Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (9: 3 Responses)

Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutes

These are public postings of my writings for the first course of the Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Game Design and Research at Michigan State University.

Each week, we are required to post three responses/reactions to queries posted by other members of the class in the previous week. These are mine.

I have paraphrased the queries to preserve my classmates’ privacy.

Please note: these posts are not intended as any kind of commentary on or assessment of the course I’m taking, or its instructor, OR of Michigan State University or the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, or the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media. They are solely my thoughts and reactions that stem from the readings.

Feel free to comment, disagree, or what have you.

Week 9

These are the readings we had last week:

These are the readings for the week (Topics: Theories: Self-determination theory; Topics: Planning a research study; Budgeting)

  • Barab, S., Dodge, T., Tuzun, H., Job-Sluder, K., Jackson, C., Arici, A., Job-Sluder, L., Carteaux, R., Jr., Gilbertson, J., & Heiselt, C. (2007).  The Quest Atlantis Project: A socially-responsive play space for learning. In B. E. Shelton & D. Wiley (Eds.), The Educational Design and Use of Simulation Computer Games (pp. 159-186). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268
  • Thompson, D. I., Baranowski, T., Buday, R., Baranowski, J., Thompson, V., Jago, R., et al. (2010). Serious video games for health: How behavioral science guided the development of a serious video game. Simulation & Gaming, 41, 587-606.
  • Mount Olympus (video)

Response 1: [Week 9 KB dialog 1/3] Cut Scenes

Growing up I always skipped cut scenes, I just wanted to play and thought I could figure out the game and story without watching them. Should one design a game with unskippable cut scenes?

When I evaluate a game for learning, I like to try and see how far I can get without actually learning any of the stuff they want me to learn. I can get surprisingly far in a great many educational games this way. I purposefully avoid reading the things I’m supposed to read, because most kids (and a great many adults) will skip that part anyways. I also try to see how far I can get by sheer brute force and random chance.

I think your question connects with this because like the text, the cut scenes are supposed to be there to full out the story (or experience). There are some we might watch simply for their own sake – they may be cinematically wonderful, or entertaining in and of themselves. BUT, if there’s nothing in those cut scenes that’s useful to your success in the game, then you have to wonder why go to the trouble? If it’s a purely entertainment game, then offering a cut scene that doesn’t really add much may well be fine, though most of the time, if they are producing nice cut scenes they have also written them to add something worthwhile to the story. Even if it just backstory to help you understand the character’s motivations, it still adds to the experience as a whole.

That having been said, it can get very annoying very fast to HAVE to sit through the same cut scene multiple times – even if it’s good. I think players should be given the option to skip the cut scenes or the text if they want, but they should always have the opportunity to go back to them any time. I think a good design is one where each part adds something to the whole, and in a game that whole is usually held together by the goal of the game. If it doesn’t help you through the game, then it had better be worthwhile in some other way.

Response 2: [Week 9 KB dialog 2/3] Do games inspire good writing?


I found it interesting that data collected from Quest for Atlantis users showed that boys wrote more in response to questions presented as a Quest for Atlantis activity than in response to the same questions presented as an online worksheet. They wrote more of substance, too, reflecting deeper thought on the topics. What might account for this?

It would have been nice to know if the writing styles differed between the QA and worksheet – in particular, was it more casual in the QA? I think the fact that it is a game is far less significant than the fact that the subject matter and the environment connects with something relevant to them.

The subject matter makes a huge difference. For 22 years I have been doing a duck hatching program with local schools where we provide fresh, or almost ready to hatch duck eggs to local schools and they hatch them in the classroom. They usually keep the ducklings for about two weeks and then return them to us. Most of the teachers I worked with teach K-3. In most schools, for the few weeks leading up to getting the ducklings and those weeks that the little critters are in the classroom, EVERYTHING is about ducks: science, art, music, English, even gym. In many schools the duck theme spills over to the whole school.  Every one of them comments on how MUCH the kids write (including the boys).

The environment also makes a difference – we spend more time with a tool we like than one we don’t – even if it doesn’t actually work any better. I would imagine that the actual reasons why boys wrote more in the QA than the worksheet includes all kinds of factors, at least some of which are part of the formal educational culture.

To answer your question, I DO think that games can inspire good writing, but so can comics, television, film, and real life experiences. I think the common thread here is that the subject matter is something the students actually CARE about, in an environment where they feel supported and confident.

Response 3: [Week 9 KB dialog 3/3] Alternatives to violence theme

This breakout from Simulation & Gaming seems like a great resource and I wonder if further analyzed, what an optimal mix would be that included at least two or three (or more) of these elements that engaged intrinsic motivation.

  1. central character  who is captured and rescued
  2. antagonist who has an army
  3. romantic feeling between characters
  4. obstacles that impede progress
  5. central character who acts as a traitor
  6.  central character with an interesting history or genealogy
  7.  story centered around exploration and clue finding

I found this interesting too. I would have loved to have seen a more detailed analysis of this, in particular, what the distribution was by gender. I would suspect that (2) and (3) have gender biases. One of the first things that struck me was that they had specifically asked for nonviolent themes, and one of the resulting themes is STILL military. It can be done, but it’s hard to imagine an army scenario that does NOT include fighting (i.e. violence). They didn’t address this paradox at all.

Also, these items are kind of mixed up with respect to type. It seems to me that (4) and (7) are not like the others. The other five have to do with narrative, while (4) and (7) have to do with mechanics. I will admit to having a soft spot for lists – it’s part of what got me into computer science in the first place (a LOT of CS is about organizing and making lists), so as soon as I noticed we were having a list, I also re-wrote it. I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be with the literature in this area (too many interests; not enough time), but I wonder if there are other lists like this? I think they’d be quite useful. I’d also like to see more detail about what, if any gender differences showed up. I have it in my head that there is a middle ground that we should be paying attention to that doesn’t stray too far into male or female preferences. It seems to me that this is where we need to be looking when making serious games, unless of course we are targeting a particular gender or group.

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