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Serious Games as Positive Technologies


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Serious games are emerging as innovative tools to promote opportunities for human psychological growth and well-being. The aim of the present paper is to introduce them as Positive Technologies. Positive Technology is an emergent field based on both theoretical and applied research, whose goal is to investigate how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be used to empower the quality of personal experience at three levels: hedonic well-being, eudaimonic well-being and social well-being. As Positive Technologies, serious games can influence both individual and interpersonal experiences by nurturing positive emotions, promoting engagement, as well as enhancing social integration and connectedness. An in-depth analysis of each of these aspects will be presented in the chapter, with the support of concrete examples.
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Handbook of Research
on Applied E-Learning
in Engineering and
Architecture Education
David Fonseca
La Salle Campus Barcelona, Universitat Ramon Llull, Spain
Ernest Redondo
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, BarcelonaTech, Spain
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Chapter 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8803-2.ch006
Serious Games as
Positive Technologies
Serious games are growing rapidly both as an industry and a field of academic research. They have been
able to shape new opportunities for individual and collective learning and training, showing a discrete
effectiveness. Further, serious games have been capable of supporting health and well-being. That is why
they can be considered as positive technologies. Positive Technology is an emergent field whose goal is to
investigate how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be used to empower the quality
of personal experience The aim of the present chapter is to discuss the role of serious games as positive
technology, analyzing how they can influence both individual and interpersonal experiences by fostering
positive emotions, promoting engagement, as well as enhancing social integration and connectedness.
Serious games are digital games used for purposes
other than mere entertainment. Since their infancy
in the late 1990s, they have found important ap-
plications in different areas, such as education,
industry, architecture, engineering, military and
medicine, acquiring a prominent role in the actual
knowledge society (Bergeron, 2006; Ritterfeld,
Cody, & Vorderer, 2009). By fostering continu-
ous learning experiences blended with ludic and
engaging affordances, serious games have in fact
been able to shape new opportunities for individual
and collective learning and training, showing
a discrete effectiveness (Connolly, Boyle, Ma-
cArthur, Hainey, & Boyle, 2012; Girard, Ecalle,
& Magnan, 2013; Wouters, van Nimwegen, van
Oostendorp, & van der Spek, 2013).
Luca Argenton
Center for Studies in Communication Sciences – CESCOM, Italy
Federica Pallavicini
Center for Studies in Communication Sciences – CESCOM, Italy
Fabrizia Mantovani
Center for Studies in Communication Sciences – CESCOM, Italy
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
In particular, serious games have provided suc-
cessful answers to two specific challenges of edu-
cation and training in the 21st century (Bekebrede,
Warmelink, & Mayer, 2011; Prensky, 2003): (a)
the presence of a new generation of learners and
trainees grown up in a fully digitalized society and
(b) the need for a more engaging and motivating
way of imparting skills, knowledge, or attitude that
can be used in the real world (Bergeron, 2006).
Further, serious games have been capable
of supporting wellness and promoting positive
emotions. That is why they can be considered
as “positive technologies” (Argenton, Triberti,
Serino, Muzio, & Riva, 2014). Positive Technol-
ogy is an emergent field based on both theoretical
and applied research, whose goal is to investigate
how Information and Communication Technolo-
gies (ICTs) can be used to empower the quality
of personal experience (Botella et al., 2012; Riva,
Baños, Botella, Wiederhold, & Gaggioli, 2012;
Wiederhold & Riva, 2012). Based on Positive
Psychology theoretical framework (Seligman &
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), Positive Technology
approach claims that technology can increase
emotional, psychological and social well-being.
This assumption opens a totally new perspective
in the traditional digital gaming literature that has
deeply investigated the negative impact of gaming,
with respect to violence (Anderson et al., 2003;
Gentile & Anderson, 2003; Wouters et al., 2013),
addiction (Van Rooij, Meerkerk, Schoenmakers,
Griffiths, & van de Mheen, 2010; Van Rooij,
Schoenmakers, Vermulst, Van Den Eijnden, &
Van De Mheen, 2011) or social isolation (Colwell
& Payne, 2000; Pezzeca, 2009).
The aim of the present chapter is to discuss
the role of serious games as positive technology,
analysing how they can influence both individual
and interpersonal experiences by fostering posi-
tive emotions, promoting engagement, as well as
enhancing social integration and connectedness.
These aspects will be discussed with particular
regard to the field of Engineering and Architecture
Positive Technology is the scientific and applied
approach to the use of technology for improving
well-being and the quality of personal experience
(Botella et al., 2012). This approach is strongly
based on Positive Psychology framework that
emerged as the scientific study of positive personal
experience, positive individual traits, and positive
institutions (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000;
Seligman, 2003). By focusing on human strengths,
healthy processes, and fulfillment, Positive Psy-
chology aims to improve the quality of life, as
well as to increase wellness, and resilience in
individuals, organizations, and societies (Delle
Fave, Massimini, & Bassi, 2011; Seligman, Steen,
Park, & Peterson, 2005). Rather than representing
a new formal sector or a new paradigm, Positive
Psychology is a novel perspective to studying
human behavior where the link with accurate and
scientific methodological practices (Seligman et
al., 2005) has become the engine of interventions
to study and promote the optimal expression of
thought, emotions and behaviors. In particular,
Keyes and Lopez (2002) argued that positive
functioning is a combination of three types of
well-being: (i) hedonic or emotional well-being,
(ii) eudaimonic or psychological well-being, and
(iii) social well-being. This means that Positive
Psychology is mainly focused on three charac-
teristics of personal experience: affective quality,
engagement/actualization, and connectedness.
