games for facilitating engagement, motivation and student-centred learning. Such claims have led to the coinage of the term “serious games”: a term which, although subject to some conceptual debate (Ritterfield et al., 2009), is used in this paper to denote digital games that have ulterior non-entertainment motives such as teaching, training and marketing (Johnson et al., 2005).

It is widely acknowledged that such games can provide an engaging, motivating and “fun” experience for students. However an entertaining game does not necessarily constitute a meaningful, valuable learning experience. For this reason, experts in the field espouse the importance of underpinning serious games with a sound theoretical framework which integrates and balances theories from two (often competing) fields of practice: pedagogy and game design (Kiili, 2005; Seeney & Routledge, 2009). While a sound pedagogical framework is considered essential to their effectiveness as learning tools, equally important is the integration of game play elements which harness and sustain player engagement. Additionally, with the advent of sophisticated and immersive technologies, as exemplified in the virtual worlds of contemporary games, and increasing interest in the opportunities for constructivist learning offered by these worlds, concepts of fidelity, and its impact on student learning and engagement, have emerged (Aldrich, 2005; Harteveld et al., 2007, 2010).

This paper will explore this triadic theoretical framework for serious game design, outlining underpinning theories, reviewing key literatures and identifying associated challenges and issues (Figure 1). The paper begins by reflecting on pedagogical theories commonly utilised to conceptualise game-based learning, focusing on three constructivist theories. Following this, attention switches to theories used to conceptualise players’ engagement with digital games, and thus inform effective, engaging and “fun” game design. As a key component of engaging and pedagogically effective game design, the concept of fidelity, and how it relates to game design and game-based learning, is discussed. The paper will conclude by reflecting on issues and challenges involved in balancing these components when designing serious games.

Figure 1.

A triadic framework for serious game design

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