In search of a more concretely developed research interest, I embarked on a Research Development Project (RDP) and explored relevant issues, research, and development of  the field of educational games (under an umbrella term of serious games). What follows includes annotations for course readings, annotated articles for my RDP, annotated glossaries, and influential professional organizations, publications, and conferences in the field of serious games.



Initial Statement of Research Interest

Describe a phenomenon that illustrates your interest

My current interest lies in the mechanisms and effects of serious games in formal and informal settings for learning. The ESRB (entertainment software rating board) categorized commercially released software into genres, one of them being “edutainment” games which provide players a purpose beyond entertainment, namely, learning. Gaining more attention in the field of research are serious games which also provide educational content and can be used as an important medium through which learning, health education, training, and social change can be invoked.

Describe a few general questions you have about this phenomenon

What are the roles of serious games in traditional classrooms?

How effective are game-based learning and how can the learning outcomes be assessed?

Do serious games have to be boring since they place major focus on curriculum instead of the fun factor of play?

Explain why this interest is significant to you and others

With the ever-increasing amount of serious games designed and released with a goal geared toward content learning and education, it is imperative to study what are the design elements, effects, and mechanisms that make these games fail or succeed. Personally I gravitate to the idea of designing a game for the purpose of teacher preparation. Much like the idea of virtual training simulator for pilots/soldiers, a virtual environment in which novice or veteran teachers can practice decision-making and improve classroom-management skills can be a valuable asset.








Prensky, M. (2001). Fun, play, and games—What makes games engaging? Digital Game-Based Learning. OH: McGraw-Hill.


This chapter begins with elaboration on the commonly-agreed 12 elements that make digital games (computer and video games) engaging. Namely, digital games give us enjoyment/pleasure, intense/passionate involvement, structure, motivation, doing, flow state, learning, ego gratification, adrenaline, creativity, social groups, and emotion. The author also presents epistemological inquiry on the meaning of fun and its relation to learning, phenomena of play and its relation to learning and work, and a more structured subset of both play and fun, namely games. There are six structural factors that make a game—rules, goals/objectives, outcomes/feedback, conflict/competition/challenge/opposition, interaction, representation/story. Additionally, the concept of toy and tools was introduced to make a distinction between them and games. The appeal and taxonomy of digital games were presented clearly and good principles of computer game design were itemized and discussed. The author also attempted clarifications on how digital games affect representations of culture, age, language, violence, and gender.

Reading through this chapter enabled me to acquire a deeper look into the elements that make up a game. Aside from the inevitable ingredient of fun and play, I am now prepared to look into games of sorts with an examining eye on their structural factors, asking and probing while playing games, “why does the character narrate in a certain way?”; “why does the representation take players into one direction instead of another?”; “what can be done to improve the flow of the play experience?”.  I come to realize that game design is such an immense field of inquiry and I look forward to exploring how digital game-based learning can be enacted, in particular in relation to formal education in a variety of settings.

Ratan, R., & Ritterfeld, U. (2009). Classifying serious games. Serious Games—Mechanisms and Effects. NY: Routledge.


This research creates a broad snapshot of the present state of serious games and a structure that could be utilized by future research in this area. Overall, the trends indicate serious games with the purpose of academic education and practicing skills as representing the vast majority of serious games, validating the stereotype that serious games consist mostly of edutainment games. The authors devised a classification system which can serve as a guide to understanding and interpreting serious games as a medium.

It is interesting to note where the researchers identified sources of serious games in this research. ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) was in my impression a solely commercialized institute which rates retail games and games for video game consoles. It was not my knowledge that ESRB actually spans their rating to computer games, virtually covering all digitalized gaming. The 281 games rated as edutainment games in ESRB website do draw my attention as to what these games have to offer aside from the purpose of entertainment. The remark “not all serious games are edutainment games, but all edutainment games are serious games” was also intriguing. I thought about the games I used to play growing up as a child and how many of those games I played could be categorized as edutainment games, or serious games per se. According to the author’s definition, a game that provides more than the purpose of entertainment can be serious games. And I really tried hard to recollect traces of cues among the games I have experienced and almost always the games that surfaced to my mind all delivered a message to me during the game play, e.g., the value of friendship; the power of teamwork, or nostalgia. Were these messages intended by the game designers or were they only reinterpretations of the game player? Were those messages educational and thus making the game serious? Nevertheless, acknowledged by the authors, it would be futile to find a clear-cut definition for serious games. I reckoned, reading more into the field would help me clear my lingering doubts as to what serious games mainly consist of.

Prensky, M. (2001). Why and how it works–Digital game-based learning. Digital game-based learning, OH: McGraw-Hill.


This chapter presents a thorough discussion of the definition of digital game-based learning; reasons why it work; and how does it work. Broadly defined, digital game-based learning is “any learning game on a computer or online” (p. 146). Three primary reasons as to why digital game-based learning works are added engagement, interactive learning process, and the way engagement and learning are merged. For digital game-based learning to work, the following premises must be considered: audience; subject matter; context; technological affordance; available resources and experiences; distribution and implementation.

To me the discussions presented by Prensky surrounding how to select/create a game based on the audience, evaluating the subject matter, interactively teaching it, and putting games and learning together resemble to the iterative 3-phase continuum of game design, to game itself, and to the player experience. The iteration is the process through which the three components are linked (in a loop) to enhance the game play and learning experience. While Prensky does not dwell on implementation in the learning context, what is worth noting here is that digital game designers must work closely with digital game-based learning instructors so that optimal learning outcome can be reached. Often the caveat of game-based learning lies in the gap between design and application. While a learning game can be designed well, it does not necessarily lead to successful implementation of the game in a game-based learning environment. Several reasons may lead to the downfall of game-based learning. First, the fact that game designers and game-based learning instructors may not be on the same page in terms of interpreting the intended effect of the game. The game is designed to teach one way but the instructor misuses it, thus rendering the game-based learning less effective. Second and perhaps more important is the question as to whether instructors who endorse game-based learning have to be gamers themselves. Putting my personal inclination aside, it is only natural to assume that the instructor should know the game intended for learning well enough for the game-based instruction to be effective as expected. The question is, “how well does the instructor have to know about the game?” Previously existing game play experience can be helpful for game-based instructors given that the knowledge can help him/her better ease into the learning game, interpret the intended purpose, and maximize the learning effect during game-based instruction. But the instructor’s overly strong subjectivity imposed on the learning game can bring about adverse effects during game-based instruction. This is again a matter of balance maintenance between game-based learning and instruction if we are to expect ideal learning outcome, which calls for a close collaboration between game designers and game-based learning instructors.

Gee, J. P. (2007). Deep learning properties for good digital games—how far can they go?, Good video games + good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning and literacy. NY: Peter Lang.


Building on the note that instead of broadcasting the effectiveness of games, now is the time to change the message from preaching to more explicitly explaining why digital game based learning could be engaging and effective (p. 18). This is to say that not necessarily all games are good for all learners and for all learning outcomes. This is to say, when good digital games meet certain conditions, we can then expect that deep learning ensues. To this end, Gee’s explication of six properties of good digital games serve as strong indicators of how games can be employed in learning contexts not just for instruction supplementation but for powerful learning experiences that are meaningful to the players/learners on the long run. In the following I attempt to discuss the six properties of good digital games and compare the projected effectiveness of DGBL with that of the traditional text-based curriculum.

