Designing Games-Based Embedded Authentic Learning Experiences

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1 Effective Games-Based Learning Design 1 Designing Games-Based Embedded Authentic Learning Experiences Dr Penny de Byl Abstract This chapter presents the Embedded Authentic Serious game-based Learning Experiences (EASLE) architecture which has been developed to assist in the definition of games based applications. The motivation behind the design of EASLE is to keep game specifications as simple and focused as possible for educators attempting to create serious games as current available game design methodologies and templates are complex and extensive. Furthermore, it is argued that games created with EASLE reduce the amount of game development work to be done by the educator allowing for deeper collaboration between students. Towards the end of this chapter a game developed with EASLE which took two weeks to complete is presented. Introduction Computer games can support a suite of pedagogical experiences that are unique within current e-learning technologies. The worlds created in this immersive medium are distinctively structured. These environments create a synthetic experience that captures the essence of being in a particular world or context, and replaces the traditional computer interface which sits between a learner and their computer-based educational material (Winn 1993). This immersion enables learners to negotiate meaning based on their own personal cognitive, affective and kinaesthetic experiences rather than on the descriptions of others experiences. It assumes learners will construct knowledge through non-symbolic, non-reflective, first-person psychological activity that occurs when they interact directly with worlds. Choices embedded within the worlds allow the learning focus to shift away from isolated predesigned interactions, to a situation that encourages the learner to control, manage and direct their own learning. Once immersed within a world, learners can communicate, investigate and experiment either individually or in the company of other learners, to transcend geographical and temporal boundaries. Such conversations can be synchronous or asynchronous, anonymous or identified and are believed to provide community support as well as social learning opportunities and relationships. It is reported in other types of education games that the presence of a low risk non-threatening environments encourages participation and risk taking (Dickey 2005).

2 2 Thus, the pedagogical power of games are in their ability to immerse the learners themselves in a synthetic, purpose built virtual environment where they can act or collaborate as either themselves or as a proxy persona (avatar). The learner can participate with other learners in discussion (synchronous or asynchronous), investigation or experimentation while involved in a range of other learning activities including simulations, role playing, problem solving, formal instruction, selfassessment and peer assessment (McArdle et al. 2006). The long history of technology use in education shows an inclination to use it in the same traditional manner as old technologies (Cuban, 1986; Means & Olson 1994) even with new media (Galarneau 2004). This methodology neither produces change nor improves education. It is imperative that old pedagogies and curricula are updated and modified to take the best advantage of the new technology. Furthermore, implementation of new technologies in universities has its inherent problems and even more so the execution of games, simulations and virtual realities which have traditionally been the domain of technical experts (de Byl & Taylor 2007). What is clear from previous research is that for a successful paradigm shift towards enhancing e-learning with new technology teachers need to be shown how to access the required resources, make the use of these resources and resulting applications convenient and providing rewards and recognitions for its use (Rogers 2000). Current understanding of quality in games is largely grounded in specific games. As such, the majority of serious games available reuse game engines designed for combat simulations, for example America s Army (a tactical multiplayer first person shooter deployed the United States Army as a global public relations initiative) and STRATA (a Synthetic Teammates for Real-time Anywhere Training and Assessment game for close air support used by DARPA). Good games are not easy to design and educational games are even more difficult because of the lack of content and pedagogy knowledge on behalf of the games companies and the lack of technical ability in educators to create such application. In addition there is little incentive for a games developer to embrace an educator with an educational game idea when their potential audience is not in the millions, but in the tens or hundreds. Although games engines exist which assist educators in creating their own games there are no existing pedagogy guidelines for translating their content into a playable game. Educators cannot simply transmit their knowledge into their students. Rather, they must arrange semi-structured learning environments to support educative exploration by students. Through exploration, experimentation, and discovery, students can build their own understandings. Computer games are the ideal medium in which to create such environments that not only immerse and engage the students but allow them to practice problem-solving over and over again. This chapter will define an architecture which will assist educators in the implementation of customised games to deliver course content. However, firstly some key issues to consider before starting a game development project are presented to assist in the projects success.

