The Role of Narrative in Educational Games and Simulations

The Role of Narrative in Educational Games and Simulations

Jim Bizzocchi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-731-2.ch004
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This chapter examines the relationship of story, interaction, and learning through a close view of the role of narrative in two SAGE for Learning projects: Contagion and COMPS. The combination of narrative with an interactive multi-mediated environment can enhance the learning experience. In interactive environments, the standard narrative arc has limited analytical utility; in its place, we use a framework of more focused and particular narrative components, with the following components: storyworld, character, emotion, narrativized interface, micro-narrative and narrative progression. This framework is used to analyze Contagion and COMPS, revealing the underlying narrative dynamics that drive the design, and support the learning experiences that they make possible.
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Introduction And Background

The combination of narrative and well-constructed media-rich digital environments has the capacity to support learning in a variety of ways. Well-designed games and simulations do provide this opportunity for multi-mediated and engaging learning environments. Mayer and Chandler (2001) point out that multimedia presentations can support both retention and transfer. Malone and Lepper (1987) maintain that games tap into increased motivation through mechanisms such as challenge, fantasy, curiosity, and learner agency. The author's work with Brad Paras (Paras & Bizzocchi, 2005) indicates that a key connection between games and learning is the powerful effect of Csikszentmihalyi's “flow state” on building the intrinsic motivation to maximize immersion within the learning experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Scholars such as James Gee (Gee, 2003) and Marc Prensky (Prensky, 2001) maintain that even existing commercial games have significant learning outcomes in their own right. The relationship between games and learning has been identified by scholars internationally as a significant opportunity to be explored and developed. Some of the many concentrations for research into games and learning include the MIT- University of Wisconsin Education Arcade1, the Serious Games2 conferences and websites, and the Canadian Imagine3 and SAGE4 research networks.

Narrative has a similar and well-recognized potential to support and enhance learning. Narrative is an extremely powerful personal, social, and cultural phenomenon. Donald Polkinghorne's (1988) extensive overview of the role of narrative in the social sciences relies on Barthes to remind us that narratives are everywhere, and that they have the power to shape us as individuals and as cultures. Polkinghorne (1988), Alvarez and Risko (1989) and Grady (2002) maintain that narrative helps provide learners with conceptual schema, which enable them to understand better and learn more. The unifying power of storytelling can support the juncture of new knowledge with old, and the connection that underlies constructivist learning experiences (Mott, Callaway, Zettlemoyer, Lee, & Lester, 1999). Narrative can also unify learner and content. Character and plot actions in stories increase learner commitment and involvement through identification, and can therefore facilitate transformative learning experiences (Rossiter, 2002). Laurillard (1998) holds that narrative structure is central to comprehension, and its absence can severely inhibit learning.

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