Based on Positive Psychology assumptions,
Positive Technologies can be used to manipu-
late the quality of human experience through its
structuring, augmentation and/or replacement in
order to generate well-being at these three key
levels (Botella et al., 2012; Wiederhold & Riva,
2012). As a consequence, Positive Technologies
can be classified as follow:
Hedonic Technologies: Mood-altering
devices, which use ICTs to induce positive
and pleasant experiences;
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
Eudaimonic Technologies: Systems de-
signed to support individuals in reaching
engaging and self-actualizing experiences;
Social /Interpersonal Technologies:
Technologies that seek to improve the con-
nectedness between individuals, groups,
and organizations.
The hedonic side of Positive Technology
analyzes the ways technologies can be used to
produce positive emotional states. Unlike nega-
tive emotions that are essential to provide a rapid
response to perceived threats, positive emotions
can expand cognitive-behavioral repertoires and
help to build resources that contribute to future
success, as highlighted by the “broaden-and-build”
model (Fredrickson, 2000, 2001). According to
Fredrickson, positive emotions broaden, on the one
hand, the organism’s possibilities with undefined
response tendencies that may lead to adaptive
behaviors and mitigate the impact of negative
stressors. The elicitations of positive emotions, for
example, make attentional processes more holistic
and gestaltic (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005),
stimulate a more flexible, intuitive, receptive and
creative thinking (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Brani-
gan, & Tugade, 2000). Moreover, by encouraging
a broadened range of actions, positive emotions
build over time enduring physical, psychological,
and social resources. For example, correlation with
a faster recovery from cardiovascular diseases
(Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998), an increase
of immune function and lower levels of cortisol
have been highlighted (Tugade & Fredrickson,
Fredrickson, 2004). Moreover, the presence of
positive emotions is an effective predictor of the
level of happiness of individuals (Fredrickson &
Joiner, 2002) and longevity (Pressman & Cohen,
2005), triggering a virtuous circle, that implements
the possible use of other positive experiences.
Different devices have proven to be effective
from this point of view. For example, the Butler
Project, a technological e-health platform designed
to deliver health care to the elderly (Botella et al.,
2009) appeared to be effective in promoting posi-
tive emotions and decreasing negative feelings.
The platform is able to support user experience
on three levels: diagnosis (mood monitoring, alert
system, management reports), therapy (training
in inducing positive moods, memory work), and
entertainment (e-mail, chat, video, photo albums,
music, friend forums, accessibility to the Internet).
Other studies explored the potentiality of emerging
mobile devices to exploit the potential of positive
emotions (Serino, Cipresso, Gaggioli, & Riva,
2013). For instance, Grassi, Gaggioli, & Riva
(2009), showed that relaxing narratives supported
by multimedia mobile phones were effective to
enhance relaxation and reduce anxiety in a sample
of commuters. Further, the role of emotions in
human-computer interaction has been deepened
by emerging trends such as engineering aesthet-
ics (Liu, 2003; Locher, Overbeeke, & Wensveen,
2010; Sonderegger & Sauer, 2010). Since aesthetic
experiences are those that are immersive, infused
with meaning, and felt as coherent and complete
(Parrish, 2009), this approach is focused under-
standing how interfaces on the creation of artifacts
that are attractive and pleasurable. In a study made
by Sonderegger & Sauer (2010), two functionally
identical mobile phones were manipulated with
regard to their visual appearance (highly appealing
vs not appealing) to determine the influence of
appearance on perceived usability, performance
measures and perceived attractiveness. Results
showed that the visual appearance of the phone
had a positive effect both on and the perception
of usability and performance, leading to reduced
task completion times for the appealing models.
On the basis of Russell’s model, many re-
searchers have acknowledged the possibility to
modify the affective quality of an experience by
manipulating the “core affect” (Russell & Barrett,
1999; Russell, 2003). This is a neurophysiological
state corresponding to the combination of hedonic
valence and arousal that endows individuals with
a sort of “core knowledge” about the emotional
features of their emotional experience. The “core
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
affect” can be experienced as free-floating (mood)
or attributed to some causes (and thereby begins
an emotional episode).
In this view, an emotional response is the at-
tribution of a change in the core affect given to a
specific object (affective quality).
Recent researches showed that the core affect
could be manipulated by Virtual Reality (VR).
In particular, Riva and Colleagues tested the
potentiality of Virtual Reality (VR) in inducing
specific emotional responses, including positive
moods (Riva et al., 2007) and relaxing states (Vil-
lani, Lucchetta, Preziosa, & Riva, 2009; Villani,
Riva, & Riva, 2007). Other studies have combined
Mood Induction Procedures (procedures designed
to provoke transitional mood states in non-natural
situations in a controlled manner) (Velten, 1968)
with Virtual Reality to induce positive emotions,
like happiness and relaxation (Baños et al., 2006).