Property one argues that games use rules and create personal and emotional ties for players. On the outset, a player accepts the rules of the game by choosing to play and trying to wrestle with the system to achieve the goal, which is in most cases to beat the game. Players’ implicit and voluntary succumb to the rules of the game world in turn brings about a way in which each player chooses to approach the problem of how to accomplish the game goal. It is safe to assume that players are to some extent intrinsically motivated to play the game of their choosing and learn most, if not all about it. In comparison, the same premise cannot be said of traditional classroom curriculum because students are subject to the teacher’s choice and arrangement of instruction. Good digital games used for learning enjoy the upper hand over traditional text-based curriculum in that they offer learners freedom of choice, individual pacing, and tailored instruction. Building from the above, property two of good digital games allows players control by instilling embodied intimacy or reach of power or vision. This feature separates DGBL from traditional learning in the fact that the former grants players authorship of learning whereas in the latter learners tend to be treated as receptacles of knowledge. The aspect of control over one’s learning progress is crucial, which is why current classroom practices promote student-centered learning to encourage students to take partial ownership of learning.  Property three addresses the conditions in which game-based experiential learning is induced for deep learning. Conditions such as discovery of rules, interpretation and reflection, immediate feedback, application of learned knowledge in contexts otherwise (situated learning), and socially-constructed learning.  Here I contend that traditional curriculum can stand its ground by meeting all of the five conditions to provide students meaningful learning experiences. Discovery learning and reflection procedures are commonly employed by teachers while teaching subject matters which encourage inquiry and open-ended responses such as in literature reading. Immediate feedback from the teacher can be achieved through formative assessment but this does not mean that the teacher can be consistent in providing personalized feedback because in most cases the teacher has to cope with a group of students (unlike in games where one-on-one tutelage and feedback is made possible and available to learners all the time). Property four proposes that games promote analytical thinking and problem solving skills by inviting players to find their match between affordances (tools) and effectivities (actors). Contrary to traditional learning context where learners go through a uniform linear learning trajectory, games avail on the aspect that “an incompetent beginner gets to control a competent body” (p. 73). Put another way, empowerment on the part of player/learner seems to be a prerequisite in good digital games. This also means that a player’s way of approaching the problem-solving in a game is meaningful in its own right to him/herself. The connection between tools and actors in a game is thus reinforced while each player seeks to see the world in a specific way. Traditional learning contexts are the underdog comparing to DGBL in this perspective due to the fact that a student will never be able to use a teacher’s competent body to see the world and solve problems from that perspective (p. 73). Property five contends that games provide models and modeling of the real world that are important to learning because models and modeling allow players space for interrogation and problem solving based on transfer from concreteness to abstraction of concept (and vice versa). Games allow a multitude of simulations which embody in-game models as ”tools to facilitate, enrich, and deepen the problem solving” (p. 77). Traditional curriculum on the other hand loses out simply because of the pre-existing centralized nature and procedure of learning in the classroom (teacher-oriented instruction, classroom management, and universal pacing). Property six focuses on the possibility of player-enacted stories (second stories distinct from designer story) or trajectories in DGBL and this gives rise to the connections players can make within and across layers of a game play experience that are personally and emotionally meaningful to each player. It would be a far-fetch for me to attempt to assert that traditional curriculum allows for second stories (different from teacher-preached stories in this case) because the “teacher story” is most precisely what teachers expect our students to absorb at the ring of every bell when class ends. Coupled with the ever-present pressure to deal with high-stake standardized testing where declarative knowledge is valued over functional knowledge, perhaps it is less than surprising that more and more, our students would turn their back to the somewhat coercive cramming of knowledge inside school walls while all along on the other side of the wall, a wellspring of opportunities to express themselves and to allow them individualized approach to learning in good digital games await them.

Klimmt, C. (2009). Serious games and social change: Why they (should) work. In Ritterfeld et al. (Ed.) Serious Games—Mechanisms and Effects. NY: Routledge.

Bogost, I. (2008). The rhetoric of video games. The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning. MA: The MIT Press.


Christoph Klimmt in chapter 16 of Ritterfeld et al. (2009) advances the argument that serious games have an important place in communication campaigns to enact social change. A 15-mechanism conceptual model of serious game is proposed. After reading this chapter and some parts of the Bogost paper, I found the issue of message construction in games for social change to be interesting (recalling that we read a message design article for health games earlier in our class), which is a critical question—“how to synthesize the change related messages with the interactivity of the medium” (p. 266) Klimmt acknowledged not being addressed in his conclusive remarks in the chapter.

A major proportion of interactivity between players and digital games lie in the narrative, where messages embedded have to embody persuasive power, ethos, for potential social change. As noted by Klimmt in regard to narrative, a careful balance of open elements that players can explore interactively and predefined closed elements which adhere to coherence and structure of the story would allow for effective communication. Even with a sound game narrative at work, we still have to rely on players’ successful navigation between these open and close ended elements of narrative for change-related content to be acknowledged, absorbed, and transferred to future applications. The complications of player-initiated interpretations of the change-related messages in a serious game are beyond my grasp but the Bogost piece does offer insight as to how we can approach the issue.

Bogost poses procedural rhetoric as an approach by which games with political or social goals seek to affect “change”. With procedural rhetoric a game presents an argument and players unpack the argument through play (Bogost, 2008, p. 130). For instance, players can be “forced” into memorizing in-game information only so that they can advance to new levels; players can also learn about commerce and debt, cultural values, or morality through adhering to rules or core game play mechanisms set in a game (Animal Crossing and Bully being the case in point). What is at stake here is how do game designers make sure they are getting their message across as originally intended? It would seem futile to attempt to control target audience since players enter a serious game inevitably bringing variables—varied game play history, preferred experience, preferred game genre, expectations, and maybe undesired anti-persuasion stance. In serious games, we need game mechanisms that resonate with change-related messages as powerful catalysts. Equally important and not to be outweighed is the overarching narrative in which change-related messages are embedded–the all-important medium through which players gain immersion and insinuation of the intended meaning-making that induces social change.

In relation to serious game design and successful implementation of serious games, the collaboration among communication scholars, game designers, content experts, and perhaps professional “game playwrights” need to be in place if we are to expect the narrative in social change games to be emotionally engaging, persuasive, and motivating for behavioral change.

Weight, J. (2008). Self, video games and pedagogy. Beyond fun: Serious games and media, Ed. Drew Davidson. ETC Press.


The author values video game experience because it offers a performative way to explore the nature of human identity. She argues that creative people such as her students “explore and expand their own creativity if they are better attuned to who they are, which is always contextualized by other people and the world(s) they are immersed in” (p. 118). This is where video games are helpful.

Technologies have affordances and constraints. Video games as a media for learning have been criticized for its potential to entice players to violence or leading to inconsequential learning not assessed or not accounted for by current high stakes testing measures. I am a believer in what the author proposes here, “through video games, self-identity become the subject of a student’s experiment” (p. 118) because traditional classroom instruction does not seem to encourage performance before competence, causing students to be low risk-taking learners who dare not weave creativity into their works or performances because standardized testing is always on their tail curtailing the usage of create explorations. Video games on the contrary allow for and encourage player learners to learn through trial, error, and immediate feedback iteratively until a problem-solving task is accomplished. The safe haven element of video games probably serves to explain why kids are so engrossed in learning from playing video games because video games provide sandboxes where they experiment and witness outcomes, and their errors will not be penalized because games have infinite patience. Using a technosocial pedagogy with video games, as argued by the author to include video game-based education in a liberal education agenda, does seem promising to me considering our new generation of digital natives grew up in a media-saturated environment and a whole bunch of them already grew up on video games.


Briggs, R. O. (2006). On theory-driven design and deployment of collaboration systems. Int. J. Human-Computer Studies, 64, 573-582.

09.09. 2010 TC 831

The authors propose a theoretical approach to the design of collaboration technology and process which lead us to non-intuitive design choices that produce successes beyond early efforts based on an intuitive, seat-of-the-pants approach. This paper explains the simple structure of a rigorous scientific theory and offers examples of theory-driven design choices that produced substantial benefits. The conclusion suggests that the most useful focus for collaboration technology researchers would be the technology-supported work-process, rather than just the technology.

The author raised many important questions concerning the state and development of collaboration technology systems. Perhaps the more instrumental questions are, for instance, “how do we account for success of some collaboration technologies, repeat those successes, and move on from there to produce even better results?” These questions suggest to me that their arduous effort, as in the endeavor devoted to all research fields, does not end once the research ends. Instead, their effort lasts continuously in searching for a better solution and a more well-rounded design, preferably a theory-guided one. While many learning theories (e.g. social comparison theory, focus theory of group productivity) were discussed in the article, I gravitated to the idea that good theories have to be based on a causal model deploying cause-and-effect to explain phenomena of interest. The box-arrow diagram was explicated well to me and absurdity test seemed to me to be an enduring principle when testing propositions. The authors also explained grand theories of everything or nothing as pitfalls we should be heedful of while reading articles or choosing theoretical framework for our own sake.

National Institutes of Health. (2005). Theories and applications. Theory at a glance: A guide for health promotion practice, 2nd ed.


This chapter addresses the ecological perspective of public health communication—a multilevel, interactive approach—to assess all levels of problems related to health. Two key concepts underlying this perspective are first, behavior both effects and is affected by multiple levels of influence; second, individual behavior both shapes and is shaped by the social environment (reciprocal causation). Five levels of influence for health-related behaviors and conditions are intrapersonal/individual factors; interpersonal factors; institutional/organizational factors; community factors; public policy factors. The episodic description following from each theoretic model really helps readers to get a clearer picture of how this health-related behavioral change model works in real life situations.

Apart from theories of health behavior at the community/organization level, it appears to me the theories explicated in this chapter do not limit themselves to health-related issues since they describe the incentives and process that are in place in bringing about behavioral changes at the inter- and intrapersonal level. These theories—TPB, Stages of Change Model, Health Belief Model, PAPM, SCT (many of these theories’ underlying assumptions overlap, in particular, in the aspect of self-efficacy)—can be applied in other fields of inquiry such as formal learning, consumer behaviors, or religion.

Towards the end of the chapter, one of the E-health communications, interactive video games, drew my attention as I gravitate to the idea of using game-based learning to effect learning outcome for a target audience, pre-service teachers.  Traditional teacher preparation programs had proved much too less effective as many have claimed that the theories they learned in coursework do not relate to the real-time teaching practices in the classroom. My idea is to design a theory-driven interactive game which helps to ease pre-service teachers into teaching in a K-12 setting, particularly in relation to classroom management.

