Individual Differences in the Enjoyment and Effectiveness of Serious Games

Individual Differences in the Enjoyment and Effectiveness of Serious Games

Dawn G. Blasko (Pennsylvania State University, USA), Heather C. Lum (Pennsylvania State University, USA), Matthew M. White (Pennsylvania State University, USA) and Holly Blasko Drabik (University of Central Florida, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4773-2.ch008
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Individuals differ in a myriad of ways and the promise of using a digital game format to teach or train new knowledge and skills is that they may be designed to allow each user to take their own path through the game and therefore create a more person-centered experience. The current chapter explores the research on some of the many individual differences that may be important to the design, use, and success of a serious game. These include factors that influence motivation to play and learn and learner characteristics such as age, gender, and ethnicity. Cognitive characteristics such as working memory and spatial skills can influence the play environment and may actually be improved by regular gaming. Finally, one area that has been much less studied is individual differences in teachers and trainers who often are charged with the implementation of the serious games.
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At the heart of serious games are the learning objectives set forth by educators and researchers. Also called ‘digital games for learning and training’ serious games attempt to impart knowledge and skills using an entertaining game format. Serious games have been used as a means to engage learners in content learning and increase learner-centered control and motivation. In many cases, serious games have tackled difficult and complex topics, such as world hunger, political crises, and more. For example, in Darfur Is Dying (2009), developer mtvU attempted to use a serious game to raise awareness of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Western Sudan (Ruiz, York, Stein, Keating, & Santiago, 2009). Other games such as Amnesty the Game (2011) and Food Force (2005) have tackled similarly controversial issues.

Theories of effective learning suggest that to be successful, a serious game needs to be active, experiential, problem-based and provide immediate feedback (Boyle, Connolly & Hainey, 2011). Serious games must also be enjoyable and motivate individuals to play until they reach mastery. However, individual players differ in a variety of ways that may lead to a higher or lower level of engagement with the technology. One of the most attractive features of serious games, and educational technology more generally, is the possibility that the software can be tailored to assess the individual learner’s skills and knowledge in real time as well as present new activities and concepts that are challenging but achievable at the learner’s own pace. This idea of finding an optimal skill-to-challenge balance is often discussed in the context of Csikszentmihayli’s concept of “flow” (Csikszentmihayli, 1997). One goal for serious games is to match a learner’s skills with the right level of challenge in real-time.

The unifying focus of this chapter is to examine how individual differences are related to the enjoyment and effectiveness of serious games. As researchers, we strive to examine what makes us similar and, just as importantly, what makes us different. The study of these distinguishing characteristics is essential when considering the underlying mechanisms of serious game design. The current chapter explores how four classes of individual differences are important to consider in the design, use and assessment of serious games. The first class includes motivational factors such as learning self-efficacy, the second involves experiential factors such as gaming experience and video game self-efficacy, the third involves demographic characteristics such as gender, socio-economic status, and age, and the fourth focuses on cognitive factors. We will briefly discuss the application of serious games for learners with individual differences in physical and cognitive deficits. Finally, it is important to consider individual differences in the teachers and trainers who are expected to implement the serious game. Their motivation, self-efficacy and attitudes towards the use of games for learning can be important to success. Although no one chapter can fully explore all of these factors, we hope to review some of the newer research in the field, present some interesting new data, identify some new areas for research and provide some helpful tips for serious game developers.

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