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A Comparison of Motivational Factors between Game Players

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ABSTRACT Motivation is one of the driving forces behind the recent interest in games with educational goals. People willingly play complex games and we would like to channel that willingness to participate in complex challenges into the educational context. In this paper, we report on a survey administered to two groups of university students, computer science students and business students, examining the role of motivation in electronic games. The results of this study highlight the similarities and differences between the two user groups, based on a framework of motivational factors, and may help to guide the design of educational games and activities. INTRODUCTION This research is a preliminary component of a larger research project, SAGE (Simulations and Advanced Games for Education in Health) [1]. The underlying premise for this research is that the motivation students exhibit in playing games can be capitalized on to develop educational activities that generate similar enthusiasm for learning complex skills and persistence in the activity. In this work, we report on the results of a survey examining the role of motivational factors in two game playing populations: computer science students and business students. The survey is intended to address two questions. First, are motivational factors relevant to the choice of games and the playing of games in these populations? Second, are motivational factors specific to the populations or shared across the populations? The answers to these questions will be useful in two ways. Firstly, we can examine the similarities and differences in responses to motivational factors to evaluate the premise that games are generally motivating and that presenting educational material as a game may increase the motivation of students to participate. Secondly, those motivational factors that appear strongly among both groups may be incorporated in the design of educational applications that require persistence and self-directed learning, whether the application is a game or not. MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS Motivation is the driving force behind the recent interest in games with educational goals. That is, if people willingly play complex games we would like to channel that willingness to participate in complex challenges into the educational context. A metalevel analysis of psychological literature on motivation proposed a framework of positive and negative motivational factors for the educational context related to control, context, competency and engagement [2]. Control factors support self-regulation or autonomy, such as interaction, encouragement of innovation, providing rationales, providing relevant goals, choice and managed guidance. Context includes rationales, feedback and storyline. Competency factors include scaffolding of tasks, appropriate feedback, attainable challenges and models of successful strategies. Engagement factors include personalization, rewards, role playing, challenge, personal notes, collaboration and communication. These factors of motivation are not necessarily discrete sets and aspects may be associated with multiple factors. GAMING SURVEY Using this framework of motivational factors, we surveyed two university populations to understand of the role of these factors in game play in these two populations. That is, what impact do the reported motivational factors have in the context of game playing as reported by these students? The two populations consisted of business students, a population of well educated occasional electronic game players, and computer science students, a population of well educated but more frequent game players. RESULTS Overall, we discovered that the two groups shared similar preferences for factors of control. Both groups reported playing games that allowed them to make choices and made use of the ability during the game. The most common types of choices exercised include speed levels, camera angles/views, time limits, difficulty and music. Students also reported they made use of options that allowed them to replay previously played levels and almost always finished each level before moving on to the next. One main difference that was reported by the two groups was the use of side games and extra features, which were more popular among the computer science students. When examining factors related to context, we found a small number of significant differences between the two groups. Our results surrounding the importance of storyline and characters in game play were somewhat unclear, however the indications from this survey were that they are not as important as we expected. This was more pronounced among the business students. As evidence, the most popular genres of games played by this group were puzzle and card games, such Tetris, Snood and Solitaire. Most games belonging to these genres contain little or no storyline and very shallow characters, if any. We found that animation and graphics were the most highly ranked sources of feedback for both groups and that both groups personalized several aspects of their games. Challenge and feelings of competency were important factors for both groups of students, however, in many instances this was more evident among the computer science group. An appropriate level of challenge was important to both groups and they reported they played games that were difficult to master. When learning how to play new games, the most popular responses by both groups were that they learned by themselves, with the help of friends and through game instructions. Difficult levels, when encountered, were conquered through persistence and help from friends. The computer science students also reported often using online answers to pass difficult levels, much more so than the business students. The two groups of students differed most in terms of factors of engagement. Many of these differences may be attributed to their exposure to technology. Both groups reported they preferred multiplayer games, however the business students reported playing with other players they knew in real life and typically were located in the same room. The computer science students reported they often played online and were much less likely to know their opponents in real life. The computer science students also participated in online gaming communities. Surprisingly, the average length of play for both groups was not significantly different; computer science students played for 96 minutes and business students played for 87 minutes, indicating that both groups were engaged in their game play. CONCLUSIONS This work examined the actual impact of motivational factors in the game play of two diverse user groups. We found that motivational factors, particularly, control and challenge, were reported by both communities of users. Consequently, the aspects of those factors that appear strongly in both groups can be used in the design of new activities to increase motivation and those factors showing differences can be used to tailor applications for specific communities. Future work is focused on the incorporation of these findings into educational games and other activities to enable us to evaluate their effect on student motivation and performance. Our goal is to provide guidelines for designers of educational software that increase the motivation of the user to learn new skills and to be persistence in the participation of the activity. REFERENCES 1. Simulation and Advanced Gaming Environments. (2004). 2. Watters, C. and Duffy, J. (2004). Metalevel Analysis of Motivational Factors for Interface Design. In K. Fisher, Erdelez, S. and McKechnie, E.F. (Ed.), Theories of Information Behavior: A Researcher's Guide. Medford, NJ: ASIST (Information Today, Inc.) (In Press).
Contact: Melanie Kellar, Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie University,
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