Another pressing issue is that internet usage based on SES and ethnicity has been a major factor contributing to the digital divide. Newer technologies, despite their good intentions, may work to worsen this divide as the text-based Internet requires literacy skills for users to operate, which our economically-deprived may lack. All in all, I agree with what the authors propose at the end, that “it is important to involve community members in planning e-health interventions and to offer them ongoing training and support for using these emerging communication tools”.

National Institutes of Health. (2005). Putting theories and practice together. Theory at a glance: A guide for health promotion practice, 2nd ed.


This chapter discussed how the two planning systems—social marketing and precede proceed–popularly employed in health communication and what constitutes their core practices.

The upper right paragraph on page 43 really gives an all-encompassing view of how research is done from the get-go. My takeaway from reading this paragraph is that to conduct research, careful consideration and background study is vital, and more importantly doing research is procedural (though not always through the same procedure as sometimes you may go into the field with a pre-determined theory to explore a phenomenon, e.g. phenomenology, ethnography, or working backwards as in ground theory research). As pointed out by the authors, research is about identifying a problem, using a planning system to identify social science theories that contribute to your understanding of that problem; and using theories to guide to potential points of intervention. Literature research helps to learn about past successes and failures of intervention so we can reflect on the practicability of those interventions within our current context.


Baranowski et al. (2008). Playing for real: video games and stories for health-related behavior change. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(1), 74-82.


The authors devoted one section of the paper to the discussion of Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) and elaboration likelihood model as basis for explaining what kind of learning through video games contribute to behavioral change. Both SCT and the model are self-explanatory and I would add that SCT and the elaboration likelihood model seem to work hand in hand to cause behavioral change. First we have the elaboration likelihood model which proposes that gaining attention and maintaining it for a person is crucial if we are to expect that the messages being conveyed to be absorbed, to take hold, and to induce behavioral change.  SCT on the other hand focuses on feedback and modeling one person receives which in turn boost self-efficacy in carrying out the new behavior. Combining these theoretical two perspectives, it is safe to assume that video games can be a venue through which people can be exposed to new messages and become acclimated to the change, eventually altering their behaviors as the game intended. I thought this explication reinforced what we have read about previously in Brigg’s article on the much-needed theory-driven design with an emphasis on locating the cause-and effect. I then assumed the authors will be using SCT as an analytical lens through which we can examine the 25 serious games aimed at behavioral change to promote health.

The authors in the discussion section revealed that video games can influence behaviors through two methods: theory-based procedures in behavior change such as goal setting/review, and the insertion of behavior change concepts and story such as through absolving conflict between protagonist and antagonist with the former modeling the health-related behavior change. The identification of these two primary methods is a worthwhile discovery but somehow I felt the authors were not paying enough attention to a deeper analysis of the 27 published articles on behavior change induced by the 25 health-related video games. Instead, a major chunk of this study was devoted to the discussion of the various elements that make a story successful in video games and how game mechanics in general affect game play. In fact, the authors only spent one page (p.76) to quickly walk the readers through the result of their analysis while spending three pages (p. 77-79) on story elements. This inadequacy of the description and analysis of the 27 articles does not seem to me to be doing justice to the apparent focus of this study—analyzing the mechanics and effects of these 25 health-related video games—and hence deviating readers from paying due attention to the behavior change articles under examination.

Tate, R., Haritatos, J., & Cole, S. (2009). HopeLab’s approach to Re-Mission. International Journal of Learning and Media, 1 (1), 29-35.


Hopelab’s overarching objective to enhance physical health and psychological well-being of youths with chronic disease is realized, with definitive impact, through the serious game “Re-mission”. A cycle of summative research was in place before the game was officially released. The clinical impact, while owing to the research effort, also lent itself heavily to their theory-driven design—randomized controlled trials (RCT). RCT has been touted as the golden standard for evaluating the causal effects of an intervention. Here again I become even more convinced of the paramount importance of instilling a theory-guided design into my future research if I expect my research to do any good.

Re-mission has successfully increased young cancer patients’ self-efficacy in coping with the disease and I am overwhelmed by the immediately observable clinical impact enacted through game-based behavior change. I said to myself, if I am going to do research, the “greater good” Hopelab has contributed to the general public would be something I strive to emulate through working with a research team. With regard to research, I believe collective effort takes us a lot further than lone endeavor. I wonder how this game may influence and contribute to the non-target group’s (people not suffering from chronic disease) perspective and understanding of cancer.

Kelly et al. (2007). How to build serious games. Communications of the ACM, 50(7), 45-49.


This article addresses a serious game, Immune Attack, designed by a research team with backgrounds spanning from game designers, subject matter experts, artists, and programmers to teach immunology to high school and college students.

The introduction pinpointed one challenge faced by serious games and developers, i.e., how do we make serious games that are “sufficiently engaging to hold a student’s attention” when serious games battle a fiercely competent counterpart in commercially produced video games. Another challenge of making a serious game is the management of the developmental process. Making a game requires the cooperation of specialists from many disciplines. Therefore it is sometimes inevitable to go through the “painful process to force team members to learn from their specialized colleagues while reexamining cherished assumptions along the way” (p. 46). This design process appears to be such a daunting task and indeed will be if the team does not have a charismatic leader to make the call based on good judgment and well-rounded consideration. I came to wonder, what could be the necessary qualities a team leader should possess on a game design team?

Barab, S. A., et al. (2007). Relating narrative, inquiry, and inscriptions: supporting consequential play. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(1), p. 59-82.


The authors discuss their research involving the use of a multi-user virtual environment, Quest Atlantis, to embed 4th grade students in an aquatic habitat simulation to inquire into socio-scientific issues such as water quality concepts and challenges in balancing scientific and socio-economic factors. The results show student engagement in participating in scientific discourse, submitted quality work, and learned science content. Moreover, students developed conceptual, perceptual, and ethical understanding of science. The findings suggest that multi-user virtual environment can be used effectively to supplement academic content learning.

A repeated theme—the struggle between pedagogy and meeting high-stakes standards—that occurs not just in teaching science but also in other subject content teaching is second language education. As immigrant population grows by the year, student population in school has undergone dramatic change in states such as California, and Texas where mainstream teachers (typically white middle-class females) are taking on the challenge to teach minority students whose background differs greatly with their own. Aside from overcoming this cultural hurdle inside the classroom, these teachers have to deal with the pressure from top-down as they tweak pedagogy to meet the high demands of standardized tests. In coping with the duel challenge, it requires strenuous effort on the part of teachers as the authors mentioned that “calls for meaningful scientific inquiry in classrooms increasingly conflict with the pressures teachers face to prepare students for high-stakes tests that emphasize factual recall” (p. 60). To meet the challenge, the authors’ solution is to design a curriculum artifact–a multi-user virtual world—to engage students in socio-scientific inquiry and justify the usefulness of the artifact while meeting academic content expectations. I am impressed by the thoroughness of their process in mixed-method data collection and analysis. Both qualitative and quantitative data including written student responses, recorded group interactions, pre-and post-test scores, and interview excerpts were gathered, coded, analyzed, and triangulated to ensure inter-rater reliability and validity.

An interesting contention related to their finding is the understanding as to what is too much or too little narrative (context).  The embedded context in the game provides students with the opportunity to acquire situated knowledge specific to this learning scenario. However, it could be due to the specificity of this situated context that the produced learning cannot be generalized to other contexts such as high-stakes testing. I think this problem taps on an epistemological issue—how do we picture what learning truly should be? Do we expect our students to display factual recall or skill mastery (behaviorist notion of learning) or to transfer what they’ve learned to other contexts (situated perspective of learning)? I would contend it is the balanced mix of both. As the authors allude to Vygotsky’s ZPD and the flow theory, perhaps what is the most challenging for game designers and educators alike, is the challenge to maintain the balance between content difficulty while buttressing just-enough narrative to intrinsically motivate learners.

Papastergiou, M. (2009). Digital game-based learning in high school computer science education: Impact on educational effectiveness and student motivation. Journal of Computers & Education, 52, 1-12.


This study examines the learning effectiveness and motivational appeal of a computer game for learning computer memory concepts. The computer game was designed in accordance with the curricular objectives of the Greek High school computer science curriculum. A comparison was drawn between treatment and control group in which the latter did not receive the gaming aspect of learning computer science. Sample was 88 students. A computer memory knowledge test (CMKT) was administered as pre and post-test to gauge student learning. Results revealed that the gaming approach was both more effective in promoting students’ knowledge of computer science concepts and more motivational than the non-gaming approach. Despite participating boys’ better involvement and liking in computer gaming, the final “learning gains that boys and girls achieved through the use of the game did not differ significantly, and the game was found to be equally motivational for boys and girls” (p. 1).

At the first glimpse the results of incorporating games into teaching seems encouraging and the gaming aspect seems to bridge the gap between boy and girl performance. However, upon further examination, the screenshot of the computer game used for the treatment suggested to me that there was not much of a game at all. To me, the so-called gaming application in this study appeared nothing more than a Pacman solving question marks. There was no core game mechanic that seemed appealing to me, if I were a participant of computer science concepts in this study. So much so, I came to doubt whether the effectiveness of their gaming application came from the effect of novelty, meaning that anything other than traditional print-based instruction or materials can jolt student motivation (just long and fair enough) to produce desired learning outcomes.