3 Effective Games-Based Learning Design 3 Critical Factors for Success The idea of creating an affective, engaging game for many technical savvy and innovative educators is an alluring idea. However the reality is that today s computer games require specialist skills and knowledge to create. In the past ten years games have gone from software costing in the vicinity of $40,000 to full-scale productions costing anywhere up to $4M rivaling Hollywood blockbuster movies with as many highly skilled professionals employed for their creation. As pointed out by Van Eck (2006) educators select from three approaches when developing their own games 1) have their students build the games from scratch, 2) build the games from scratch themselves (or by someone with development experiences, and 3) add content to existing commercial off the shelf (COTS) games. Options 1 and 2 require the game creator to possess a multitude of skills ranging from graphic designer to computer programmer. Van Eck suggests that the third option which is currently the most cost and time effective can produce quality educational games by leaving the game play up to the game developers and the pedagogical content to the educator. Unfortunately this approach separates the crucial elements of game play and content whose successful marriage is central to a successful engaging game. The dynamic nature of games is as participatory systems with process-orientated content. Simply inserting factual content into generic playing styles is a formula for failure. Educational content needs tight coupling with all aspects of the game from game play mechanics to genre and themes. For example a game to teach forensic analysis should focus on the process of scientific evaluation, experimentation, hypothesis and observation not maze navigation or budget balancing. This is not to exclude the many successful uses of COTS in educational settings; however it does highlight the need for a sounder approach to move the domain of GBL forward. The other two approaches to educational game creation fit two distinct pedagogical approaches; instructionist and constructivist. The instructionist approach endorses the embedding of lessons into game structures for the purpose of teaching. Much of the work in preparing the game is taken on by the educator. In contrast the constructivist approach places more onus on the student; even to the point of having the student construct their own game from scratch and thus during the process learn new skills and knowledge. While game making allows both educators and students to engage with content and processes at a deeper level than via other pedagogical methods, there is no dispute such game creation activities are beyond the technical skills of most students and educators. On the other hand, more often than not, much of this difficulty is placed on the game designer by their own ambitions for the final product. If anything should be learned by studying games historically, it is some of the simplest that have had the longest shelf-life. Computers aside, games such as Chess, Go, Poker, Solitaire and even Monopoly have become classic and popular games. In these cases, the games existed before the computer revolution and have simply been translated into the medium with none of the mechanics or strategies for winning having been lost. Even now while Halo is on the shelf collecting dust Solitaire is still a popular choice the casual gamer. The point being made here is that games don t need to be million dollar blockbusters to be engaging and successful. Before taking on the full production of a game-based learning application educators need to consider the following points: Keep it simple. It s not a coincidence that the credits on today s successful computer games can list forty or more programmers, artists and production crew. Game making

4 4 is hard and dreams of grandeur for the ultimate GBL application should be kept in check. Both competition and collaboration are the key to a successful game. Often these elements which make a game fun are lost in the translation as serious content is added. A common misconception among educators is that competition in a game is a hindrance to the learning process (Adams 2001). Not wanting to label students as winners or losers even the most well-intentioned educator misunderstands the importance of competition and collaboration as the fundamental source of fun in games. If Chess and Solitaire teach anything they certainly demonstrate that good game play is not dependent on fancy 3D graphics, surround sound and Hollywood level cut scenes. Games are complex systems which integrate game mechanics with challenge/reward scenarios. The elements of graphics and audio are merely window dressing. There s no need to reinvent the wheel. There are a plethora of game development websites on the Internet with open source game engines, free 2d and 3d models and free sound files. Nowadays there is enough content available for educators to download and use in their games. This takes the majority of work out of visual and audio side of game development which is actually a large part of the game creation process. Follow Web 2.0 philosophies (O Reilly 2005). This ethos centers on the idea of a collective intelligence which evolves from hyper-linking, web services, platformindependent software, re-usable and re-mixable content and, above all, user participation. An examination of games before they became technology enabled puts the onus of collaboration, taking turn and following rules onto the players themselves. This reduces the amount of extra development that must go into the game to ensure these dynamics are enforced. The ultimate in user participation in multi-user games is to have the players police each other and ensure the game play continues. In the same vein of Web 2.0 the reuse and re-mixability of content allows educator to create game objects once and reuse these in the future. In addition it allows for integration of existing educational content into game formats. The critical path to follow to ensure these characteristics of game environments and content is to conform to existing standards such as XML ( and X3D ( which ensure interoperability between past, current and future GBL applications. Furthermore, aligning such applications with education institutional systems through IMS ( and SCORM ( standards will allow for easy plug and play functionality with learning management systems such as Moodle ( and WebCT ( Don t use games because they are fashionable. Games are not the answer to all teaching and learning situations. Games are about challenges and processes. Delivering pure educational facts in a game is just a gimmicky way to sell the content to students. These types of games are becoming known as chocolate covered broccoli (Bruckman 1999). Cruickshank (1980) identifies two types of serious games; non-simulation and simulation. The non-simulation games are the ones in the le chocolat a couvert le broccoli category. These games should more appropriately be classified as pop quizzes. Simulation games on the other hand embody everything

