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Game Genre Evolution for Educational Games

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Game Genre Evolution for Educational Games Introduction Mass media, such as radio and television, are complex combinations of channel and genre. Genres allow us to make distinctions and choices within a given medium largely on the basis of content and form, for example, talk shows, dramas, or sitcoms. Modern digital games have gained the status of mass medium [8] and genre are very evident. From the McLuhan perspective [2], the personal and social consequences of a medium result from the new functionalities that the medium affords the user. McLuhan made the observation that hot media exclude the user from the interpretation and control of the information while cool ones require an engagement of the user in the interpretation of the information. A digital game requires immediate interaction from the user. Digital games are by this definition very cool. Genre have a social role in providing common experiences and landmarks for our role as members of one or more communities, what Miller [3] describes as genre participation. Like other media, digital games have developed to the point of having classes of well described genre [8] and game genre continue to experience transformations often resulting in new genre. This work is part of a three year project, Simulations and Advanced Game Environments (SAGE) [4], to examine this new medium and to explore how games and simulations can be used in the context of learning. Our goal is to develop game architectures that support the development of new game genre that leverage the engagement of entertainment games into educational opportunities. That is, we will examine game genre that move us beyond the edu-entertainment we currently see. These would provide non-trivial environments with significant content and challenge as well as support engagement and collaboration. There is a similarity in the goals of learning objects and digital games that includes engagement, persistence, skill improvement, strategy, community, and collaboration. Can we create new genres of games that are engaging and can be shown to improve learning outcomes? Digital Game Genre In this paper, we describe game genre from the perspective of digital or cybergenre [7] using the triple (content, form, functionality). The content of digital games includes the narrative, scenario, challenge, and characters as well as the rules for engagement. The form of games varies widely from game boards and card decks to 2D and 3D worlds. Game functionality includes player and game interactions, player-to-player interactions, and team interactions, and control of game and player features. Digital games provide an extension for the player that removes many of the restriction of physical games and provides access to new cognitive immersive scenarios and worlds. Digital games have wide popular appeal, well articulated genres, and have become integrated into the social fabric of many cultures. Genre that we recognize in digital games include, first person shooter games, strategy games, sports games, board games, card games, and arcade games. The functionality provided by distributed and collaborative games presents a further opportunity to develop new genre of digital games that combine entertainment and social relevance. Games generate a high degree of motivation and engagement in the players. There is an intensity of the interaction and often a remarkable devotion (compulsion) to the game. If these attributes can be kept in tact throughout a transformation of the purpose of games from entertainment to an application area, such as education, then new genre would emerge that are strikingly familiar to the user but distinctly different in impact. Evolution of Genre for Educational Games Genres evolve by changing content, form, and/or functionality to exploit the new medium. Often entirely novel genre appears that have no counterpart in any previous medium, like the recent rash of "reality" shows on television. Often, however, evolution is more iterative. Educational games differ from entertainment games mainly by purpose. That is, there is a shift from playing the game for social and personal entertainment goals to learning and educational goals. We can expect that there will follow an evolution of genre to reflect this difference in purpose. The challenge then is to develop game genre that, like SimCity [6] "even though it is not a video game, plays like one." The latest version of Internet games, provide players with the autonomy to play against the computer, human players, or form teams of collaborators; basic functionality one also expects from an interactive learning environment. While the current focus of games is entertainment, a move to provide games with a focus on education will require the transformation of game structures and game design patterns into genre that support the educational values of collaboration, community building, skill practice, and complex challenges. Chapman [1] suggests that there should be increasing emphasis on the learner "situating" themselves in the world of study, to explore the possibilities in other worlds, and the view concepts and constructs from other perspectives, even take on multiple roles. Games do this. Early genre of educational games have been largely replications of traditional games genre with learning variations, such as Tic-tac-toe games with question answering interjected into turn taking and more recently quest style games where progress is dependent on progress through the course material. To make real progress educational game genre need to exploit the evolution of entertainment game genre. In the SAGE project we are working on new genre for educational games that are based on design patterns templates [5]. Design patterns provide an opportunity to build modular game instances from classes of general components. We have recently developed with the IWK Children’s hospital a game for 6-10 year olds to reinforce behavioral intervention for children diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). This intervention helps the children learn how to manage the symptoms of their own condition. Our goal was to design a short game with content relevant to IBD but with the form and functionality of a video game. We are in the pilot testing stage of this project and will examine changes in behavior (outcomes) within the group of children who play the game compared to those who only have access to the handbook. Conclusion Digital games support a high degree of interactivity and collaboration. Game genre have evolved and continue to evolve from replications of games in other media, to novel games only found in digital form, and now to complex social and collaborative games. Much can be learned from entertainment game genre that can be used in the development of games and applications used for educational rather than strictly entertainment goals. These games would need to present significant and clear educational challenges without losing the immersive appeal of other games. Digital games have an appeal that goes across a broad demographic and this supports our speculation that understanding games, game genre, and game interaction can be used to our advantage in educational contexts. In this paper we explore the role of genre in supporting that appeal. Acknowledgements. Funding for this work has been provided by SSHRC and NSERC of Canada. References [1] Chapman, M.L. 1999. Situated, Social, Active: Rewriting Genre in the Elementary Classroom. Written Communication. 16(4): 469-490. [2] McLuhan, M. 1995. Essential McLuhan. (Ed) E. McLuhan and F. Zingrone. House of Anansi Press. Concord, Ontario. [3] Miller, C.R. 1984. Genre as Social Action. Quarterly Journal in Speech. 70: 151-167. [4] SAGE. Simulation and Advanced Game Environments. 2004. Online at [] [5] Salen, K. and E. Zimmerman. 2004. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. MIT Press, Cambridge. [6] Turkle, S. 1995. Life on the Screen. Simon and Shuster. New York, USA. [7] Watters,C. and M.Shepherd. 1999. Cybergenre and Web Functionality. HICSS'32, Proceedings of the Thirty-second annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences. Digital Documents. Maui, Hawaii. 5-10 January. [8] Wolf, M.J.P. (ed) 2001. The Medium of the Video Game. University of Austin Press. Austin, Texas.
Contact: Carolyn Watters, Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie University,
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