Ryan, R. M., Rigby, C. S., & Przybylski, A. (2006). The motivational pull of video games: A self-determination theory approach. Motivation and Emotion, 30(4), 347-363.


This paper presents four study results applying self-determination theory (SDT) in investigating motivation for computer game play and the effect of game play on psychological well-being. Studies 1 through 3 examine individuals playing one, two, and four games respectively and found that perceived in-game autonomy and competence are associated with game enjoyment, preferences, and changes in well-being pre to post game play. Also they found that competence and autonomy perceptions are related to intuitive nature of game control and the sense of presence or immersion in participants’ game play experience. Study 4 uses surveys to examine an online community with experience in multi-player games (MMOs). Findings indicate that SDT’s theorized needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness independently predict enjoyment and future game play.

This paper illuminates the motivational factors that factor into almost every game player’s game play experience. People need to feel the sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in order to do things effectively. Utilizing SDT in gaming research does not seem to be far-fetched. However, methodological concerns for some of the independent studies such as separating the effects of game play on different games in study three wasn’t explained in detail. My lack of proficiency in decoding quantitatively produced data prevented me from further gauging some of the results presented in this study. I plan to take CEP933 next spring and hopefully I will be able to interpret quantitative measurements and data analysis then.

Rankin, Y. et al. (2008). User centered game design: Evaluating massive multiplayer online role playing games for second language acquisition. Sandbox Proceedings of the 2008 ACM SIGGRAPH symposium on Video games, 43-50.


The authors in this study introduced user centered game design methodology as the framework for serious game design and apply this technique to the evaluation of the social interactions between Player Characters in a commercial Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game—Ever Quest. Results from multiple experimental studies suggest that this genre of games show promise as an unorthodox language learning tool for vocabulary acquisition and reveals the importance of social interactions in the virtual space of video games.

The user centered game design adds observational studies as the preliminary stage of game design process to identify and leverage the social interactions beneficial for knowledge acquisition and application. Conducting observational studies can prevent misappropriation of resources, make sure there will be no disappointed players who may eventually cancel playing a video game. Player input can be acquired in the early stage of observational studies. It was interesting that social interaction with native speakers in group work in MMORPG can lead to vocabulary acquisition and application. Much like in real life settings, ELLs learn more effectively when they have the opportunity to apply what they have learned to situated contexts. And as Vygostky’s ZPD attests, learning with more capable peers (NES in the case of this study) does lead to effective learning outcomes for ELLs.

Games, A. (2010). Examining the evolution in the game design and computer science discourse practices of middle school students in the Globaloria Learning Environment. Conference Proceeding for Meaningful Play Conference 2010.


This paper presents the findings of a study that examined the evolution of children’s thinking and discursive practices within computer science and game design in a virtual environment of Globaloria, an innovative learning platform and curriculum. Globaloria aims to teach science, technology, engineering, and math knowledge and skills to middle and high school children by having them design educational simulations, animations, and computer games using the Adobe Flash Authoring environment. Findings suggest that as with previous research with game design for learning, Globaloria offers multiple opportunities for learners to enter the discourse of computer science, math, and engineering by scaffolding their learning process.

I listened to Alex’s speech on this topic during Meaningful Play Conference and was since captivated by the idea of using game design to teach children scientific knowledge.  Even though at that time frame I was already part of his research team, I wasn’t able to completely grasp the idea of teaching through game design until I attended this speech to find out how to make the important connections between acquiring scientific knowledge and game design.

Lee, Y. H. (2010). Challenging games or digital textbooks? Content analysis of message structure and learning principles in serious games. Conference Proceeding for Meaningful Play Conference 2010.


This study uses content analysis to assess whether learning theories are applied to the designs of web-based games for learning. Samples are 90 pro-environmental video games randomly sampled from the Internet. Results from this study showed that despite the assumptions that video games are different from textbook in presenting knowledge not as fact but as interactive problem-solving, a majority (47.13%) of the games presented their educational messages in a mixture of facts and open-ended problems. This study argues prediction of the learning potential of serious games by measuring how intended messages are structured in game instructions.

It was interesting to read about the author’s gleaning process of the random sample of web-based games and his scrutiny on the educational messages embedded in each. Content analysis is a method for both qualitatively and quantitatively analyzing the educational discourse embedded in web-based games. Interesting to find out that educational games still focused largely on the delivery of declarative knowledge rather than open-ended inquiry.


Games, A. (in press). Gamestar Mechanic: Learning a designer mindset through communicational competence with the language of games. To appear in Learning, media and technology.


This study presents the results of a three-year study of Gamestar Mechanic, a flash-based multiplayer online role-playing game. The game objective is to help children adopt a designer mindset together with associated forms of language and literacy in the context of computer game production. Using case studies and discourse analysis, this paper examines the ways in which learning the language of games can help young students learn thinking skills and communication vital to learners in the 21st century.

I found this study to be relatable in the way that my participation in an ongoing research project also involved the use of this gaming application. In this research effort, our research team looked for evidence of learning through gathering three forms of evidence: linguistic evidence via field notes, behavioral evidence via game design decision making, and artifact evidence via game design products. The difference lies in the length of research. The current research is a 5 month workshop. It would be intriguing to compare the results I get (hopefully at the end of January) from this current research with the data presented in this prior study.

Huss, K., Winkelstein, M., Nanda, J., Naumann P. L., Sloand, E. D., & Huss, R. W. (2003). Computer game for inner-city children does not improve asthma outcomes. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 17, 72-78.


This study aims to evaluate the effects of a computer-assisted instruction (CAI) game on asthma symptoms in 7 to 12 year old inner-city children over 12 weeks. The CAI was used with 101 children with 56 in intervention group and 45 in control group. The outcome to evaluate learning was nine symptom questions in a PAQOL questionnaire. No significant result was found between the two groups of children before and after the intervention.

Rare did I come by empirical studies that presented outcomes that were statistically insignificant. However, this study result revealed to me that studies that proved intervention to be ineffective could also be published. Despite the finding, there are still implications for game design and future research.

Peng, W. (2009). Design and evaluation of a computer game to promote a healthy diet for young adults. Health Communication, 24, 115-127.


This article reports the development and evaluation of a computer game, RightWay Café, as a medium to promote healthy diet for young adults. Structural features such as interactive tailoring, role playing, and narrative were operationalized in the game to afford behavioral rehearsal. Theories such as health belief model and social cognitive theory guided the content design of the game to influence mediators of behavior change including self-efficacy and behavioral change intention. A randomized control evaluation study with pretest and posttest demonstrated that the game was effective in teaching nutrition and weight management knowledge and increasing people’s self-efficacy and perceived benefits of healthy eating.

What I learned from this research was the importance of gauging long term effect of the desired effect as a result of intervention. The follow-up design allowed for delayed assessment after the intervention had been administered. If the follow up assessment proved the gaming application to be still effective in helping young adults maintain weight and healthy diet, the intervention would have even more credibility in causing the behavioral change. However, delayed assessment also runs the risk of having compounding factors that may have impacted the desired behavioral change during the time span before the delayed assessment was given.

Kato, P. M., Cole, S. W., Bradlyn, A. S., & Pollock, B. H. (2008). A video game improves behavioral outcomes in adolescents and young adults with cancer: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), E305-E317.


The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a video game intervention for improving adherence and other behavioral outcomes for adolescents and young adults with malignancies including acute leukemia, lymphoma, and soft-tissue sarcoma. A randomized trial with baseline and 1 and 3 month assessments was conducted from 2004 to 2005 at 34 medical centers in cross country contexts. A total of 375 male and female patients who were 13 to 29 years of age participated. The result showed that adherence to medication in intervention group was greater. Self-efficacy and knowledge also increased in the intervention group as compared with the control group. The intervention did not affect self-report measures of adherence, stress, control, or quality of life.

Reading through this study, I found myself questioning the effectiveness of having self-reports as a method to gauge learning. Self-reports apparently involves the issue of conscientiousness and choice in reporting and potential over-subjectivity that may skew the analysis of the data gathered.  Depending on the objectives of the game intervention and the multiple assessments, researchers will have to carefully weigh in on the assessment design and choices to ensure measurement validity and generalizability of the research outcome.


Federation of American Scientists. (2006). Harnessing the power of video games for learning, Summit on Educational Games.


People acquire knowledge and complex skills form playing digital video games and this suggests quality video games could strengthen the system of education and prepare work force for 21st century jobs. Video games have demonstrated effectives in teaching higher order thinking skills such as interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulations and execution, etc. Why are video games capable of teaching these skills? Four questions were being focused on by the Summit: What aspects of learning are most amenable to new approaches offered by games? What kinds of research are needed to identify features of gaming that can be effective in education and training? What makes the education market so difficult for innovative commercial developers? What kinds of changes in instructional practices and management of educational institutions are needed to take advantage of the power games could bring to teaching and learning?

