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Why Develop Educational Video Games?


Regardless of students’ tempered interest in playing educational games, the proliferation of these games continues. One clear reason is the appeal of video game play. This appeal, which is found among a diverse age range and among both females and males, has been attributed to the curiosity, fantasy, and challenge inherent in game play, as noted by Malone (1981) in his seminal article on motivation for playing digital games. Notably, the games available at the time in which Malone’s article appeared were two-dimensional and fairly primitive in their graphics by today’s standards (e.g., Donkey Kong). However, factors cited by Malone remain relevant today when considering motivation for playing video games (see chapters 6 and 19 for greater consideration of motivation in the context of video game play).

More recently, other features have been cited as contributing to the appeal of video game play. These features include interactivity, whereby players initiate and receive feedback about their actions, which affects their game play experience (Renkl & Atkinson, 2007; Ritterfeld et al., 2009); agency or control, which refers to players’ ability to manage aspects of their game play, such as the use of the control mechanisms or the unfolding of the story line (Skalski, Lange, Tamborini, Helton, Buncher, & Lindmark, 2011; Qin, Rau, & Salvendy, 2009; Wood, Griffiths, Chappell, & Davies, 2004); identity, which refers to players’ opportunity to form relationships and linkages with game characters or to become game characters via avatar construction (see Blascovich & Bailenson, 2011; Lane et al., 2013; Trepte, Reinecke, & Behr, 2010); feedback, which refers to the information players receive about the efficacy of their game actions, which in turn scaffolds the course of their game play (Lane et al., 2013; Lieberman, 2006); and immersion, which refers to players’ sense of presence or integration within the game (see Tamborini & Skalski, 2006). Immersion has been linked to the attainment of the highly pleasurable state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Sherry, 2004; Weber, Tamborini, Westcott-Baker, & Kantor, 2009), whereby game play is perceived as all-absorbing and seemingly automatic despite the cognitive resources needed to master the game (see Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Collectively, these features and others highlighted in this volume are expected to promote sustained and enjoyable game play. In the context of educational game play in particular, one presumed corollary is that more game play provides more opportunity for learning.

Regardless of the truth of this corollary, which the conference members considered in some detail and demonstrated in their work (see chapter 20), it is also true that many individuals play video games. For example, the most recent findings reported by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA, 2013) indicate that recreational games are played by 58% of the U.S. population and that 45% of players are female. Of those who play video games, 32% are younger than age 18. In fact, 8-18 year olds have been found to spend as much as 90 minutes per day involved in video game play (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). The ESA also reports that game players access games via their smartphones (36%). As the number of game apps available for smartphones increases, one might expect increases in the amount of time individuals engage in game play, particularly among adolescents, who are leading users of smartphones (see Nielsenwire, 2012).

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