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Dissertation Blog #24

Citation of the Day

Vahldick, Adilson, Maria J. Marcelino, and António J. Mendes. “Principles of a Casual Serious Game to Support Introductory Programming Learning in Higher Education.” In Ricardo Alexandre Peixoto de Queirós and Mário Teixeira Pinto, eds., Gamification-Based E-Learning Strategies for Computer Programming Education, ch. 4. IGI Global, 2017.


This chapter introduces a set of casual game design principles for computer programming education, based on a two-month game development and experimentation process involving 60 introductory programming students.


The authors argue that both hardcore game design and casual game design can be effective for serious games: hardcore-style games are better for learning procedures or for full-scale institutional training, while casual-style games are better as a complementary tool for learning concepts or facts. However, the authors remark that casual serious games should share some characteristics with hardcore games to ensure students are heavily immersed and deeply engaged.


They provide these 10 design principles for casual serious games to learn introductory programming:

  1. Reward Points: Well-defined challenges are not enough to motivate students. If they are playing a game, they will want to win points.

  2. Leaderboards: Consider creating different types of leaderboards for different performance indicators, and give each level of the game its own leaderboard so all players start with a clean slate each level.

  3. Avatar Personalization: Being able to customize their avatar gives players a stronger sense of immersion. Players also have a greater sense of achievement when they can unlock more customization options by earning points.

  4. Locked Areas: The opportunity to unlock areas of the game with more personalization opportunities by earning points provides more motivation for players.

  5. How to Award Points: When players are learning something new, it is better to award points based on the number of attempts they made to solve a problem, so they are rewarded for thinking carefully. When players are mastering a concept, they can then be awarded points based on how fast they solve the problem.

  6. Feedback: The game should provide tips when a player gets stuck on a problem.

  7. Relaxing Background Music: It is best to keep the background music relaxing, rather than trying to use it to put pressure on players.

  8. Simple Learning Analytics: The game should track how long it takes players to solve problems and how many attempts they have to make.

  9. Cognitive Domain and Tasks: When players are learning something new, they should be guided toward the solution. As they master a concept, they should be given more freedom to create the solution and eventually more constraints to work under.

  10. Course Integration: The content in each level of the game should be closely aligned with the lesson plan of each class. Teachers must strike a balance between making the game optional to play but also connecting it to in-class achievement through incentives such as extra credit.

Design and Mechanics

It's intriguing to consider the interrelation between earning points, personalization opportunities, and player motivation. This nexus is also where monetization can come into player, with microtransactions being an alternative way to unlock personalization opportunities.


Brainstorming personalization opportunities in Field of Cures:

  • Avatar selection: Since I already have ideas for presenting the NPCs are anthropomorphized animals, offering a wide selection of animal avatar options cold create a great personalization feature without adding much complexity to the game.

  • Office decoration: Decision point dialogues could take place in the player avatar's office, which they could personalize with their own choice of flag, diploma, portrait of a famous scientist, potted flower specimen, etc.

Current Events

One week until Election Day. I went through an 8-hour poll worker training last Saturday, and I will be spending Election Day at the Supervisor of Elections office as a back-up poll clerk, unless/until I am deployed to a polling place where they need me.


Suspense. Suspense suspense suspense...


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