This piece of report is a comprehensive overview of where games stand in today’s society in relation to education, economics, and policy. While a lot of the discussion revolves around similar topics and emphasis, reading through this piece gave me a big picture on how to best implement gaming in educational setting while considering finance, marketing, research and development, and many other factors that could be critical to the success of educational game implementation.

Felicia, P. & Pitt, I. (2008). Harnessing the emotional potential of video games. in R.E. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education. Information Science Reference: Florida.

Asgari, M. & Kaufman, D. (2008). Motivation, learning, and game design. in R.E. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education. Information Science Reference: Florida.


On a policy note, both Asgari and Kaufman (2008) and Felicia and Pitt’s (2008) chapters focus on consequences and suggestions for school districts or policymakers to seriously consider educational video games as effective tool for school learning. What is at stake here, as pointed out by Felicia and Pitt (2008) is t hat, mere introduction of educational games does not suffice, “time should be set aside for teachers to become familiar with this technology so that they can play, explain the game, and animate de-briefing sessions which offer an opportunity for pupils to relate their experience and share their understanding of the concepts explained in the game” (p. 907). In other words, a systemic 4-tier effort needs to be in place if we are to expect educational games for serious purposes to take off—policymaking, teaching, research, and game design. As voiced by many pre-service and novice teachers entering the profession, the infamous disconnect between the theories learned in university classrooms and practices anticipated in the real classroom lies in the fact that these new teachers were not exposed to enough simulated contexts of teaching and often times the school infrastructure does not allow for space within which new teachers can innovate and operate, instead they accommodate and assimilate. Hence teachers who endorse critical pedagogy or urban education principles may not be supported with the necessary resources for their teaching to be effective, hence partially contributing to the high attrition rate.

If we are to set high hopes for serious games to take root in the next decade, the four pieces of puzzle have to come together. Policy makers need to take educational games into consideration as one of the important channels through which digital natives approach learning both in and out of the classroom; there needs to be a tune-up in the current and up-and-coming teaching force in the way that teachers themselves buy into games and are willing to learn how to maneuver games for learning purposes; researchers have to rely on valid tools to assess learners’ personality traits and learning styles, conduct long term studies so that results are consistent and can be reproducible on a larger scale. With the above three pieces of action set in motion, we then can expect serious game designers to be at a vantage point where they can capitalize on the resources, infrastructure, and manpower to design both educationally sound (theory-guided) and educationally entertaining (proved effective for learning) games for our next generation—the digital generation.

Griffiths, G. (2009). Subtitles: Increasing accessibility, comprehension. Retrieved October, 24, 2010, from

The author argues that among the countless buyers of video games, there are a high number of players who have some type of disability (e.g., the hearing impaired) for whom video game designers should make games accessible to. To this end, Griffiths’ proposition is through the use of subtitles. The state of subtitle usage in games is commonplace, but for a major game company such as Ubisoft to openly state that subtitles are going to be in all of their future in-house games, Griffiths guarantee that many other game companies will follow suit.

According to Griffiths, the importance of subtitles in games is twofold: Read information, so they are not confined to having to wait to hear important information; reinforce information when ambient sound in the outside world interferes. Guidelines for incorporating subtitles into games were provided as such, to name a few: use the right font, usable on various output devices, line length under control, consistent and large enough font size, space between words and lines, user-controlled speed, having own background, etc. To ensure accessibility to players with disabilities, having relevant and functioning subtitles in place in all games is a sound and worth-implementing scheme. After all, games are created to reach a wide scope of players and these players include those who need subtitles to make their game play experience more meaningful and well-rounded.

Corbett, S. (2010). Learning by playing: Video games in the classroom. Retrieved November, 17, 2010 from

This article talks about a 54 year old public school teacher, Doyle, who had taught 32 years in schools all over Manhatttan, where he taught primarily computer graphics. The class he taught was actually really about technology and game design. An interesting and important notion brought up by the author was that in a era where just about everything is downloadable and remixable, and children are more digitally savvy than the adults around them, it is perhaps not too crazy to RETHINK our assumptions about how to reach and educate these digital natives. We have known that schools are immune to change and perhaps the pace of technological advent in schools may never catch up with that trendy technological advance outside classroom walls. One possible solution to make learning more relevant to students and more connected to the world outside schools would be digital games. A professor named Salen directed the Quest to Learn project in conjunction with the education-reform group New Visions for Public Schools and her work has continually contributed a large effort to create and experiment with new models for learning in schools.

Reading through this article about using video games in the classroom, I come to sense that using video games as an alternative approach to learning computational skills and knowledge beyond school walls is worth contemplating. On a policy note, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education released a draft National Educational Technology Plan that proposes a full force of technology to be leveraged to meet aggressive goals and suggests a new kind of research and development for education that encourages bold ideas such as video games. I was happy to read about this and felt I am on the right track in terms of conducting research that is rewarding in ways both intrinsic (I am a gamer and I do believe video games have promises for educational value) and extrinsic (that I may be able to find a decent job focusing on gaming research).

Hickey, D., T., Ingram-Goble, A. A., & Jameson, E. M. (2009). Designing assessments and assessing designs in virtual educational environments. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18, 187-208.


This study used assessment practices to document broad learning outcomes for a 15-hour game-based curriculum in Quest Atlantis that supports school-based participation in socio scientific inquiry in ecological sciences. Design-based methods were used to refine the enactment of virtual narrative and scientific investigations and indirectly affects achievement test items. In study one, one 6th grade teacher used the game-based curriculum in two classes and obtained gains in understanding and achievement than the other two classes which used expository texts. In study two, the same teacher used the curriculum in all four of his classes and the revised curriculum with virtual formative feedback resulted in even larger gains.

Reading this study reinforced my belief in the power of providing meaningful formative feedback during students’ learning process. Study two results speak strength to this belief. Virtual formative feedback in the form of in-game text instruction or narration are viable tools with which gamers/learners can engage in effective learning of the designed educational messages.


Becoming ruminative in Meaningful Play Conference 2010 at MSU


Conflicting schedules had prevented me from fully accessing the keynotes and paper presented during Meaningful Play 2010 at East Lansing. Being a first time attendee at Meaningful Play, I couldn’t help but feeling a different vibe in the air upon entering the reception hall and that vibe permeated throughout the conference site. The vibe is distinct from the concomitant world language conference I presented at in that I sensed extra vibrancy and briskiness in the conversations I couldn’t help but overhearing between game designers, researchers, and educators. The exquisite color print program and the oversized projector showing game footage again reminded me I have now entered a thrilling realm, the realm of games, game design, and game research. My exultation went beyond words’ description.

Enough meandering as I now focus more on a single talk that inspired me. A panel of four speakers from Miami University gave a presentation on “Teaching meaning: The challenge (or lack thereof) of encouraging student designers/developers to make meaningful play”.  These speakers demonstrated approaches to motivating a new population of meaningful play makers, i.e., the students. In particular, I gravitated to how they addressed the question, “how can educators turn the passions of their students toward the benefits of game that do more than entertain?” In other words, these faculty and game industry professionals are pushing novice game designers to get out of their familiar comfort zone (of aiming at entertainment) and encourage them to venture into designing for meaningful play that provides potential for cross-disciplinary learning.

Lindsay Grace first elaborated on his seven heuristics from seven years of teaching to demonstrate how game design educators should approach the issue of teaching meaning. William Brinkman followed by discussing two measures—evidence of tiered engagement with other professionals and engagement with theory– that can be used to tell whether students are succeeding at meaning making during game design. What intrigued me was that both panelists stressed on the importance of allowing students to rid themselves of specific outcomes they seek with the game, but to find what is relevant to them by making meaning of the problems of their choosing. Instead of cramming students with pre-existing game design knowledge, these two educators advocate discovery learning. Following from Piagetian and constructivist perspective on learning, game design students are taught to aim for meaning first through investigating issues of personal/critical relevance, and build from that investigation for successful gamification that produces meaningful play.

Of specific interest to my background in education is the argument put forth by Shira Chess that creating meaningful play experience is “not just for game students anymore”. Educators who are appealed to or are already practicing game-based teaching and learning should bear the following three points of emphasis and two questions into consideration. Below is a list of the propositions and my personal thoughts provoked by them:

Point 1: teaching that play can be meaningful

Game educators have to sensitize students to the aspects of the meta-play going on during physical game play. Game play can be fun, engaging, and create meaningful learning experience all at once. This also means as educators, you cannot assume that all students are interested in games. One caveat for game-based curriculum is that it is often difficult to find baseline games that appeal to everyone.

Point 2: students can use video games to unpack larger systems of meaning

Game educators have to teach students to critically analyzing games. Games are systems which consist of formal and dramatic elements that add to the appeal of game play experience. By exposing students to the deconstruction of game systems, they can then unpack these individual elements or game mechanics and relate them to how games work as systems of meaning. Understanding how and why individual element works on a collective level can mean so much more than knowing what works.

