Cognition-based learning principles in serious games
Improving the design of serious games from a cognitive standpoint
Serious games are a fun, but as of yet inefficient way of teaching educational material. In part this is because very little is known scientifically of what makes a well-designed serious game. We are empirically investigating which game design techniques work and which don't. All games revolve around learning. Much of what makes a game fun in the first place is learning to overcome obstacles, how to defeat difficult enemies and solve complex puzzles. As good games scaffold and regulate this learning process fluidly, inserting serious material in a good game would lead to an effective serious game. This is the theory. In practice however, many serious games struggle to reach their full potential. Games are difficult enough as they are; adding difficult educational content requires a clear notion of the cognitive implications of the game design and finetuning these.
To facilitate this clear notion, we created the Game Discourse Analysis, a method and a graphical way of describing the characters, events and implications for the player's cognitive system in the game. With this we were able to discern critical moments in a game narrative that allow evoking curiosity in the player by inserting certain information, and found out that this change in the narrative enhanced curiosity of players and improved recall later on.
Different game design techniques can hypothetically be used to finetune the cognitive load imposed by a game and to improve learning from the game. We created a serious game, Code Red Triage, which trains medical first responders in a crisis situation. With this game, we systematically vary techniques such as cueing, the information presentation rate and narrative structure, to determine the effect on learning gains and enjoyment of the game. We already found out that using cues-guiding the attention of the player via auditory or visual hints and often used in entertainment games, may actually be harmful, or at least not effective, in serious games.
This begs the question: does good game design actually mean good serious game design? In entertainment games, the complexity of the game progressively builds up, with players receiving new abilities and encountering slightly more difficult enemies as they go along. However, this could also make the player a lazy learner, never being urged to overthink the whole picture. We are now examining what way of increase in complexity works best for serious games. In addition, we are engineering the predictability of the narrative structure of our serious game, to see if this can encourage the player to think actively about the presented information, and thereby boost the learning gains of a serious game.
4.3 Cognition-based learning principles in serious games
E.D. van der Spek et al. (2010).Code Red Triage, Or COgnitionbased DEsign Rules Enhancing Decisionmaking TRaining in A Game Environment. British Journal of Educational Technology.
E.D. van der Spek et al. (2010). Attentional Cueing in Serious Games. Proc. 2nd IEEE conf. on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications, pp. 119-125.
P. Wouters et al. (2009). Cognitionbased learning principles in the design of effective serious games: How to engage learners in genuine learning. 2nd European Conf. on Games Based Learning, pp. 517-524.
Herre van Oostendorp, Utrecht University