Feedforward as an Essential Active Principle of Engagement in Computer Games

Feedforward as an Essential Active Principle of Engagement in Computer Games

Richard H. Swan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-717-6.ch005
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Learner engagement is important for learning, yet the question of how to design engaging learning experiences still lingers. One of the facets of computer games is that they tend to be engaging. In addition, they are designed experiences. By examining computer games as examples of the design of engaging experiences through the lens of design theory, it may be possible to extract more fundamental principles for the design of engagement. Such principles could inform the design of serious games and other learning experiences. This chapter uses Vincenti’s fundamental design concept of operational principle to identify the core components and active principle that underlie the design of engagement in games. The chapter also introduces the concept of feedforward to describe the continual elicitation of anticipatory cognition and behavior by players/learners. This feedforward effect in the context of player/learner agency is essential to the active principle of engagement in computer games.
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Learner motivation and engagement are seen as necessary conditions for learning to occur (see Blumenfeld, Kempler, & Krajcik, 2006; Buchanan, 2006; Edstrom, 2002; Katzeff, 2000). Yet learner engagement remains a persistent problem for education (Blumenfeld, et al., 2006; Buchanan, 2006; Csikszentmihalyi, 2002; Gardner, 2002). One of the significant potential contributions of computer games to education is that they are generally successful at eliciting engagement, and thus may foster student engagement in the learning process (Aldrich, 2004; Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, & Tuzun, 2005; Gee, 2003; Papert, 1998; Prensky, 2001; Rieber, 1996; Squire, 2005). While engagement has been addressed from psychological and phenomenological points of view, the question of engagement has not been examined sufficiently from the perspective of design (Katzeff, 2000; Kickmeier-Rust, et al., 2006; Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004; Swan, 2008; Van Eck, 2006, 2007). Katzeff (2000) notes: “The importance of motivation for the ability to learn is well documented. But with a few exceptions, this feature of learning is rarely addressed in the literature. How do we design for motivation, engagement and immersion?” (p. 5, emphasis added).

In addition, Kirriemuir and McFarlane (2004) suggest,

Rather than aiming for an experience that superficially resembles leisure-based “fun” activities, or one which attempts to conceal the educational purpose, it might be argued that we should understand the deep structures of the games play experience that contribute to [optimal engagement] and build these into environments designed to support learning. (p. 6)

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the “deep structures” of games from the perspective of design to generate a better understand of the design of engaging experiences. Computer games are examined as a type of experience designed for engagement in order to inform other design situations in which engagement is desirable (i.e., serious games in particular and instructional design in general).

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