Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (5: Important Results)

Approximate Reading Time: 2 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.

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 5

These are the readings for the week (Topics: Concepts in research papers; Theory driven game design):

  • Kato, P. M., Cole, S. W., Bradlyn, A. S., & Pollock, B. H. (2008). A video game improves behavioral outcomes in adolescents and young adults with cancer: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), E305-E317.
  • Tate, R., Haritatos, J., & Cole, S. (2009). HopeLab’s Approach to Re-Mission. International Journal of Learning and Media; 1(1): 29-35.
  • Optional: Garza, M., Chamberlin, B., Gleason, J., Muise, A., & Gallagher, R. (2012). Year-End Review of Exergaming Research. (Annotated bibliography).
  • GAME: Re-Mission


When Clark Aldrich released his serious game called Virtual Leader some years ago (*), he was often asked to show evidence that his game was effective. He did conduct numerous studies that showed performance improvements in those who played his game, but the demands for “proof” didn’t stop. When it comes to educational technology, people seem to demand more proof of effectiveness with games than they do with any of the more traditional technologies like lectures and textbooks. When asked for proof that some proposed game will be more effective than, say a lecture, where is the evidence that the lectures are any better than, say reading on one’s own?

I think it is important to do the studies that verify the efficacy of various interventions, but it would be nice to have the same standard applied to all technologies, not just games.

There’s a wonderful quote in Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck about how we seem to assume that modern media is inherently less valuable than more traditional media that I think fits in very nicely – when I get home on Tuesday I’ll post it.

I think studies like the Kato one are extremely important in a field that is subject to so much negative press. It shows real, measurable improvement in the participant’s behaviour using the gold standard methodology. Unfortunately, studies like this one, along with the approach that was taken to the design of the game are extremely expensive, putting this out of the reach of most of us. The core design principles outlined by Tate, et al are very good ones, as are the values they used to guide their design process. I wonder what advice they would have for those who do not have access to the same budgets?

The optional reading for this week is also very important. I have conducted and published literature reviews before, and while they are usually NO fun to do, they are key resources for others in the field. One that gathers and summarizes so many serious game studies is invaluable.

*Please excuse the lack of references and links – I am not at home right now and don’t have access to my usual tools.

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