Point 3: playful pedagogies not just for gamers anymore

Shira Chess talked about the potential of using games for education. Subsequently, what goes on behind game design does not limit itself to the world of games. She proposed the free movement in a more rigid structure implicating that quality educational game does have a role in a traditional prescriptive curriculum. Playful pedagogies are not to be taken for its literal meaning but imply that the learning theories and design concepts that go into games can be mirrors by which classroom practitioners and curriculum design experts can learn from.

Question 1: how can we use meaningful play in our pedagogies to entice non-gamers?

To begin with, game educators should not always be preaching about the competence of game-based curriculum. Pedagogies based off meaningful play would attract their due audience. To answer the question, I would propose to look into why non-gamers came to be in the first place by surveying or interviewing them on a deeper level. This is not an attempt to convert non-gamers into gamers per se. Rather, these investigations can contribute to a more well-rounded future game design that benefit game users and game educators on the long run, One other easier way may be to sit a non-gamer down with a highly acclaimed game and let’s wait and see what happens.

Question 2: how can we continue to legitimate meaningful play as serious critical investigation?

Serious games encourage meaningful play. There is a multitude of ongoing serious critical investigations on the efficacy of serious games in and out of classroom contexts. Under the current educational climate and movement toward stringent assessment and educational accountability, I would argue the legitimization and propagation of serious games in educational institutes is, to me, largely hinged on their ability to showcase intended learning that accounts for learning outcomes in academic contexts. Simply put, game-based curriculum has to show that aside from motivating students during game play which generates incidental learning, learning outcome as measured by standardized tests has to be increasingly evident.

The above questions deserve further investigation and research. Teaching meaning and meaningful play, as defined by these panelists in relation to teaching game design and game-based pedagogy, can take on multiple meanings (meaningful for individual students or meaningful as measured by high-stakes testing) as the tension between the push for both game-based curricula and the overarching accountability movement simmers.


Meeting with Dr. Alex Games

  • Teaching computational thinking through game design
  • Three dialogic awareness theory
  • I-tech after school game design program volunteering
  • The science and art of game design
  • Reaching out to education folks
  • Putting up course flyers for TC832
  • Discussed the content of presentation for Educational Technology Conference at MSU
  • Interview based on his views for the future of video games and education

Meeting with Serious Game track master student Luke Kane

  • Programming skills as prerequisite TC 832 Serious Game Design
  • Why he sees the field of serious games as promising
  • His gaming research on how middle school male students use their game literacy in game design

Meeting with Dr. Carrie Heeter

  • Theoretical applications for serious games
  • Meaningful Play 2010 Conference at MSU
  • Board game design concept
  • Techniques for making a educational game prototype
  • Playtesting procedure

Meeting with Telecommunication Department doctoral student Yu-Hao Lee

  • His background and thesis in gaming research in Taiwan
  • Current status of serious game research and serious game programs in higher education in Taiwan
  • Co-author a proposal for Edutainment Conference 2011 in Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Shared thoughts on the prospect of landing game-related jobs in the U.S. or Taiwan.

Meeting with Dr. Wei Peng

  • Good sources for conducting literature review in serious games and gaming research
  • Research and interview questions for research project
  • Playtested serious game for health “Olympus”

Meeting with Dr. Punya Mishra

  • Study the assessment aspect of gaming research
  • Gender-role stereotying and game design for Teacher Education are also important issues
  • Narrowing my practicum gaming research topic for next spring



MSU Tech Conference

This conference includes excellent examples of teaching with technology in K-12 schools, from experts and practicing teachers who actively integrate technology into their curriculum and assessment.  This is a great opportunity to meet with colleagues and teachers to share ideas about technology in the classroom.  All participants will receive a certificate of attendance and completion. 

World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (ED-MEDIA)

This annual conference serves as a multi-disciplinary forum for the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and applications on all topics related to multimedia, hypermedia and telecommunications/distance education.

World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, & Higher Education (E-Learn)

Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE)

SITE promotes the development and dissemination of theoretical knowledge, conceptual research, and professional practice knowledge through the SITE conference, books, collaborative projects with other organizations. 

Meaningful Play Conference

This conference is about theory, research, and game design innovations, principles and practices. Meaningful Play brings scholars and industry professionals together to understand and improve upon games to entertain, inform, educate, and persuade in meaningful ways. 

Games+ Learning+ Society Conference (GLS)

The world is finally beginning to catch on: Great videogames can be great learning tools. This year’s conference will further the work we started six years ago: exploring the impact of games and game culture on learning and society.


American Educational Research Association (AERA)

It is the most prominent international professional organization in the realm of education with the primary goal of advancing educational research and its practical application.

Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)

An international, educational, and professional organization dedicated to the advancement of the knowledge, theory, and quality of learning and teaching at all levels with information technology.

Serious Games Initiative

The goal of the initiative is to help usher in a new series of policy education, exploration, and management tools utilizing state of the art computer game designs, technologies, and development skills. As part of that goal the Serious Games Initiative also plays a greater role in helping to organize and accelerate the adoption of computer games for a variety of challenges facing the world today.


Journal of Science Education and Technology (JSET)

An international and interdisciplinary forum for both invited and contributed peer reviewed articles that advance science education at all levels. The journal publishes a broad range of papers covering theory and practice in order to facilitate future efforts of individuals and groups involved in the field. 

Simulation & Gaming (S &G) 

It has served as a leading international forum for the study and discussion of simulation/gaming methodology used in education, training, consultation, and research.  This quarterly journal examines the methodologies and explores their application to real-world problems and situations.

Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS)

IJGCMS publishes research articles, theoretical critiques, and book reviews related to the development and evaluation of games and computer-mediated simulations. One main goal of this peer-reviewed, international journal is to promote a deep conceptual and empirical understanding of the roles of electronic games and computer-mediated simulations across multiple disciplines. A second goal is to help build a significant bridge between research and practice on electronic gaming and simulations, supporting the work of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. 

Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE)

JTATE serves as a forum for the exchange of knowledge about the use of information technology in teacher education. Journal content covers pre-service and in-service teacher education, graduate programs in areas such as curriculum and instruction, educational administration, staff development instructional technology, and educational computing.




  Alex Games

Bio: MSU assistant professor at Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media; Principal of Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab (GEL)

Dr. Games’ research interest revolves around the exploration of the development of scientific thinking skills and habits which include systems-level thinking, problem-solving, self-regulation through the use of videogames and simulations in the classroom.

Dr. Games is a seasoned gamer with 20 years of experience playing and designing games for education. He teaches serious game design course at MSU and he has a unique mixed expertise in both teaching and game design due to his background in computer system technology, educational psychology, and public school teaching. I am fortunate enough to be able to work with him on a funded research project on teaching middle-school students the art of game design in fall 2010 and I look forward to develop myself as a gamer/game researcher under his mentorship.

Wei Peng

Bio: MSU Assistant Professor, Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media

Dr. Peng’s primary research interest is to understand the persuasive impacts of interactive technologies, especially digital games. I am interested in using digital games for health promotion, health education, and social change.

Dr. Peng’s work has a significant role in serious games in that she teaches the theories of serious games course at MSU, where theoretical foundations of serious game design are investigated with rigorous discussion among class participants. Her research in media literacy, psychological communication technology, negative influence of violent video games, addictive MMORPGs, and health communication adds to the wellspring of research in the persuasive impacts of interactive technologies.



  Carrie Heeter

Bio: Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media

Creative Director, Virtual University Design and Technology

Dr. Heeter’s research interests are using deliberative games to create more informed public opinion; game playstyle, motivation, and implications for game design; gender and games — how can appealing games be made meaningful and related to learning things that matter while still being fun? What would make a game compelling for girls? Might boys like that too? What is the difference between the genders? What is the meaning of life?

Dr. Heeter’s work has two-fold significance contributing to the field of serious games. First, she teaches the foundation of serious games course (partial fulfillment for MSU Serious Games Certification). I am fortunate to take part in her course in fall 2010 and look to complete the certification in spring 2011. Second, her continuous robust research in health communication, game design, and social media has provided deep implications for the young and budding field of gaming research.


  James Paul Gee

Bio: Professor of Literacy Studies at the Mary Lou Foulton College of Education at Arizona State University.

Dr. Gee’s research focuses on discourse analysis, a linguistic approach to narrative, and more recently good learning principles from video games. His work is significant in that he delved deep into the structural elements of video games and posed the notion that the learning principles or design principles of video games can be applicable in K-12 learning settings. His scholarly work in promoting video game usage for educational ends have been influential since its inception and his active role in promoting gaming research and organizing international game conferences is vital to the imminent growth of serious game research.


  Ian Bogost

Bio: A game designer, philosopher, critic, and researcher who focuses on computational media—videogames in particular. Also he is an author and an entrepreneur in publishing. Most importantly, he is an associate professor at Georgia Tech.

Dr. Bogost’s research focuses on videogames as cultural artifacts. He is interested in contextualizng games in the long history of human expression (game criticism), in how games make arguments (game rhetoric), and in the relationship between computer hardware and expression. His work is significant because his diverse background and roles had him the luxury to view video games and game design from multiple angles. Least to say is that his writing is powerfully persuasive.