5 Effective Games-Based Learning Design 5 that make games fun and fit well with many pedagogies including instructivism, constructivism, action-based learning, problem-based learning and situated learning. A Bottom-Up Game Design Architecture for Serious Games Contemporary game design architectures place a great emphasis on storylines and character development in a top-down approach. I suggest this method in GBL environments is inappropriate and a bottom-up process is required. Historically games designed with a bottom-up approach have greater longevity and place a greater emphasis on the game interaction and player actions. Teaching a course is not the telling of a story but rather an embedding of a skill base followed by supervision and application of its use. Story telling is then a reflective activity undertaken by the student on completion of their learning journey. Hence translating the skill base into game mechanics dictates a bottom-up approach. This technique, known as the Embedded Authentic Serious games-based Learning Experiences (EASLE) architecture allows the designer to specify game aspects building up a foundation of layers where each successive layer refines the previous and makes the gameplay more complete. The layers, shown in Figure 1 are 1) Genre, 2) Gameplay Mechanics, 3) Game Rules, 4) Theme, 5) Icons, 6) Scenes and 7) Story. As symbolised in Figure 1, each succeeding layer from the bottom up adds less impact to the game but also requires the preceding layer as a fundamental basis upon which to build.

6 6 Figure 1. The EASLE layers Genre Although there is a lack of consensus in the games community for a general standard of classifications for game types there are a few commonly used genres with which the reader may be familiar. These include First-Person Shooters (FPS), Role-Playing Games (RPG), Simulation Games (Sims) and Real-Time Strategies (RTS). Definitions of the genres are somewhat subjective and the functionalities of each often overlap which contributes to the lack of standard definitions. For example an RPG can be presented in a FPS format and where in the past FPS defined a 3D game environment view where the player brandished a large weapon it is now often used to describe a game with a similar game view devoid of shooting. Much of the confusion in classifying game genres stems from mixing the definition of the players view of the game environment with the role of the player. For example a platform game which describes an environment in which the player jumps from one platform to another where platforms are at differing heights. Traditional platforms were 2D where the environment was viewed in a cut-away fashion much like an ant farm is viewed in a glass tank. In contrast a RPG the player takes on the role of an adventurer who progresses through the game environment following a set storyline (either linear or non-linear) encountering obstacles and taking up quests. In the

7 Effective Games-Based Learning Design 7 preceding examples, the platform genre defines the game interface and the RPG defines the game procedures. Thus, there are two distinct genre sub-classifications into which games must fit: interface and procedure. Some examples of interface genre include: first person in which the player views a 3D environment from the perspective of actually being there. Often all the player can see of their avatar is their hand or hand-held object and they concentrate on the environment rather than themselves. The first widely known first person game was Wolfenstein 3D; third person games that have the player controlling a character which is embodied within the game environment. The player can witness the actions of the character they control and specific environmental interactions. An example of a third person game is Spintercell; and, isometric where the environment is displayed to the player at a fixed elevated angle. SimCity is famous for presenting its game board in this way. Although the player s view is elevated and looking down at the environment they can move across the landscape as if flying over the surface at a static altitude. Because procedure genre only define the type of gameplay and not the interface layout both genre can be mixed across game applications to create many interesting game applications. Examples of game procedures include: strategy games in which the player focuses on careful creation, management and skillful positioning of resources on a game map in which the player has to defeat an opponent and essentially wipe them out. Strategy games can be played in, though not limited to, isometric view such as in Starcraft and third person such as Ghost Recon; god games where the player is external to the game and controls and builds up the world having as holistic view. Black & White is a god game with a first person interface and The Sims is a god game with an isometric interface; and, adventure games focussing on exploration, puzzle solving and sometimes combat. Super Mario World is an adventure platform game and Diablo is an isometric adventure. The selection of the genre, both interface and procedure, is the foundation layer in game design. It dictates the way in which players ultimately interact with the game environment in the succeeding Gameplay Mechanics level. Further on it will also influence the visual style of the game environment defined in later levels. Gameplay Mechanics Gameplay is the essential core of all successful games. It consists of a series of actions and challenges within the game world which are causally linked (Rollings & Adams 2003), otherwise known as a risk and reward schedule. Good gameplay keeps the player motivated and engaged throughout (Costikyan 2002). Often the aspirations of educators to create an authentic educational experience for their students within a game environment takes precedence over the gameplay mechanics and the game loses its appeal.