As noted by Serino and colleagues (Serino et
al., 2013), the potential advantages of using VR
technology in inducing positive emotions are
essentially two:
Interactivity: To motivate participants, in-
cluding video and auditory feedback;
Manipulability: To tailor each session in
order to evaluate user’s idiosyncratic char-
acteristics and to increase task complexity
as appropriate.
The second area positive technologies are
strongly connected is eudaimonic well-being.
Eudaimonic well-being is associated with the
possibility to fully realize human potential through
the exercise of personal virtues in pursuit of
goals that are meaningful to the individual and
society (Delle Fave et al., 2011). Thus, this ap-
proach focuses on the growth of individuals as a
whole, rather than merely emphasizing the pursuit
to pleasure and comfort. Happiness no longer
coincides with a subjective form of well-being,
but with a psychological one. This is based on 6
elements (Diener, 2000; Diener, Sapyta, & Suh,
1998; Pavot & Diener, 2008):
Self-Acceptance: Characterized by aware-
ness and a positive attitude towards person-
al qualities and multiple aspects of the self,
including unpleasant ones;
Positive Relationships with Others:
Determined by the ability to develop and
maintain social stable relationships and to
cultivate empathy, collaboration and mu-
tual trust;
Autonomy: Reflected by the ability of seek-
ing self-determination, personal authority,
or independence against conformism;
Environmental Mastery: Based on the
ability to change the external environment,
and to adapt it to personal needs or goals;
Purpose in Life: Marked by the presence
of meaningful goals and aims in the light
of which daily decisions are taken;
Personal Growth: Achievable throughout
a continuous pursuit of opportunities for
personal development.
Another author that has fully interpreted the
complexity of the eudaimonic perspective is
Positive Psychology pioneer Mihaly Csikszent-
mihalyi who formalized the concept of flow.
The term expresses the feeling of fluidity, and
continuity in concentration and action reported
by most individuals in the description of this state
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). In particular, flow,
or optimal experience, is a positive, complex
and highly structured state of deep involvement,
absorption, and enjoyment (Jackson & Csik-
szentmihalyi, 1999). The basic feature of this
experience is a dynamic equilibrium perceived
between high environmental action opportunities
(challenges) and adequate personal resources in
facing them (skills). Additional characteristics are
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
deep concentration, clear rules and unambiguous
feedback from the task at hand, loss of reflective
self-consciousness, control of one’s actions and
environment, alteration of temporal experience,
and intrinsic motivation.
Scholars in the field of human–computer
interaction are starting to recognize and address
the eudaimonic challenge too. For example, Rog-
ers calls for a shift from “proactive computing”
to “proactive people,” where “technologies are
designed not to do things for people but to engage
them more actively in what they currently do”
(Rogers, 1990). Moreover, the theory of flow has
been extensively used to study user experience with
Information and Communication Technologies.
It is the case of internet (Chen, Wigand, & Nilan,
2000), virtual reality (Sanchez-Vives & Slater,
2005), social networks (Mauri, Cipresso, Balgera,
Villamira, & Riva, 2011), and video-games (Admi-
raal, Huizenga, Akkerman, & Dam, 2011; Jegers,
2007; Nacke & Lindley, 2009). In fact, all these
media are able to support the emergence of a flow
state, as they offer an immediate opportunity for
action, and the possibility to create increasingly
challenging tasks, with specific rules, as well as
the opportunity to calibrate an appropriate and
multimodal feedback.
In addition, some researchers have drawn paral-
lels between the experience of flow and the sense
of presence, conceived as the subjective perception
of “being there” in a virtual environment (Slater,
1999). Both experiences have been described as
absorbing states, marked by a merging of action
and awareness, loss of self-consciousness, and
high involvement and focused attention on the
ongoing. On these premises, Riva and colleagues
postulated the power of “transformation-of-flow”-
based strategies (Riva et al., 2012). They can be
conceived as individuals’ ability to draw upon an
optimal experience induced by technology, and to
use it to promote new and unexpected psychologi-
cal resources and sources of involvement.
At the third level, the challenge for Positive
Technology is concerned with the use of new
media to support and improve the connectedness
between individuals, groups, and organizations,
and to create a mutual sense of awareness. This is
essential to the feeling that other participants are
there, and to create a strong sense of community
at a distance. Short and colleagues (Short, Wil-
liams, & Christie, 1976) introduce the term “social
presence” to indicate the degree of salience of
the other person in a mediated environment and
the consequent salience of their interpersonal
interaction. On this point, Riva and colleagues
(Riva et al., 2007) argued that an individual is
present within a group if he/she is able to put his/
her own intentions (presence) into practice and
to understand the intentions of the other group
members (social presence). Techniques to promote
such a “sense of being with another” throughout
a medium have a long history, going back to the
first stone sculptures that evoked a sense of some
other being in the mind of an ancestral observer.
Assembling these basic concepts with the
potential of the world wide web in its most recent
version (web 2.0), enterprise 2.0 was born in the
business context. It implies the emerging use of
social software platforms within companies to
facilitate the achievement of business objectives
(McAfee, 2009). Thus, Enterprise 2.0 allows to
work on reputation, (by both monitoring the inter-
nal reality of the organization, and identifying the
dynamics implemented by external stakeholders
and audiences), collaboration (by developing inter-
nal communities), communication (by stimulating
the development of interactive exchanges), and
connectedness (by enriching the relational and
logical transmission of information).
