Digital Game-Based Learning: New Horizons of Educational Technology

Digital Game-Based Learning: New Horizons of Educational Technology

Michael D. Kickmeier-Rust (University of Graz, Austria), Elke Mattheiss (University of Graz, Austria), Christina Steiner (University of Graz, Austria) and Dietrich Albert (University of Graz, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-678-0.ch009
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Computer games are an incredibly successful technology; due to the dynamic and active nature they are perhaps even more successful and appealing than TV or movies. Facing this success and the significant amount of time young people spend on playing computer games, it is a compelling idea of educators, developers, and researchers to utilize this technology for educational purposes. In this chapter we focus on the emerging technology of digital educational games, we attempt to give a brief summary of the state-of-the-art, and we emphasize leading-edge research in this genre. Moreover, we discuss the psycho-pedagogical foundations of “good” educational computer games. Finally, we provide an outlook to the future of educational technologies.
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If certain researchers and educators are right, computer games and the MTV culture changed the way young people perceive and process information and, therefore, the way those young people learn. “Twitch speed” computer games and fast moving video clips and films emphasized specific cognitive aspects and deemphasized others (Prensky, 2001). According to many authors, the genre of actively played, dynamic computer games affect cognitive aspects as well as individual preferences probably even more than TV or movies does. The generation that grew up with computer technology, the Internet, and digital games – the so-called digital natives – has different demands on educational technology. The consequence is that future educational technology requires a dramatic change of its nature, particularly since learning and knowledge is becoming more and more important. So it is not a big surprise that the idea of using the same genre – computer games – for educational purposes is becoming increasingly popular amongst educators.

Computer games are a tremendously successful and popular genre. Since the 1990s research and development has increasingly addressed learning aspects of playing recreational games and also the realisation of computer games for primarily educational purposes. At the beginning of our journey towards successful digital educational games (DEGs) we have to ask why (computer) games are so successful, popular, and important. A great many scientific and philosophical works addressed such factors. According to the work of Lepper and Malone (e.g., Lepper & Malone, 1987; Malone, 1981) four key factors are challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy. Very briefly, the motivational effect of a challenge is seen in the potential to engage a learner’s self-esteem using personally meaningful goals with “uncertain” outcomes. According to Habgood, Ainsworth, and Benford (2005) uncertainty can be achieved through variable difficulty levels, multiple goals, hidden information, and randomness. The effect of curiosity is seen in the emotional appeal of narrative and game play, stimulating sensory and cognitive components. Curiosity is aroused by the feeling that one’s own knowledge is incomplete or inconsistent – in terms of subject matter, game play, or narrative. The effect of control is seen in a self-empowerment, an increase of a learner’s own control over the events in the game. This perception is triggered by the range of choices offered by a game, by the extent to which the events in the game depend on the actions of the learners, and the inherent power of these responses (Habgood, Ainsworth, & Benford, 2005). A specifically important factor is fantasy, which is a type of fictional narrative (e.g., Gee, 2003) and it is either intrinsic or extrinsic to game play. Intrinsic fantasy refers to the degree with which the learning is embedding the fantasy context. Intrinsic fantasy is more relevant to educational games since it might be “designed to indicate how a skill might be used in the real-world setting, and may provide metaphors or analogies to aid in understanding” (Dickey, 2006, p. 254).

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