8 8 All games consist of a set of activities or mechanics which the player repeats throughout. In chess the mechanics consist of moving pieces around the board one at a time with players taking turns. Although it is games such as chess and go that have stood the test of time with their very simple mechanics, computer games through their very medium provide the game designer with a plethora of mechanics from which to choose. Most successful games employ only a small subset of main mechanics. Some of the better known mechanics are: Navigating. This is an activity in which the player plans and assigns routes in relation to the game environment. Navigating is a popular mechanic in strategy games such as Civilisation or Empire Earth in which the player can assign routes for their armies and units to follow; Jumping. Used across many game genre, jumping is employed by a player to avoid obstacles, move between platforms or fighting. Jumping can be used by a player in Quake to run and jump across wide chasms or in Frogger to skip across the river; and, Contract. This mechanic allows players to cooperative with one another. Contracts are seen in multiplayer sporting games when multiple players are on the same team or in strategy games where players can form alliances or trade with other guilds. The selected gameplay mechanic will depend on the genres chosen for the game. While most mechanics can be employed across genres, some genres by their very nature require several set mechanics. For example, strategy games require a navigating mechanic and sports games require a motion mechanic. Once the mechanics for the game have been chosen, the game rules must be applied. These will dictate when and how the chosen game mechanics can be executed. For example, the mechanic of shooting cannot be employed in Doom unless the player has a weapon with ammunition in their possession. Game Rules Game rules ensure the player stays within the confines of the game environment. These rules also assist in establishing and maintaining the suspension of disbelief factor by providing the player with a consistent and believable set of environmental cause and effects. Imagine how dramatically the game of chess would be effected if the player could move the pieces where and whenever they liked. The game rules also provide a common ontology when more than one player is involved and because they remain (mostly) static throughout play, future playing strategies can be devised and later tested. The game rules in chess dictate how each different piece on the board can move. Chess is also a turn-based game and shares the same one player at a time rule imposed on turn-based strategy games such as Civilisation. Through the set of game rules, the game designer specifies how the player s actions effect the game environment. For example if a player moves their character into a lava pit, their character might suffer a significant hit on their health. The same types of rules specify how in fighting games how much effect different weapons have on

9 Effective Games-Based Learning Design 9 characters health by considering a multitude of factors such as the characters current health status, their body armour, whether they have a magical spell cast on them and many and varied other conditions and states. These rules not only dictate how the game environment changes but keeps it consistent such that the player can strategise relying on their knowledge of how the game environment reacts to them. Without this consistency the player is trapped in a random world where they cannot try to predict the outcomes of future plans and thus the game becomes impossible to play. For example, if a player believes that the shield of Q Thor protects them from lightening blasts, then they will expect that it always will. Changing this rule during the course of the game, without provocation and adequately explaining the reason to the player, will cause the player to ignore using such an unreliable piece of equipment. The game can also have a set of rules within the simulated environment which occur as events triggered by time, game status, player character status or player action. Games such as Splintercell, which have a generally linear storyline, wait until a player is in some location before triggering cut-scenes or having non-player characters play out a scenario. This ensures that crucial information is given to the player at the right time and that they are always in the right spot at the right time to get this information. In several scenes throughout the Splintercell franchise, the player receives information by eves-dropping on guards in corridors. The player triggers this via a proximity sensor around the guards. It would be no use to the player s progression to have spent time lost in some maze within a building to arrive at the guards location to find they have missed a crucial conversation. Theme The game theme specifies the style of the environment and interface. This includes specifications about the architecture of the map, the colours used, the sounds used and the look of the characters. It aligns with movie making genre in which directors follow a particular theme to fully immerse the viewers in the story and make it more believable. In games theme provides the element of authenticity which makes the game environment more realistic. The theme also generates a certain expectation in the player about the game contents and gameplay. For example, a futuristic space game could be envisaged with black starry skies, shiny silver spaceships, strange alien vistas, futuristic technological devises, laser weapons and heavily synthesised music and sound effects. Within this theme the player would expect to see alien creatures and experience anti-gravity whereas in a Western themed game an alien would be unexpected and completely upset the player s suspension of disbelief. Icons Icons are the conceptualized tokens which extend the theme. They are the intuitive set of symbolic stimuli presented in the game environment which shorten the learning curve of the player and take much of the onus off the game creator in explaining every little detail about the game. Often icons represent archetypes or stereotypes within a specific theme. For example a large brutish cyclops character within a medieval theme will be recognized as a bad character without the player having to be