Other interesting phenomena linked to the
interpersonal dimension are crowdsourcing and
Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs). The
former represents an online, distributed problem-
solving and production model that indicates the
procurement of a set of tasks to a particularly broad
and undefined group of individuals, called to col-
laborate through Web 2.0 tools (Estelles-Arolas &
Gonzalez-Ladron-de-Guevara, 2012). The latter,
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
indicates a “cyber-team of self-motivated people
with a collective vision, enabled by the Web to
collaborate in achieving a common goal by shar-
ing ideas, information and works” (Gloor, 2007).
All these technologies can promote the devel-
opment of a peak collaborative state experienced
by the group as a whole and known as “networked
flow” (Gaggioli, Riva, Milani, & Mazzoni, 2013).
Sawyer (2003, 2008), who referred to this state
with the term of group flow, identified several
conditions that facilitate its occurrence: the pres-
ence of a common goal, close listening, complete
concentration, control, blending egos, equal
participation, familiarity, communication and the
potential for failure. As noted by Gaggioli and
colleagues (2013), networked flow occurs when
high levels of presence and social presence are
matched with a state of “liminality”. In particular,
three pre-conditions have to be satisfied:
Group members share common goals and
emotional experiences so that individual
intentionality becomes a we-intention able
to inspire and guide the whole group;
Group members experience a state limin-
ality, a state of “being about” that breaks
the homeostatic equilibrium previously
Group members identify in the ongoing ac-
tivity the best affordances to overcome the
situation of liminality.
As noted by the World Health Organization (1948),
health is a state of complete physical, mental and
social well-being and not merely the absence of
disease or infirmity. Serious games have proven
to be strongly related to maintaining and restoring
good health (Brox, Fernandez-Luque, & Tøllefsen,
2011; McCallum, 2012; Stapleton, 2004; Watt-
anasoontorn, Boada, García, & Sbert, 2013). For
example, according to the taxonomy proposed by
Wattanasoontorn and colleagues (2013), they can
support patients by monitoring health, detecting
irregular symptoms, treating physical and mental
Figure 1. Serious Games as Positive Technologies
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
issues and contributing to the rehabilitation pro-
cess. Further, serious games can assist people to
increase their well-being, physically, mentally and
socially (Brooks, Brahnam, & Jain, 2014). As a
consequence, they are able to address the three
main challenges identified by Positive Technology.
The Hedonic Challenge
Games can elicit several emotional states (Anolli,
Mantovani, Confalonieri, Ascolese, & Peveri,
2010). Many representations of players’ affec-
tive states have been used in previous studies like
anxiety, frustration, engagement, distress scales,
and the valence-arousal space (Anderson & Ford,
1986; Freeman, 2004). However, serious Games
and games in general are strictly connected to
positive emotions, and to a wide variety of pleas-
ant situational responses that make gameplay the
direct emotional opposite of depression (McGo-
nigal, 2010).
At first, serious games can evoke a sensorial
pleasure throughout graphics, usability, game
aesthetic, visual and narrative stimuli. Secondly,
serious games foster an epistemophilic pleasure
by bridging curiosity with the desire of novelty
within a protected environment where individuals
can experience the complexity of their self, and
developing mastery and control. In other words,
they are able to recreate a “magic circle” (Huiz-
inga, 1950) that enforces individual agency, self-
confidence and self-esteem (Anolli et al., 2010),
by sustaining a process of acknowledgement of
personal ability to perform well, solve problems,
and manage with difficulties. Hence, empowered
by new media affordances and possibilities, seri-
ous games can promote a dynamic equilibrium
between excitement and security.
Thirdly, serious games promote the pleasure
for victory and, by supporting virtual interactions
with real people, they nurture a social pleasure,
promoting collaborative and competitive dynam-
ics, communication and sharing opportunities,
even outside the context of the game (Anolli et
al., 2010).
Games have also been traditionally recognized
as marked by a cathartic pleasure as they represent
a relief valve for emotional tensions, anger and
aggressiveness (Wouters et al., 2013).
Finally, pleasure has a neural counterpart. An
interesting example is that of dopamine, a neu-
rotransmitter that affects the flow of information
in the brain and that is often involved in pleasant
experiences, as well as in different forms of addic-
tion and learning. In a classic study made by Koepp
and colleagues to monitor the effects of video
games on brain activity, a significant increase of
dopamine (found in a quantity comparable only
to that determined by taking amphetamines) was
measured (Koepp et al., 1998).
Good examples of Serious Games explicitly
designed to foster positive emotion are The Jour-
ney to Wild Divine” (
The_Journey_to_Wild_Divine.html) and Eye Spy:
the Matrix, Wham!, and Grow your Chi!, developed
in Dr Baldwin’s Lab at McGill University (http://
selfesteemgame In The Journey to Wild Divine the
integration between usable biofeedback sensors
and a computer software allows individuals to
enhance their subjective wellbeing throughout a
3D graphic adventure. Here, wise mentors teach
the skills to reduce stress, and increase physical
and mental health.