  Kurt Squire

Bio: Assistant at University of Wisconsin-Madison in Educational Communications and Technology division of Curriculum and Instruction

Dr. Squire’s research investigates the potential of video game-based technologies for systemic change in education. Squire’s work integrates research and theory on digital media (particularly games) with theories of situated cognition in order to understand how to design educational environments in a digital age.

Dr. Squire’s work is significant because his research contributes to the serious games in three dimensions: (1) Researching learning through participation in game-based learning environments, (2) The analysis of games and game cultures in naturally occurring contexts, and (3) The design of original game-based media for learning. In addition, he wrote over 50 scholarly articles and book chapters and has given dozens invited addresses in North America, Europe, and Asia.



  Brian Winn

Bio: Associate Professor, Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media

Brian Winn’s interests are designing engaging serious games that balance learning, pedagogical, and gameplay objectives. His award-winning interactive media work has been presented, exhibited, and experienced around the world. He is a co-founder and co-director of the undergraduate game design and development specialization and the serious game design masters of arts program at Michigan State University.

Brian’s focus in his scholarly work is to teach and design curriculum as a vehicle to do both cutting-edge creative design work and innovative research. His work is significant because he proliferate the importance of the area of digital media art and technology with an emphasis in interactive media and game design, arming our next generation of students with the ability to use system thinking as they explore, analyze, and synthesize the information surrounding them.


1.      Stealth assessment in serious games (Shute et al., 2009)

Seamlessly embedding formative assessment in game-based learning setting to gather info without interfering with performance, involvement, or game enjoyment.

2.      System dynamics

System components arranged in a specific way for it to carry out its purpose to provide the intended challenge to the players.

3.      Dramatic elements of games

The elements that engage players in a game are challenge (tasks leading to satisfying completion and sense of accomplishment), play (opportunity for emergent experience and personal expression), premise (action of the game within a setting), character (psychological identification and empathy with a character and its goal), story (engaging narrative and emergent storytelling)

4.      Flow paradox (Goldsworthy & Appleman, 1999)

A challenge is how to give players enriching experience in game worlds, but also draw them out of the world for critical reflection.

5.      Flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)

Experience will be most positive when a person perceives that the environment contains high enough opportunities for action, which are matched with the person’s own capacities to act.

6.      Self-efficacy (Bandura)

Self-perceived confidence in carrying out a certain task. This is a personal trait.

7.      Effectance (White)

The idea that human beings strive to affect his/her environment since experiencing effectiveness causes pleasure.

8.      Social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, Interpersonal level)

Interplay between personal, environmental, and behavior factors and the mutual influence on each other

People are motivated to guide their behaviors by goals, aspirations, and challenges.

9.      Stages of change model

Individual’s motivation and readiness to change a problem behavior

10.  Expectancy theory (Blurgon and Miller, 1985)

People develop norms and expectations regarding the appropriateness of various persuasive message variables such as language intensity.

11.  Elaboration likelihood model

A large number of arguments serve as a persuasive cue for uninvolved audience, who use a heuristic evaluation process relying on sheer quantity of points presented as an indicator of the strength of a case.

12.  Theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980)

Behavioral change is determined by behavioral change intention, which is co-determined by attitudes toward the behavior and the subjective social norm.

13.  Theory of planned behavior

Individual’s attitudes toward a behavior, perceptions of norms, and beliefs about the ease or difficulty of changing.

14.   Four forms of fun

Easy fun (playing with easy control for casual fun), hard fun (playing through high difficulty control maneuver for mastery of game or playiing with critical thinking), serious fun (players play and learn the embedded serious messages in games), and people fun (via group-based game play and distributed cognition).

15.  Health belief model (Becker, 1974)

Perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers predict the likelihood a person will adopt a recommended preventive health action.

Individual’s perception of the threat posed by a health problem, the benefits of avoiding the threat, and factors influencing the decision to act

Certain beliefs self perception toward the susceptibility to disease or benefit of some health behavior (perceived barrier/perceived benefit)

16.  Reciprocal causation

Individual behavior both influences and influenced by the environment

17.  Social marketing

Preliminary investigation—consumer research and market analysis

Uses marketing techniques to influence the voluntary behavior of target audience members for health benefit

Consumer-driven instead of expert-driven, targeted to serve a defined group of people

Effective marketing mix…4Ps…product (right kind of behavioral change), price (change of benefits and costs), place (making new behaviors easy to do), and promotion (delivering the message to the audience

Involved 4 stages—planning and strategy development; development of pretesting concepts/messages/materials; implementation; assessment of in-market effectiveness and feedback to the first stage. LOOP process…iterative!

18.  Precede-proceed planning model (Green and Kreuter)

Preliminary investigation—epistemological assessment (e.g., behavioral, educational, environmental, etc.)

Guide for designing health education and health promotion programs

Guides planners through a process that starts with desired outcomes and works BACKWARDS to identify a mix of strategies for achieving objectives.

PRECEDE (educational diagnosis, 1970s)—Predisposing, Reinforcing, Enabling Constructs in Educational/Environmental Diagnosis and Evaluation

PROCEDE (ecological diagnosis, 1991)—Policy, Regulartory, and Organizational Constructs in Educational and Environmental Development

19.  Self-determination

The capacity to have a choice or to be the origin and determinant of one’s own actions.

20.  Intrinsic motivation

The psychological need to master their environment that pushes people to have a constant relationship with their environment. Games that provide interactivity and choices can enhance players’ perceived competence and self-determination, which in turn increase the players’ intrinsic motivation.

21.  Constructivism (Jonassen, 1991)

This theory posits that individuals are “perceivers and interpreters who construct their own reality through engaging in…mental activities”.

22.  Co-design (Gee, 2004)

The underlying principle of this concept is that, for learning to occur, students must feel like active, not passive, agents. In other words, students should be producers, as opposed to consumers.

23.  Reader Response Theory (Chase & Hynd, 1987)

This theory builds on the assumption that the “meaning” of a text is derived from the interaction between the text itself and the reader’s experience and prior knowledge. Additionally, this theory posits that an examination of readers’ responses to texts is more valuable then trying to establish one “correct” interpretation.

24.  System Thinking (Gee, 2004)

This good learning principle from video games poses that players view the game world as a semiotic world in which they have to learn the rules of the game to discover what actions or interactions are rewarded or discouraged in the game world, being able to view the game world as made up of different essential components.

25.  Fish Tank (Gee, 2004)

A good learning principle from video games which poses a simplified eco-system that clearly displays critical variables and interactions that are otherwise obscured in the complex eco-system in the real world.

26.  Sandbox (Gee, 2004)

This learning principle from video games states that the game world provides players a “safe haven” where players are free to test hypothesis without being worried about being severely penalized.

27.  Identity (Gee, 2004)

This learning principle posits that deep learning requires extended commitment powerfully recruited when players take on a new identity they value and become heavily invested.

28.  Customize (Gee, 2004)

Another learning principle from good video games that poses the notion that different styles of learning work better for different people.

29.  Well-Ordered Problems (Gee, 2004)

Learning principle from video games which states that games lead the learner by the hand in a linear way by designing the problem space well.

30.  Pleasantly Frustrating (Gee, 2004)

Learning works best when new challenges are pleasantly frustrating in the sense of being felt by learners to be at the outer edge but within their “regime of competence”.

31.  Information on Demand and Just in Time (Gee, 2004)

Learners learn and use information most effectively when the information is given on demand (when they feel they need it) and just in time (when they can put it to use).

32.  Cycles of Expertise (Gee, 2004)

Games let learners experience expertise by exposing players to new challenges and allow them to get proficient at solving them. In a new level of the game, the iterative process starts again.

33.  Skills as Strategies (Gee, 2004)

Good video games allow players learn and practice skills most effectively because they let players see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals.

34.  Meaning as Action Image (Gee, 2004)

Games allow players to think through experiences they have had (via cycles of expertise) and imaginative reconstruction of experience.

35.  Playtest

An iterative process during game design where a group of specialized play testers engage in testing the different components of the game and locate bugs that need reprogramming.

36.  Prototype

Game prototyping are the creation of working model of your game idea which allows you to test its feasibility and make improvements to it.

37.  Serious Games

Video games that offer learning of traditional or nontraditional subjects on top of its entertaining value as a result of game play.



Historical View of the Field of Serious Games and Digital Game-based Learning Research

The concept of using games for education dates back the dates of computers. The first serious game is considered to be Army Battlezone for military training by Atari in 1980. Since then, game-based simulations have blossomed (e.g. Simcity, Second Life, America’s Army, and aviation and cruise simulators). In 2002, serious game initiative was launched by a group of video game activists with backgrounds in game design and content research who were avide about the idea of using games for educative ends. Sub genres of serious games and gaming research thus began to pick up pace.

