Effective digital game media provide an enjoyable experience for the player while also achieving the goals of the designer. Enjoyment and goal achievement are broad areas of game design characteristics that are useful to study separately, however their characteristics often overlap. An example of enjoyment and goal achievement overlap is found in games based learning (GBL) theories related to psychology such as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2004; 2014; Chen, 2007) and the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978; Levykh, 2008). Competent levels of knowledge and understanding about enjoyment and goal achievement can allow educators to modify existing popular COTS games to address learning outcomes that were not necessarily part of the game designers’ goals (Sheehy, 2014; Villalta et. al., 2011).
It is important for educators to understand the psychology behind game enjoyment because they need to distinguish compulsive behaviour (pleasure) from skill development (happiness) and relate these concepts to play and games (Piaget, 2013; Vygotsky, 1967; Malaby, 2007). Modern research also suggests that playing computer games can increase the growth of the brain (Gong et. al, 2015; Reid, 2015; Kuszewski, 2011) thereby offering explanation as to why play is intrinsically fun and healthy. Game designers have sought to develop frameworks to create and assess game characteristics that increase enjoyment through play (Villalta et. al., 2011).
Introducing the element of uncertainty in a game is a design characteristic that has demonstrated effective results in motivating players toward the completion of goals (Ozcelik, Cagiltay and Ozcelik, 2013; Game Design Conference, 2012). The specific level of uncertainty in game activities has also been more accurately linked to compulsive or addictive behaviours (Sapolsky, 2003 and cited in ForaTV, 2011;). Sapolsky (cited in ForaTV, 2011) also argues convincingly that uncertainty is a powerful neurobiological motivator for ‘goal directed behaviours that would not occur without the associated extra dopamine releases caused by specified levels of uncertainty’. Such game characteristics are a focus of interest for contemporary game designers in the areas of gamification where effort and motivation are closely linked with rewards (Hoge, 2013; Sousa, 2014; Romero & Usart 2012; Paul, 2009; Richter, Raban & Rafaeli, 2015; Schell, 2010).
Costikyan (cited in Game Design Conference, 2012; 2014) specifies game design principles such as narrative, fantasy and gameplay development as contexts to create uncertainty and anticipation as a characteristic of enjoyment. Costikyan further explains that player performance (physical and mental) is a main feature of video game uncertainty that engages participants within the game narrative and those associated rules (Costikyan, 2000; and cited in Game Design Conference, 2012). Dickey (2007) suggests that uncertainty is a key element of massively multiplayer online role-playing games’ (MMORPGs) ability to motivate players toward the completion of goals and challenges. Commercial off the shelf games (COTS) such as World of Warcraft (a MMORPG) have been selected by early adopters such Sheehy (2008; 2009; 2014) who have developed a range of associated GBL curriculum resources for teachers.
The popularity of games has resulted in their recognition in mainstream media as valid cultural artefacts in our society (Paul, 2008) and commercial marketing approaches have sought to promote customer loyalty through the use of gamification concepts (Richter, Raban and Rafaeli, 2015). Opposition to the use of gamification for commercial purposes has resulted from the perceived use of (or abuse of) game characteristics and their effect on the brain (Marczewski, 2015) for commercial purposes (Bogost, 2012, 2015). Further concern about the often violent nature of game narratives (Muñoz, and El-Hani, 2012) such as those present in World of Warcraft where players have been encouraged to carry out ‘raids’ also need to be addressed in relation to enjoyment and goal achievement vs ethical use in educational settings (St James, 2014).
GBL has an exciting future because the affordances of modern technologies and game design theories for education environments is developing at an increasing pace. Wearable technologies that utilise GBL web applications which in turn have been designed with characteristics that increase enjoyment and address learning goals have exciting potential for the development of knowledge and skills in learners. If educators can select or create GBL resources for existing or future COTS games so that curriculum is addressed and problems associated with games are avoided, our society may move in a creative and responsible direction for future generations.
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