Eye Spy: the Matrix, Wham!, and Grow your
Chi! are indeed projects whose goal is to empower
people with low self-esteem respectively by work-
ing on ignoring rejection information, throughout
positive conditioning, or by focusing on positive
social connections (Baccus, Baldwin, & Packer,
2004; Dandeneau & Baldwin, 2004).
Further, knowledge and awareness of hedonic
principles can be fundamental to enhance learn-
ing effectiveness and retention (Connolly, Boyle,
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
MacArthur, Hainey, & Boyle, 2012). For example,
in the field of software engineering typical lectures
allows only passive learning and both projects
and practice exercises are not enough to help
students to cope with many of the issues the will
face when working on real-world software engi-
neering processes (Armarego, 2002). To address
this problem, Baker, Navarro and van der Hoek
(2005) developed Problems and Programmers,
an educational card game that simulates the
complexity of software engineering process. The
authors emphasized the role of both pleasure for
victory and social pleasure by making the game
highly competitive: each player wears the shoes of
project manager that has to complete the project
before any of the opponents do. To achieve such
a complex goal, users have to manage a complex
range of resources, including time, money and
the client’s demands regarding the reliability of
the produced software. Secondly, sensorial plea-
sure has been taken in deep consideration too.
Entertaining character descriptions, humorous
character illustrations, and unexpected situations
further add to this quality. Another good example
is the one presented by Coller and Scott (Coller
& Scott, 2009) that used the hedonic affordance
of a video-game during a course in mechanical
engineering. Students were given the task of
writing computer programs to race a simulated
car around a track. Results showed that students
using the game demonstrated deeper learning and
spent roughly twice as much time, outside of class,
on their homework.
The Eudaimonic Challenge
Bergeron (Bergeron, 2006) defined serious games
as interactive computer applications, with or with-
out a significant hardware component, that (i) have
challenging goals, (ii) are fun to play with and/
or engaging, (iii) incorporate some concepts of
scoring, (iv) impart to the user skills, knowledge,
or attitude that can be applied in the real world.
Interestingly, all of these aspects can be easily
overlapped to Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow.
Games are in fact “flow activities” (Csikszentmi-
halyi, 1991; 2000) as they are intrinsically able
to provide enjoyable experiences (McGonigal,
2010), creating rules that require the learning of
skills, defining goals, giving feedback, making
control possible, and fostering a sense of curios-
ity and discovery.
In addition, the intrinsic potential of flow
that characterizes serious games can be even
empowered by (i) identifying an information-rich
environment that contains functional real world
demands; (ii) using the technology to enhance the
level of presence of subjects in the environment,
and (iii) allowing the cultivation, by linking this
optimal experience to the actual experience of the
subject (Ijsselsteijn & Riva, 2003). To achieve
the first two steps, it is fundamental to look at
the following game design elements (Sweetser
& Wyeth, 2005):
Concentration: Serious games should
stimulate a mental focus on in-game dy-
namics, by providing a set of engaging,
differentiated and worth-attending stimuli
that limit the influence of external vari-
ables. Along with other aspects, concen-
tration can result in hyperlearning pro-
cesses that consist of the mental ability
to totally focus on the task by using effec-
tive strategies aligned with personal traits
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1991);
Challenge: As noted by Gee (Gee, 2003),
who claims that the game experience
should be “pleasantly frustrating”, chal-
lenges have to match players’ skills/level
and to support their improvement through-
out the game. During specific stages of the
game, “Fish tanks” (stripped down ver-
sions of the real game, where gameplay
mechanisms are simplified) and “Sand
boxes” (versions of the game where there
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
is less likelihood for things to go wrong)
can support this dynamism;
Player Skills: Games must support player
skills and mastery throughout game us-
ability, and specific support systems and
Control: It is fundamental for players to
experience a sense of control over what
they are doing, as well as over the game
interface, and input devices;
Clear Goals: Games should provide play-
ers with specific, measurable, achievable,
responsible and time-bounded goals;
Feedback: Players have to be supported by
feedback on the progress they are making,
on their action, and the ongoing situations
represented in the virtual environment;
Immersion: Players should become less
aware of their surroundings and emotion-
ally involved in the game dynamics;
Social Interaction: Games should cre-
ate opportunities for social interaction by
supporting competition, collaboration, and
sharing among players.
In the field of Engineering and Architecture
Education, the flow model has also been explicitly
used by Mildner et Al. (2012). The game is com-
monly used in classrooms to deliver architectural
knowledge to young students. The player starts
the game in the role of a young student who has
to write an essay on stylistic eras of architecture
and looks for the advice of a professor in the
neighborhood. Before the professor can explain
anything relevant a lab accident happens in which
the student gets trapped in a time machine the
professor possesses. The student then travels
through different time epochs where he can
directly experience 3D models of building and
architectures. In order to travel back to the present
time the player has to collect energy modules to
fully repair the time machine. In contrast to other
educational games where learning and fun phases
are strictly separated, the game avoids this distinc-
tion: the knowledge itself is implicitly embedded
into the game’s story line. This is fundamental to
foster flow in terms of concentration, control, and
immersion. Further, the game was developed to
dynamically adapt task difficulty to the player’s
skill level. A tutoring system was chosen so that
the player can actively ask for help if he or she is
stuck at a certain point. Similarly, the game can
automatically detect if a player needs help by
acquiring specific performance measure, like the
time the player needs for solving a task.