10 10 explicitly told. Another particularly global icon in most games which is instantly recognizable is the white box on the floor or wall with a large red cross on the front. This is immediately understood by the player as an item that will heal their character. One of the main problems in educational games is the risk of overloading a player s working memory with too many iconic elements (Mayer 2001). This can distract from the educational aim of the game as players struggle understanding the environment rather than engaging with it. A balance needs to be found between the instructional design aspects and the player s interaction with the game environment. As such, icons should be optimized in a game by cutting down on irrelevant elements. Scenes The scene in a serious game dictates the game level and how gameplay and icons interact. A scene is a defined level in a game where the player engages in a scenario. It also includes defining pre-scripted events and milestones for progression in the game. It combines the use of game icons and game mechanics as tools for completing challenges. Typical FPS games consist of multiple levels where the icons and mechanics are repeated in each level. The challenges are across levels are similar in nature and require the player to use the same mechanisms for progression. In Doom, the player learns the mechanisms of navigating around the game map (maze), picking up items, opening doors and shooting monsters. In addition, there are medical bonus boxes that when found can restore the player s health. In each successive level the game becomes harder as the monsters are more aggressive, more numerous and medical bonuses and weapons are more difficult to find. As FPS games have evolved, the same principals of repeated tokens and mechanics across levels have remained. The Halo developers have described the game as 5 minutes of fun played over and over again. Unlike Doom, the levels of Halo are played out in different geographical locations, for example, in the outdoors or on a spaceship. The icons and mechanics in these games are not the source of the challenge. The challenges in these games comes from the increasing difficulty of each level. This is achieved through diminishing lack of resources (weapons, medical bonuses etc), an increase in the number of bad influences (monsters, lava etc), an increase in the strength or strategies of enemies and more complex environments to navigate just to name a few. In strategy games, which fit well with the EASLE, again the icons and mechanics remain the same for the entire game. Usually these games have but one scene. SimCity, Starcraft, Civilisation and Sid Meier Railways all have one level which consists of a game map. The challenge in these games becomes increasingly hard as the game map begins to fill up with items and the interactions between these items takes effect on the player s score. For example, in SimCity, building industries, residential and commercial areas effect the cities population which in turn affects the player s bank balance from taxes and the traffic system. The challenge in strategy games comes from balancing the cause and effect of resources built and operating in the game world.

11 Effective Games-Based Learning Design 11 Story Traditional game design methods place the most emphasis on the story. In fact there are many advocates for the story being the most fundamental element of the game design (Rollings & Adams 2003). The fact is though, games with the most elaborate of stories leave very little to the player s imagination and after the story has been revealed, the player is not enticed to play the game again. In a top-down designed game where the story is paramount and dictated to the player, a player s reflection upon their journey will not differ greatly from that of another player. For example, in the game of Halo everything within the game plays out around a linear story line. The player s journey is to reveal the nature of this story much like ready through a book. Rather than having their own experience, the player is watching their character s progression. In the EASLE approach the player creates their own story. Although the number of game mechanics will determine the actual number of different stories that can emerge from game play, the story is less linear and the player more in control. For example, in The Sims, there is a very loose back story about a player s Sim living in a neighbourhood of Sims, but how that Sim s life unfolds is at the discretion of the player. This provides a stronger emotional attachment between the player, their character and the story. This emotional experience has been found to have a profound effect on student learning (Dirkx 2001). Constructivist, action-based and problem-based learning theories focus on the student s journey in acquiring knowledge and actively encourage learner reflection (Boud 1985). The EASLE approach constructs games which put more control on how the story unfolds in the hands of the player. With learning seen as a continual conversation with one s environment, artifacts and oneself along with other learners and teachers (Sharples 2005) having students reflect on their passage through the game provides this extra level of experience. Implementation of EASLE It should be noted that although EASLE presents the game designer with a structured bottom-up approach, the game design process should not be dictated by completely defining one layer before the other. While the genre layer will impose the look and feel of the final game application, it is not necessary to pick a genre before having decided upon a back-story or set of scenarios for the game. More often, during the brainstorming session for a new game, ideas and concepts will surface that fall across the EASLE layers. Usually a game designer will come up with a backstory and then fill in the rest of the design. Although, EASLE does not focus on a forced narrative, the designer still needs to set the scene for the game which will in turn bring out further ideas about necessary icons and mechanics. As such during the design process all layers are considered and documented in parallel. In the following sections a game concepts will be examined in the context of EASLE.


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