The field of Serious Games and gaming research is still young and budding since its inception in late 1990s. Digital games started out as recreational media for entertainment purposes. However, during the last two decades, video games have been repurposed for learning and education. Van Eck (2006) brilliantly put the current state of things for serious games in perspective:

After years of research and proselytizing, the proponents of digital game-based learning (DGBL) have been caught unaware. Like the person who is still yelling after the sudden cessation of loud music at a party, DGBL proponents have been shouting to be heard above the prejudice against games. But now, unexpectedly, we have everyone’s attention. The combined weight of three factors has resulted in widespread public interest in games as learning tools (p.16).

The first factor is the ongoing research conducted by DGBL proponents which attest to the power of video games as learning tools. Scholars and researchers such as Marc Prensky (2001), James Paul Gee (2003), and Clark Aldrich (2004) have written mainstream pieces that demonstrate how video games can be used as powerful learning tools in and out of school contexts. The second factor points to the digital natives who have become disengaged with traditional instruction. These “Net generation” kids and adolescents prefer inductive reasoning, need frequent and quick interactions with content, and have exceptional visual and informational literacy skills. The third factor is the ever increasing popularity of games. Now with the prying eyes on digital video games, Van Eck argues it is time to change the message from preaching the effectiveness of games to actually show how DGBL produces effective teaching and learning experiences.

It is not the case that all games are good for all learners and for all learning outcomes. The field of serious games and DGBL needs research explaining why DGBL is engaging and effective; practical guidance for how, when, with whom, and under what conditions games can be integrated into the learning process to maximize their learning potential. Prior research in DGBL had dwelled on efficacy showing that games can be effective rather than on explanation and prescription, delineating the whys and hows as to implementing DGBL.

Many may doubt as to what video games can actually teach us. Bogost (2008) makes the point that public education provides students with schooling rather than education. He states that schooling is about teaching conformance to approved knowledge whereas games teach player learners otherwise. Gee enumerated some thirty plus good learning principles extracted from good video games and propose that education can benefit from these learning principles evident in video games. Gee argues that video games offer us critical learning skills such as multiprocessing, context switching, and information literacy. In turn these skills give rise to the development of other cognitive skills: concrete instead of deductive or abstract reasoning; discovery-based or example-based learning; community of practices through knowledge sharing, and organized intelligence organized in accessible databases. However, as Squire notes, games preferred functional knowledge over the declarative knowledge endorsed by school learning.

The polemic between the different learning objectives games and schools pursue creates tension, which can only be solved by more successful research efforts integrating DGBL into school settings. Van Eck provides guidelines on the integration: Choose a suitable game, align the game with curriculum, align the game with subject matter content, design and evaluate the game (to fill up the missing content if any), and make the call to let DGBL begin. The lone effort of practitioners will not suffice for DGBL to be fully effective. A few areas where school administration and IT can help are: documentation and training support, technical support, financial support, infrastructure support, and research and development support. When pieces of the above puzzle come loose, DGBL may as well become ghosts of technology past (e.g., media technology and computing technology), which comes, being touted, and fades away as past technological learning innovations. When these pieces come together, we then can learn about and benefit from the full potential of DGBL as learning tools to play, to think, and to learn with.


Aldrich, D. (2004). Simulations and the future of learning: An innovative (and perhaps revolutionary) approach to e-Learning, CA: Pfeiffer.

Bogost, I. (2008). Video games and the future of education. Beyond fun: Serious games and media, Ed. Drew Davidson. ETC Press.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. OH: McGraw-Hill.

Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital game-based learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless. Educause Review, March/April.

Contemporary Issues of Policy and Practice in Serious Game Design and Research

With regard to policy, the National Science Foundation (2006) governed a Summit on Educational Games in 2005 to bring together experts (policymakers, game designers, game researchers, and practitioners) to discuss ways to accelerate the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of new generation games for learning. They probed into a specific question, “What kind of changes in instructional practices and management of educational institutions are needed to take advantage of the power games could bring to teaching and learning?” (p. 4). The major finding was that “Educational institutions need to transform organizational systems and instructional practices to take greater advantage of new technology, including educational games” (p. 6). As opposed to the “tell and test” methods endorsed by traditional instruction, effective educational games encourage learning through doing and guided discovery as exemplified in the learning principles from good video games discussed by Gee (2007). Unless educational institutes are willing to consider systemic changes in content design and pedagogy and reframe the role of teachers, the effective application of educational games and other new technologies would be limited.

Another significant finding from the report was related to assessment. They proposed that “outcome data from large-scale evaluations of educational games are needed to demonstrate that these technologies are equal or offer comparative advantage vs. conventional instruction methods” (p. 6). Solid data of effective learning based on gaming applications in schools would inform and encourage the adoption and practices of educational games especially for student populations in K-12 settings where meeting standardized testing has been a focus under the current push for accountability. For instance, Corbett (2010) in her article talked about several successful cases of teaching with games in public schools. Her proposition was that in an era where just about everything is downloadable and remixable, and children are more digitally savvy than the adults around them, it is perhaps not too crazy to rethink our assumptions about how to reach and educate these digital natives. One possible and viable as proved by research solution to make learning more relevant to students and more connected to the world outside schools would be digital games. Based off of this wide bandwidth of game application, a stronger market for educational games would ensue so that private sector would devote investment to designing effective educational games for our 21st century learners.


Corbett, S. (2010). Learning by playing: Video games in the classroom. Retrieved November, 17, 2010 from

Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games + good learning. NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Federation of American Scientists. (2006). Harnessing the power of video games for learning, Summit on Educational Games, 1-51.



  End-of-Semester Statement of Interest

Now that I come to think of it, my current interest in doing research in serious games has digressed from my initial interest statement. The digression is, however, in many ways to the avail of my growing knowledge based in serious game design, development, and research. Through attending two serious game courses focusing on foundations and theories respectively, I have learned through cognitive apprenticeship and with a community of learners in which current issues surrounding serious games were investigated. I am confident to say that I have got into a much better shape now in terms of understanding where serious games came from, what gaming research aimed at, and how to direct my future directions in conducting gaming research. Carrie Heeter’s course on the foundation of serious games took me on an intellectually stimulating tour where I explored the concept of playercentric game design, structural elements of digital games, and a culminating educational game design activity. Learning by doing was evident in our designing and prototyping of my team’s Shades of Shakespeare Macbeth game ( The serious goal for playing this game is to learn to appreciate Shakespearian language by engaging players in translating texts into modern English. Dr. Heeter’s course had taught me about the complex process of game design from conceptualization to realization. Dr. Wei Peng’s class on the other hand emphasized on theory-guided game design and empirical research on different genres of serious games. With the immersion in design theories and gaming research, I challenged myself to co-authoring a research proposal based on learning computational thinking skills through game design. The idea for my research stemmed largely from my participation on an ongoing research project (led by Dr. Alex Games) taking place in a charter school in Detroit where our research team held a game design workshop on a weekly basis with the aim to sensitize middle-school boys to design language and the concept of game design. Our overarching goal was to help these kids understand the system thinking and computational thinking that went behind their pre-existing habitual game play.  By making the latent game design skills obvious, our research team had gathered forms of evidence to evince that the subjects in our workshop had come a long way in terms of learning game design over the stretch of 3 months. Pleasantly surprised I was upon the news of the acceptance of the research proposal I co-authored for SITE 2011. Coupling course training, research participation through field work, and composing research proposal, I have thus established a full-scale passion in furthering my research in serious games.

Inspired by Dr. David Wong, I was encouraged to be a skeptical fanatic of serious games. While all the time I remained fanatic about learning gaming research, I was skeptical toward the evidence of learning in these empirical studies. I examined what assessment measures researchers used in their data collection and data analysis. The issue of assessment is particularly important under the current push for accountability. Assessment also drives instruction, which means assessment choices have to account for the learning claimed in digital-game-based learning (DGBL). Shute et al. (2009) posed a four aims to examine existing immersive games to assess the degree of actual and important learning that goes on in DGBL: learning by doing may improve learning processes and outcomes; different types of learning may be verified and measured during game play; strengths and weaknesses of the student may b capitalized on and bolstered, respectively; formative feedback can be used to further support student learning (p. 296). For educational game designers, the purpose for embedding assessments (stealth assessment/internal assessment) within interactive games was to monitor a player’s current level on valued competencies and then use that information as basis for adjusting game features. For game-based teaching practitioners, tailoring external assessments to leverage student learning outcomes was of paramount importance for demonstrating that educational games can be effective in delivering desired academic learning outcomes.

Considering the above issues in assessing learning in DGBL, my future research would involve the challenge of investigating not just the assessment choices that have the potential to reflect learning through gaming application but also a way of reasoning about assessment design and student performance in DGBL.


Shades of Shakespeare Macbeth Edition. [Board Game].  (2010). MI: TC830 Foundation of Serious Games. Retrieved December, 03, 2010 from

Shute, V., J. et al. (2009). Melding the power of serious games and embedded assessment to monitor and foster learning. Serious games: Mechanisms and effects. Ed. Ritterfeld U. et al. NY: Routledge, p. 295-321.


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