In the same field, Capture Game (http://www., real-
ized by T-Xchange, referred to the challenge and
skills balance to develop challenging issues for
young architects who wanted to train their manage-
rial skills. In the serious game, complexity comes
from multiple interactions between operational
needs, capability and services that are aligned
with the quality of the action given by the player.
Numerous case studies have been realized to
analyze the usefulness of flow as serious games
quality measure (Bellotti, Kapralos, Lee, Moreno-
Ger, & Berta, 2013; Kiili, Lainema, de Freitas, &
Arnab, 2014; Kiili, Perttula, Lindstedt, Arnab, &
Suominen, in press). Results indicated that flow
is an appropriate construct to assess the quality of
game experience (Ermi & Mäyrä, 2005; Oksanen,
2014) and that its measurement can facilitate
game evaluation and design practices (Bergeron,
2006; Kiili et al., 2014), especially for eudaimonic
serious games.
Another interesting example of an eudaimonic
serious game is Reach Out Central (ROC), devel-
oped by (http://www.reachoutpro.
com). It is a Cognitive-Behaviour therapy game
that encourages users to develop psychological
well-being. Studied for young people aged 14-
24, ROC is a single-player role play game with
innovative 3D graphics and real-life scenarios
and characters. Here, players can see how their
decisions and reactions affect their moods, and
apply skills they learn offline in their day-to-day
lives. An evaluation conducted by Shandley and
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
colleagues (Shandley, Austin, Klein, & Kyrios,
2010; Shandley, Klein, & Austin, 2008) found
that ROC reduced psychological distress, alcohol
use, and improved life satisfaction, resilience, and
problem-solving abilities. Another great example
is Superbetter, developed by Jane McGonigal
( SuperBetter helps
people their life goals by working on personal
resilience. The application of the aforementioned
elements supports people being curious, optimistic
and motivated and promotes high levels of user
The Social Challenge
Cantamesse, Galimberti, & Giacoma (Can-
tamesse, Galimberti, & Giacoma, 2011) examined
the effect of playing the online game World of
Warcraft (WoW), both on adolescents’ social
interaction and on the competence they developed
on it. The in-game interactions, and in particular
conversational exchanges, turn out to be a collab-
orative path of the joint definition of identities and
social ties, with reflection on in-game processes
and out-game relationships. Other good examples
of specifically designed SGs can be found in the
field of organizational management and education.
For instance, Everest V2 (2011), was developed by
the Harvard Business School to promote leader-
ship and team working, and Woodment (2010) was
presented as an educational web-based collabora-
tive multiplayer SG. Another example is TeamUp
(2013) developed by The Barn in collaboration
with the Delft University of Technology and
Accenture and winner of the SAGANET Award
2013 (Mayer, van Dierendonck, van Ruijven, &
Wenzler, 2013). In the field of both architecture
and engineering, various collaborative interfaces
have been developed for spatial planning. For
example, Simlandscape (Ligtenberg, de Vries,
Vreenegoor, & Bulens, 2010) is a serious game
that aims at using real geo-information and helping
students to develop real area plan-scenarios and to
be aware of the resulting impact they have on the
areas involved. The whole simlandscape process
takes place in three types of collaborative settings
(Slager, Ligtenberg, de Vries, & de Waard, 2007):
Personal Space: To support the design
and creation of plans in privacy
Joint Space: To support the development
of a coalition between actors to create
plans together
Public Space: To support public plan cre-
ation and plan evaluation
In these games, social presence and networked
flow are fundamental (Brom et al., 2014). These
principles have been also used to support Participa-
tory Design practices (Sanders, 2002), with users
and other stakeholders playing a key role in all the
stages relating to design, development and evalu-
ation of a specific project (Corrigan, Zon, Maij,
McDonald, & Mårtensson, 2014). Participatory
Design can improve communication, control of
the project, innovation and creativity. Connoly
and colleagues (Connolly, Stansfield, & Hainey,
2007) presented the SDSim Game, a serious game
where a team has to manage and deliver a number
of software development projects. In the game each
player has a specific role, such as project manager,
systems analyst, systems designer or team leader
with specific tasks. During the game, the team is
provided with background information and must
produce an high-level product that addresses the
clientsrequirements and manage a limited amount
of resources. To do so, players must move through
game-levels, interact among them and ‘talk’ to the
nonplayer characters (NPCs) in the game.
Some studies have addressed the relation-
ship between social presence and immersion in
games finding controversial results (Cairns, Cox,
Day, Martin, & Perryman, 2013; Oksanen, 2014;
Sweetser & Wyeth, 2005; Yoo & Alavi, 2001).
On the one hand, there are those who claim that
the presence of others, even mediated via online
play, would require players to think about the
other players and so draw their attention away
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
from the thinking about the game, determining
low level of immersion (Sweetser & Wyeth,
2005). Other studies have indeed highlighted the
opposite. For example, Cairns et al. (2013) run
three experiments that showed that players were
more immersed when playing against another
person than playing against a computer and that
there was not significant different in the levels of
immersion whether the other person was present in
the room or not. Similarly, Oksanen (2014) found
that the sociability of the environment strengthen
the emergence of social presence and that it can
also contribute to the formation of positive game
experiences. Moreover, social presence has a
specific role, particularly in collaborative games,
to open communication, critical thinking, group
cohesion, supportive interaction and negotiation
(Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003, 2002).
