Project

Embodied Educational Game Design

Goal: Understand how different forms of physical embodiment and interaction in educational games impact player learning, problem-solving, performance, and emotional outcomes.

Date: 1 September 2013

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Project log

Edward Melcer
added a research item
Mad Mixologist is a collaborative augmented reality game where two players must work together to create a real-world drink. Both players in the game wear customized VR headsets that have been modified to provide instructions for creating the drink while displaying video from the front of the other player’s headset. I.e., each player is shown video of themselves from the other player’s camera/view (swapping perspectives). Not only are the players’ vision swapped, but they also have to pour, mix, and garnish drinks in the real world—resulting in a messy, challenging, entertaining, and wholly unique alternative controller game spectacle.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
Tangible games afford an engaging and often unique form of hybrid play (i.e., physical-digital elements), but there is currently limited work explicitly exploring how these games can be designed to provide spatial affordances that implicitly encourage collaboration. In this paper, we present a novel col-laborative tangible game, titled Mad Mixologist, and investigate how making a simple change in the location of game objects within the tangible play space can lead to significantly different collaborative interaction strategies. The results from our group comparison study indicate that 1) players with exclusively direct access to multiple relevant resources (i.e., a digital instruction and a physical object) were more likely to assume responsibility for completing tasks in a shared play space and 2) distributing these same task-relevant resources across multiple players created ambiguity over whether the player with the digital or physical resource should engage with the shared play space. This study demonstrates one possible way in which the physical design of a tangible game can be arranged to implicitly encourage players to develop more collaborative interaction strategies, specifically by distributing exclusive resources across players. Overall, this study highlights and reinforces the connection between spatial affordances and social interactions via embodied facilitation within the context of collaborative tangible games.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
3D printers are becoming increasingly accessible to the average consumer, however their potential utility within games has yet to be fully explored. Integrating 3D printer fabrication technology within game design presents a novel means for engaging players and providing them with tangible representations of gameplay elements. This in turn could be employed to increase embodied gameplay and even embodied learning for the player. In this paper, we present a novel "fabrication game" designed to teach basic evolutionary concepts. In the game, players take turns physically assembling components 3D printed in real-time to iteratively evolve their creatures and observe the impact of their evolutionary choices on a digital population simulation. We discuss the potential of this game's unique design in leveraging real-time fabrication of tangibles to enhance a player's understanding of principles of evolution and natural selection.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
In this article we describe Hack.VR, an object-oriented programming game in virtual reality. Hack.VR uses a VR programming language in which nodes represent functions and node connections represent data flow. Using this programming framework, players reprogram VR objects such as elevators, robots, and switches. Hack.VR has been designed to be highly interactable both physically and semantically.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
Embodiment is a concept that has gained widespread usage within the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) community in recent years. In a general sense, embodiment is the notion that cognition arises not just from the mind, but also through our bodies‘ physical and social interactions with the world around us. HCI has employed this body-centric approach to the design of technology in a variety of domains, including interaction design, robotics, music systems, and education. However, due to the broad number of academic domains that define and operationalize embodiment within HCI (e.g., cognitive science, social science, learning science, neuroscience, AI, robotics, and so forth), it has become a remarkably fuzzy term with little understood about what designs result in desired outcomes. Essentially, HCI researchers and practitioners often employ a black box of design decisions when creating their embodied systems. Notably, the inconsistent framing and application of embodiment within HCI is a substantial drawback when trying to design embodied technology to support particular use cases such as learning, where understanding the 'why' of outcomes is essential. In this dissertation, I contribute work towards opening up the black box of embodied design to develop a more precise understanding of its proper application for the development of learning technology. This was done through the creation of a taxonomical design framework that outlines key methods for incorporating embodiment into the design of educational games and simulations. In order to create the design framework, I collected over 60 exemplars of embodied learning games and simulations, followed by the application of a bottom up, open coding method to distill seven core design dimensions. I then demonstrated the design framework‘s importance for a variety of HCI use cases including 1) categorizing existing embodied educational technologies, 2) identifying problematic design spaces, and 3) identifying design gaps for the generation of novel embodied learning systems. I also further employed the design framework to develop my own embodied learning system, Bots & (Main)Frames, which teaches basic programming and computational thinking skills through the use of tangibles. In order to better understand when and how embodied tangible technology can aid learning, I built two versions of Bots & (Main)Frames that only differed in input method (non-embodied mouse vs. embodied tangible programming blocks), while keeping all other game mechanics, aesthetics, and so forth identical. I then conducted two controlled experimental studies to compare differences between the two versions of Bots & (Main)Frames. My results show that an embodied tangible design had far greater positive impact for a number of key learning factors including programming self-beliefs, situational interest, enjoyment, and overall learning/performance outcomes. The quantitative and qualitative findings from these studies make key advances toward understanding when and how embodied tangible technology can aid in learning computational thinking skills.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
Music and rhythm are powerful tools that can be employed to enhance learning and memory. While games are commonly utilized to aid in second language acquisition, few have explored the implications of sound on learner's ability to draw and remember logographic characters (such as those in Chinese hanzi, Japanese kanji and Korean hanja). We created Radical Tunes, a kanji drawing music game, to explore the impacts of incorporating music on players' ability to retain meaning and stoke order of several kanji. In this paper, we describe the design rationale for Radical Tunes, and present results from a pilot study comparing a music focused version of the game with one that uses non-musical sound effects. Results show that while both conditions improved players' short-term ability to remember/draw kanji, there were no significant differences in improvement between the conditions. However, the use of music did improve immersion-an important factor related to learning. This work has implications for designers of second language acquisition games, and how they can incorporate rhythm and music into their games to increase player engagement.
Edward Melcer
added 2 research items
While recent work has begun to evaluate the efficacy of educational programming games, many common design decisions in these games (e.g., single player gameplay using touchpad or mouse) have not been explored for learning outcomes. For instance, alternative design approaches such as collaborative play and embodied interaction with tangibles may also provide important benefits to learners. To better understand how these design decisions impact learning and related factors, we created an educational programming game that allows for systematically varying input method and mode of play. In this paper, we describe design rationale for mouse and tangible versions of our game, and report a 2x2 factorial experiment comparing efficacy of mouse and tangible input methods with individual and collaborative modes of play. Results indicate tangibles have a greater positive impact on learning, situational interest, enjoyment, and programming self-beliefs. We also found collaborative play helps further reduce programming anxiety over individual play.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
While there are common design decisions in existing games for teaching Computer Science (single player puzzle based games for the touchpad/keyboard and mouse), recent work has suggested that alternative approaches such as collaborative play and physically embodied designs may also provide important benefits to learners. In order to explore how making interactions with an educational programming game more physically embodied could impact collaborative play, we created an educational programming game called Bots & (Main)Frames. We then conducted a preliminary study to examine if the level designs achieved desired challenge and explore how two versions of the game with different forms of physical embodiment/input (e.g., mouse vs. tangible programming blocks) impacted player interactions underlying collaboration. We found that game levels seem to provide desired increasing challenge, and that players often used the mouse and tangible programming blocks to aid communication/collaboration in distinctly different ways.
Edward Melcer
added a project goal
Understand how different forms of physical embodiment and interaction in educational games impact player learning, problem-solving, performance, and emotional outcomes.
 
