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  • Writer's pictureDaniel J. King

Dissertation Blog #21

Citation of the Day

Dörner, Ralf, Stefan Göbel, Wolfgang Effelsberg, and Josef Wiemeyer. Serious Games: Foundations, Concepts and Practice. Springer International Publishing, 2016.

Chapter 1, Ralf Dörner, Stefan Göbel, Wolfgang Effelsberg and Josef Wiemeyer

Defines a serious game as a digital game designed to both entertain and achieve at least one additional goal. These additional goals are named characterizing goals, and they can be used to categorize serious games.

Reasons to create a serious game:

  1. Provide users with a fun experience

  2. Increase user motivation

  3. Reach users on an emotional level

  4. Attain a higher level of goal achievement than is possible with other means

  5. Take advantage of immediate feedback and adaptability

  6. Achieve a certain goal where there are simply no equivalent alternative means

The US military did early work on serious games, and the term itself became popular in 2002 when Sawyer and Rejetski published their white paper Serious Games: Improving Public Policy through Game-based Learning and Simulation and, in the same year, the game America’s Army was released.

Chapter 3, Philip Mildner and Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller

Games are played because they are fun, and this is no different in the case of serious games. Serious games must be designed holistically from the beginning, so that neither the serious content nor the entertainment value dominates the design and subjugates the other goal.

Designing a game for "stealth learning" can backfire if players realize they have been deceived into playing a serious game. A better strategy is to make sure the game is fun, because players will not mind some serious content if they really enjoy the game.

Chapter 7, Stefan Göbel and Viktor Wendel

Personalization is a one-time adjustment of a game to the needs or preferences of a player. Adaptation refers to continuous adjustment of the game based on the player's choices and performance. The better a serious game is suited to the background and playing style of a player -- through both personalization and adaptation -- the more the game will achieve both its entertainment goal and its characterizing goal.

Definition of flow from Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi (1990): when a person is so immersed in an activity that they forget about time.

Three conditions for a game to create flow, from Chen (2007):

  1. Intrinsically rewarding gameplay

  2. An level of challenge matched to the player's ability

  3. A sense that the player has personal control over the game

Chapter 10, Josef Wiemeyer, Michael Kickmeier-Rust and Christina M. Steiner

Performance assessment in serious games is used to:

  • Make games adapt to the player's performance

  • Deliver appropriate feedback in the form of instructions, hints, score or awards

  • Guide designers in improving the game

  • Provide evidence for the effectivity and efficiency of the game

Performance comprises both the outcomes of gameplay as well how how players play the game.

Different performance measures are used for different domains of application. Performance in educational games may be measured by knowledge or skill tests, while questionnaires about attitudes and behaviors may be more appropriate for persuasive games. Performance in advergames may be measured in business terms such as product purchases, lead generation, and publicity.

Chapter 11, Stefan Göbel, Oliver Hugo, Michael Kickmeier-Rust and Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen

One of the great challenges in the serious games market is that players expect the high quality of contemporary mass-market games, but most serious game productions have development budgets that are one to two magnitudes smaller than those of commercial entertainment games. Re-Mission provides an example of the budget required for a successful serious game, costing more than $1 million to develop.

Design and Mechanics

Characterizing Goal: For the purpose of my dissertation, the characterizing goal of Field of Cures is to raise awareness of the importance of research ethics in clinical trials, biodiversity conservation, and progressive policies for medicine affordability.

Self-Presentation as a Serious Game: Field of Cures will present itself very openly as a game advocating for science and trying to make a positive difference in the world. Decision points about the serious content will alternate with puzzle-solving within a cohesive narrative framing about running a pharmaceutical drug development company.

Personalization: I'm thinking the player could be given options for how to customize their character and decorate their office/headquarters (which also provides opportunities for ethical monetization through cosmetic items).

Adaptation: Once I figure out how to scale the complexity of the game by changing the game parameters, I could make the gameplay adaptive by having it automatically scale its complexity depending on how easily the player is solving the puzzles.

Performance Assessment: To make the game adaptive, I can have it track how long the player takes to solve puzzles, how many moves they need, or how many redos they use. To assess the persuasiveness of the goal, I will ask questions about the serious content in my post-playtest interview protocol. The interview questions will be open-ended, starting very broad and then becoming more specific so as not to lead the playtesters too much at the outset in their qualitative feedback.

Quality Versus Budget Constraints: Integrating casual game design principles is how I will try to overcome the constraints of having a low development budget.

Current Events

I had intended to build a construction kit, run a participatory design study, and then present final written recommendations as my dissertation result. But now I am back to just building a game myself and then interviewing playtesters... which raises the original dilemma: How much of this game can I reasonably build for my dissertation?

I don't have time to focus on all the characterizing goals I have in mind (and the research literature says I shouldn't dilute my focus anyway). Educational content and monetization will be afterthoughts for now -- I need to build enough of the game to try to make it persuasive. That means:

Build Phase 1

  • Polished puzzle gameplay that automatically scales in complexity (or just gives the player a choice of what challenge to do next?)

Build Phase 2

  • A system for having interesting conversations with NPCs

  • Some scaffolding for where educational content and monetization could be slotted into the game later

Build Phase 3

  • Enough unique decision points for half an hour of gameplay

  • Good enough art assets for the puzzle gameplay, NPCs, and decision points (I'll probably want to keep things abstract and stylized out of necessity)

Dissertation Chapter Outline

  1. Introduction

  2. Serious Game Design Principles in Field of Cures

  3. Casual Game Design Principles in Field of Cures

  4. Playtester Interviews

  5. An Activist Framework for Casual Game Design

Another look at the timeline:

  • Spring 2021: Candidacy Exams, Detailed Outline of Prospectus

  • Summer 2021: Write Prospectus (drafts of Chapter 2, 3, and 5, plus first half of Chapter 4)

  • Fall 2021: Defend Prospectus, Submit to IRB, Phase 1 Build

  • Spring 2022: Phase 2 Build

  • Summer 2022: Phase 3 Build

  • Fall 2022: Playtesting Interviews, Finalize Chapters 2-5 and Write Chapter 1

  • Spring 2023: Revise and Defend Dissertation

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