High levels of social presence are predictors of
learning (Gunawardena, 1995) and they are cor-
related to high levels of enjoyment (Gajadhar,
de Kort, & IJsselsteijn, 2008), social interaction
(Tu & McIsaac, 2002) and group cohesion (Yoo
& Alavi, 2001).
Serious games are digital games used for purposes
other than mere entertainment. By using the latest
simulation and visualization technologies, SGs
are able to contextualize the player’s experience
in stimulating and realistic environments (situ-
ated cognition) (Bellotti et al., 2013) that foster
practical learning experiences blended with ludic
and engaging affordances.
In this paper we discussed the role of serious
games as positive technologies. According to
Positive Psychology theoretical framework and
Positive Technology approach, we explored how
these applications are able to promote hedonic
well-being, eudaimonic well-being and social
First of all, serious games can foster posi-
tive emotional states by enhancing the different
forms of pleasure they are intrinsically made of.
In particular, we discussed the importance of
sensorial, epistemophilic, social, cathartic and
neural pleasure.
Secondly, serious applications for computer
game technologies can be associated with flow
experiences and, thus, with eudaimonic well-
being. Throughout high level of presence and
flow, serious games can, in fact, promote optimal
experiences marked by absorption, engagement,
and enjoyment. Numerous studies have been real-
ized to analyze the usefulness of flow as serious
games quality measure (Bellotti, Kapralos, Lee,
Moreno-Ger, & Berta, 2013; Kiili, Lainema, de
Freitas, & Arnab, 2014; Kiili, Perttula, Lindstedt,
Arnab, & Suominen, in press). Results indicated
that flow is an appropriate construct to assess
the quality of game experience (Ermi & Mäyrä,
2005; Oksanen, 2014) and that its measurement
can facilitate game evaluation and design practices
(Bergeron, 2006; Kiili et al., 2014), especially for
eudaimonic serious games.
Finally, serious games are able to increase
connectedness and integration. To achieve such
a complex goal they have to work on a mutual
sense of awareness, as well as social presence
and situations of liminality. In this way, groups
can access high levels of social interaction and
peak creative states, known as networked flow
experiences, that are based on shared goals and
emotions, collective intentions, and proactive
behaviors. These experiences have a specific
role, particularly in collaborative games, to open
communication, critical thinking, group cohesion,
supportive interaction and negotiation (Kreijns,
Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003, 2002). High levels
of social presence and networked flow are predic-
tors of learning (Gunawardena, 1995) and they are
correlated to high levels of enjoyment (Gajadhar,
de Kort, & IJsselsteijn, 2008), social interaction
(Tu & McIsaac, 2002) and group cohesion (Yoo
& Alavi, 2001).
Serious Games as Positive Technologies
On the one hand, knowledge and awareness of
hedonic, eudaimonic and social principles can be
both fundamental to enhance learning effective-
ness and retention (Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur,
Hainey, & Boyle, 2012). For example, in the field
of engineering and architecture typical lectures
allows only passive learning and both projects and
practice exercises are not enough to help students
to cope with many of the issues the will face when
working on real-world challenges (Armarego,
2002). An effective balance of the three levels
can support students not only to become active
and engaged learners, but also to improve their
well-being and contribute to the development of
sustainable communities of practices.
On the other, the concrete application of Posi-
tive Technology principles may be fundamental
to improve user-centered design models. One
of the most important aspects to analyse when
considering serious and computer games from a
scientific point of view is game experience (Poels,
De Kort, & Ijsselsteijn, 2007; Sweetser & Wyeth,
2005; Takatalo, Nyman, & Laaksonen, 2008). At-
tempts to clearly define the construct are indeed
scarce and the wide variety of games genres and
the complex, subjective and dynamic nature of the
idea of experience (Takatalo et al., 2008) makes
it hard to find a common definition. However,
many authors agree (Coller & Scott, 2009; De
Kort, Ijsselsteijn, & Poels, 2007; Ermi & Mäyrä,
2005) on the importance of elements like positive
affects, flow and social presence that are central
in the Positive Technology framework.
Despite the impressive growth of SGs ap-
plications, only a few of them have been tested
and scientifically considered from an empirical
point of view. This is a major challenge for future
research and investigation. Positive Technology
approach can address this issue not only by cre-
ating a concrete background for both theoretical
and applied research, but also supporting game
design processes.
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Eudaimonic Technologies: Systems designed
to support individuals in reaching engaging and
self-actualizing experiences.
Flow: It is a positive, complex and highly
structured state of deep involvement, absorp-
tion, and enjoyment. The basic feature of this
experience is a dynamic equilibrium perceived
between high environmental action opportunities
(challenges) and adequate personal resources in
facing them (skills). Additional characteristics are
deep concentration, clear rules and unambiguous
feedback from the task at hand, loss of reflective
self-consciousness, control of one’s actions and
environment, alteration of temporal experience,
and intrinsic motivation.
Hedonic Technologies: Mood-altering de-
vices, which use ICTs to induce positive and
pleasant experiences.