Edward Melcer
added a research item
Computer Science (CS) and related skills such as programming and Computational Thinking (CT) have recently become topics of global interest, with a large number of programming games created to engage and educate players. However, there has been relatively limited work to assess 1) the efficacy of such games with respect to critical educational factors such as enjoyment and programming self-beliefs; and 2) whether there are advantages to alternative, physically embodied design approaches (e.g., tangibles as input). To better explore the benefits of a tangible approach, we built and tested two versions of an educational programming game that were identical in design except for the form of interaction (tangible programming blocks vs. mouse input). After testing 34 participants, results showed that while both game versions were successful at improving programming self-beliefs, the tangible version corresponded to higher self-reports of player enjoyment. Overall, this paper presents a comparison between the efficacy of tangible and mouse design approaches for improving key learning factors in educational programming games.
Edward Melcer
added a research item
There has been increasing attention paid to the necessity of Computational Thinking (CT) and CS education in recent years. To address this need, a broad spectrum of animation programming environments and games have been created to engage learners. However, most of these tools are designed for the touchpad/mouse and keyboard, and few have been evaluated to assess their efficacy in developing CT/programming skills. This is problematic when trying to understand the validity of such designs for CS education, and whether there are alternative approaches that may prove more effective. My dissertation work helps address this problem. After creating a framework based on a meta-review that carefully dissects embodiment strategies in learning games, I am building and evaluating tangible and augmented reality versions of a CT game. I plan to examine how these different forms of physical interaction help to facilitate and enhance meaning-making during the learning process, and whether/how they improve related learning factors such as self-beliefs and enjoyment.
Edward Melcer
added 4 research items
Due to a broad conceptual usage of the term embodiment across a diverse variety of research domains, existing embodied learning games and simulations utilize a large breadth of design approaches that often result in seemingly unrelated systems. This becomes problematic when trying to critically evaluate the usage and effectiveness of embodiment within existing designs, as well as when trying to utilize embodiment in the design of new games and simulations. In this paper, we present our work on combining differing conceptual and design approaches for embodied learning systems into a unified design framework. We describe the creation process for the framework, explain its dimensions, and provide examples of its use. Our design framework will benefit educational game researchers by providing a unifying foundation for the description, categorization, and evaluation of designs for embodied learning games and simulations.