During my master’s course, I wanted to know why educational serious games are sometimes so boring. To get to that point I needed to know what influence entertainment has on these games. As it turns out Entertainment doesn’t matter in educational serious games.
Scope and Context
To put this claim in context, entertainment does not matter for an educational serious game in short term use cases. What this means is that an educational serious game is made to educate or convey a message to its players and that entertainment will not influence this message. If the educational serious game is the most boring thing ever, but the message that it conveys is well constructed the player will still take away the message just fine. But again, this effect was only observed in short term uses.
This effect of entertainment not influencing the message from educational serious games has been observed through two methods. With the first method, I have set out and grabbed a few people and let them all play three different publicly available educational serious games. These participants all got 5 to 10 minutes to play each game and could rate them in terms of entertainment and if they felt if they learned something.
As it turns out within these time frames of 5 to 10 minutes per game the users would all answer in a similar fashion. With all three games, which all covered arithmetic themes but varied in entertainment, the participants rated the entertainment levels and rated how much they perceived to have learned from these games. Interestingly the entertainment values did not correlate with their perceptions of learning. The "most boring game" and "the most entertaining game" were both nearly identical in terms of the effectiveness of learning.
The other method which was a basic survey that covered past experiences of a similar group of people yielded very similar results. Though this survey covered past experiences, and memories are not a reliable source, the data obtained showed very comparable figures to that of the tests done with the three games. The participants also noted that they would prefer entertaining experiences however, but this did not detract from their learning experiences.
What does this mean for the future?
While this particular effect was only observed in short term use. I, however, was not able to do these tests on longer use cases due to this being a project done within a single year. This means that the results cannot be applied for long term use. Therefore I recommend another followup on this project that covers long term effects.
Another thing that came up during these experiments was that some people mentioned that if they wanted to learn something, and are already motivated to do so, a game would not be necessary. This particular point that came up could require further investigation. How does personal motivation influence the effects of educational serious games?
I further speculate that these findings could also be applied for making tutorial sections within games. When you think about it, a tutorial section of a game is the point where you teach your players how to play your game. But if the same results from this experiment holds true, you can seriously shorten your tutorial and focus hard on what they need to take away, then quickly move on without lingering on this topic. Again some research… or trial and error… needs to be done to know if that indeed works. But we also need to remember the flow the player is in and avoid breaking this flow so they can stay invested within the game, but that’s a different topic.
I also speculate that entertainment in educational serious games does matter in long term uses. I derive this speculation from my own logical reasoning and anecdotal quotes from my participants where I, and the participants, would not want to play a boring game for long term uses. Therefore I believe that in long term use cases entertainment in educational serious games will be or is important to the learning and overall experience.