Positive Technology: It is an emergent field
based on both theoretical and applied research,
whose goal is to investigate how Information and
Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be used
to empower the quality of personal experience.
Positive technology approach claims that technol-
ogy can increase emotional, psychological and
social well-being.
Social/Interpersonal Technologies: Tech-
nologies that seek to improve the connectedness
between individuals, groups, and organizations.
Social Presence: The degree of salience of the
other person in a mediated environment and the
consequent salience of their interpersonal interac-
tion. An individual is present within a group if he/
she is able to put his/her own intentions (presence)
into practice and to understand the intentions of
the other group members (social presence).
... Beyond RPGs, studies on eudaimonia also focused on serious games with educational or health purposes. Previous scholarship has identified this type of game as a positive technology that can lead to eudaimonic experiences like personal growth or finding purpose in life as well as eudaimonic well-being (Argenton et al., 2016). Furthermore, action-adventure games such as The Last of Us were also studied often in relation to eudaimonia, which might be explained by their inclusion of emotional storylines that can lead to eudaimonic responses (e.g., Bopp et al., 2016;Kümpel & Unkel, 2017). ...
Conference Paper
Eudaimonia (i.e., orienting towards or experiencing meaning, virtue, personal growth, and other worthwhile aspects of life) has recently received a great deal of academic interest in the field of media entertainment, especially for the medium of digital games. While a recent scoping review has improved the conceptual clarity on what constitutes eudaimonia in a gaming context, a broader overview of the literature on eudaimonia in digital games research is still lacking. Therefore, we conducted a literature review of 165 records, synthesizing game, theoretical, and methodological information of the included studies as well as examining which predictors and outcomes of eudaimonic game experiences the studies identified. We found a broad range of established and less studied eudaimonic concepts in the reviewed studies, a main focus on eudaimonic experiences overshadowing the interest in eudaimonic motivations, and a variety of game types that can elicit eudaimonia. The review also reveals a lack of theoretical foundation related to both eudaimonia in general and eudaimonia in a gaming context. Finally, the predictors and outcomes related to eudaimonia were mostly connected to in-game or entertainment situations, neglecting the real-world impact these experiences might have. Contributions and future research suggestions are further discussed.
Full-text available
People are more and more using social networking sites (SNSs) like Facebook and MySpace to engage with others. The use of SNSs can have both positive and negative effect on the individual; however, the increasing use of SNSs might reveal that people look for SNSs because they have a positive experience when they use them. Few studies have tried to identify which particular aspects of the social networking experience make SNSs so successful. In this study we focus on the affective experience evoked by SNSs. In particular, we explore whether the use of SNSs elicits a specific psychophysiological pattern. Specifically, we recorded skin conductance, blood volume pulse, electroencephalogram, electromyography, respiratory activity, and pupil dilation in 30 healthy subjects during a 3-minute exposure to (a) a slide show of natural panoramas (relaxation condition), (b) the subject's personal Facebook account, and (c) a Stroop and mathematical task (stress condition). Statistical analysis of the psychophysiological data and pupil dilation indicates that the Facebook experience was significantly different from stress and relaxation on many linear and spectral indices of somatic activity. Moreover, the biological signals revealed that Facebook use can evoke a psychophysiological state characterized by high positive valence and high arousal (Core Flow State). These findings support the hypothesis that the successful spread of SNSs might be associated with a specific positive affective state experienced by users when they use their SNSs account.
Full-text available
The measurement of the subjective playing experience is important part of the game development process. The enjoyment level that a serious game offers is a key factor in determining whether the player will be engaged in the gameplay and achieve the objectives of the game. In this paper the usefulness of flow experience in evaluating the quality of physically activating problem-solving game was studied. The aim of the paper is to explore to what extend the flow experience can facilitate the game evaluation and design process. In the study 53 junior high school students played a cooperative exergame designed to teach collaboration and communication skills. Students’ playing experience was measured with a flow questionnaire and playing behavior was also observed. In general, the results indicated that the measurement of the flow experience can reveal shortages of the game and that way aid the design process. However, although the level of flow tells about the overall quality of the playing experience, the flow measurements needs to be extended with other aspects in order to be able to evaluate the implementation of the game more deeply.
Full-text available
This chapter introduces the intersection between serious games, alternative realities, and play therapy as it promotes well-being. A summary of the chapters included in this book is also presented.
At the heart of emotion, mood, and any other emotionally charged event are states experienced as simply feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. These states - called core affect - influence reflexes, perception, cognition, and behavior and are influenced by many causes internal and external, but people have no direct access to these causal connections. Core affect can therefore be experienced as free-floating (mood) or can be attributed to some cause (and thereby begin an emotional episode). These basic processes spawn a broad framework that includes perception of the core-affect-altering properties of stimuli, motives, empathy, emotional meta-experience, and affect versus emotion regulation; it accounts for prototypical emotional episodes, such as fear and anger, as core affect attributed to something plus various nonemotional processes.
Group Creativity explores the unique form of creativity that emerges from collaborating groups. Dr. Sawyer draws on his studies of jazz ensembles and improvisational theater groups to develop a model of creative group processes. He applies this model of group creativity to a wide range of collaborating groups, including group learning in classrooms and innovative teams in organizations.