A Rationale for Leveraging Serious Game Design Through Sociocultural Theory

A Rationale for Leveraging Serious Game Design Through Sociocultural Theory

Ilias Karasavvidis
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9732-3.ch014
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The present work focuses on the issue of serious game design (SGD) through the lens of sociocultural theory. First, the main challenges that the field of SGD faces are briefly outlined. Second, Vygotsky's sociocultural theory is introduced and explored as a means to address these challenges. Third, a rationale for SGD that is informed by Vygotsky's ideas is introduced. This rationale is based on (1) viewing concepts as psychological tools and (2) conceptualizing two types of resources for SGD: exploration and application. According to this rationale, SGD needs to include a problem, exploration resources, and application resources. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the major implications of the proposed rationale for SGD.
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Over the course of the past four decades, video games have become an established medium for entertainment. In recent years, digital games are increasingly being considered as a very promising medium for learning. This new trend comes in many forms such as Game-Based Learning (GBL) or more commonly Serious Games (SG). SGs are explicitly designed to serve purposes other than entertainment, without necessarily excluding it (de Freitas & Liarokapis, 2011; Mitgutsch, 2011).

The transition from entertainment games to SG is not exactly smooth as many new parameters need to be factored in. Undoubtedly, the entertainment industry has developed very elaborate and refined ways to make games fun. However, the “serious” component of SG, namely the one that pertains to learning, is practically terra incognita. Hence, developing a SG is an entirely different affair compared to the development of a game whose sole aim is to entertain players. Creating SG is a very complicated process and a sophisticated enterprise.

Generally, SGD might swing back and forth from fun to learning, the two polar extremes along which the design space can be defined. In the first case, the design might drift more toward fun, potentially undermining learning. The experience will be pleasant but the learning outcome might be questionable. In the second case, the design might drift more toward learning, diminishing the fun. In this case learning might be insured, though the overall game experience might not be entertaining enough, spoiling the fun. Based on this design space, we can chart two main game design routes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sociocultural Theory: Coined by contemporary scholars, the term refers to a set of theoretical frameworks that originated in the Soviet Union in the beginning of the 20th century by Lev Vygotsky and his colleagues, Alexander Luria, and Alexei Leont’ev. These frameworks included Vygotsky’s Cultural-Historical Psychology and Leont’ev’s Activity Theory.

Application: In this work, application is defined as the second mediational resource type that players utilize in solving game problems. It involves deduction, namely going from the abstract to the concrete and corresponds to scientific concepts.

Mediation: The term denotes any material or conceptual artifacts that humans utilize in accomplishing cognitive tasks. In Vygotskian theory mediation is one of the two main pillars as it shapes consciousness.

Serious Games: Serious Games are games whose primary objective is not related to entertainment. Typically, such games aim to foster the learning of concepts, skills, and attitudes in various disciplines. While Serious Games are not mainly focused on entertainment, they certainly do not exclude it.

Exploration: In this work, exploration is defined as the first mediational resource type that players utilize in overcoming game obstacles. It involves induction, that is moving from the concrete to the abstract and corresponds to everyday concepts.

Concept Formation: In the context of sociocultural theory, concepts are generalizations that are represented through signs (words). Vygotsky distinguished between naturally occurring concepts (everyday ones) and formally introduced concepts (scientific ones). Concepts constitute collectively constructed and shared artifacts that either embody or represent solutions to problems.

Serious Games Design: The processes involved in creating games whose principal target is the learning of concepts, skills, and attitudes. It is an interdisciplinary endeavor, involving experts from the different disciplines such as graphic, audio, product, and interaction design, programming, animation, writing, content experts, educators, and learning scientists.

Social Interaction: Social interaction is one of two main foundational pillars of the Vygotskian framework. It constitutes the primary and driving source of cognitive development as all higher psychological functions emerge as social relations.

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