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Virtual landscape has a prominent role in digital games' virtual environment design. Since the attributes of the virtual landscape directly affect a game's characteristics, it is crucial to be explored as a design domain, apart from just being a tool for other domains' development. This study traces the gradual change of the virtual landscape in educational games and the chronological change of their carrying content, till now a gap in the literature. To examine the effect of the virtual landscape evolution and the invention of the virtual reality (VR) technology on the intended topic of the education transmitted by the games, we classified all Steam games with the education tag based on KIM'S (2016) methodology. To do so, we transmitted their introductory information, whether they support VR and are simulation games or not, to an Excel database. Then we sorted them from 1992 till 2020. The virtual landscape classification methodology revealed a significant relationship between the content, VR technology, and the virtual landscape transformation. The study anticipates a future revolution in the landscape architecture domain by jumping into the digital game industry to enhance the virtual landscape for the sake of itself, not other disciplines.
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Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture, 7-2022, pp. 435-442. © Wichmann Verlag, VDE VERLAG GMBH ·
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Pattern Analysis of Virtual Landscape within
Educational Games
Sepehr Vaez Afshar1, Sarvin Eshaghi2, Ikhwan Kim3
1Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul/Turkey · afshar19@itu.edu.tr
2Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul/Turkey · eshaghi18@itu.edu.tr
3Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul/Turkey · iikimss3@gmail.com
Abstract: Virtual landscape has a prominent role in digital games' virtual environment design. Since
the attributes of the virtual landscape directly affect a game's characteristics, it is crucial to be explored
as a design domain, apart from just being a tool for other domains' development. This study traces the
gradual change of the virtual landscape in educational games and the chronological change of their
carrying content, till now a gap in the literature. To examine the effect of the virtual landscape evolution
and the invention of the virtual reality (VR) technology on the intended topic of the education transmit-
ted by the games, we classified all Steam games with the education tag based on KIM'S (2016) method-
ology. To do so, we transmitted their introductory information, whether they support VR and are sim-
ulation games or not, to an Excel database. Then we sorted them from 1992 till 2020. The virtual land-
scape classification methodology revealed a significant relationship between the content, VR technol-
ogy, and the virtual landscape transformation. The study anticipates a future revolution in the landscape
architecture domain by jumping into the digital game industry to enhance the virtual landscape for the
sake of itself, not other disciplines.
Keywords: Educational games, classification methodology, virtual landscape, virtual reality,
Metaverse
1 Introduction
In the development of digital games as one of the biggest and fastest-growing industries in
the world (HUDRASYAH et al. 2019), the virtual landscape (KIM 2019), or with its novel sta-
tus, a Metaverse (DIONISIO et al. 2013), accounts for a large portion of the process and plays
a prominent role. Its design is equivalent to the whole game's development in terms of re-
quired effort (CHOI 2012), and its characteristics directly modify the entire game's attributes
(APPERLEY 2006). While various studies have considered the role of virtual reality in the
landscape architecture or urban planning domain, all of them focus on adopting these tech-
nologies to enhance the quality of real space. However, contrary to the importance of virtual
landscapes in digital games, it is challenging to find research taking virtual landscapes as a
goal to be developed, not as a tool for enhancing other domains. The evolution of the virtual
landscapes within digital games has been continued since their emergence. With the appear-
ance of the first three-dimensional digital games content by the game Battlezone in the 80s
(BOUVIER et al. 2008), their enhancement has continued till the present day. Since the 1930s,
with the arising of the concept of virtual reality (CRUZ-NEIRA et al. 2018), human beings
have started to feel immersed in artificial environments and interact with virtual objects
(BOUVIER et al. 2008).
Due to the characteristics of this technology, its encounter with digital games has gone be-
yond entertainment. According to CRUZ-NEIRA et al. (2018), digital games expanded their
capabilities towards education, paving the way for progress in various fields of study. Ac-
cording to ALVAREZ & DJAOUTI (2011), these contents, which are named educational games
436 Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture · 7-2022
or edutainment, convey educational content along with entertainment. Educational games
were released for the first time by the LOGO Programming game in 1967, educating how to
code, and showing some mathematical concepts. Afterward, Oregon Trail, released in 1974,
was the first game played in the classrooms and had the most significant impact on educa-
tional games' trend. While in that era, the educational games' audience were children, cur-
rently, it has been expanded to all ages (NEEDLEMAN 2017).
However, educational games are still underestimated and have the least number of players
amongst other digital games. Players expect an educational game to be fun to play and gain
popularity (ALLERS 2019). Hence, thanks to the Head-mounted Displays (HMD), while vir-
tual reality increases the player's immersion in entertaining commercial digital games, its
capability in simulating real environments creates the opportunity for riskless and low-cost
learning in educational games (CRUZ-NEIRA et al. 2018). Additionally, thanks to virtual re-
ality technology, the gaming industry developed further towards the concept of Metaverse.
According to DIONISIO et al. (2013), Metaverse, which is more than a single virtual environ-
ment and is the network of integrated 3D virtual environments, provides an alternative world
for human interaction with no restrictions. Gaming with its innovative nature is one of the
reasons for the enhancement of Metaverse. The concept of Metaverse will carry the educa-
tional games beyond including virtual landscapes only as their environments, and education
will directly occur in a Metaverse.
With our previous research experiences of text-based serious games (ESHAGHI et al. 2021,
VAEZ AFSHAR et al. 2021), we understood an inadequacy on the player's interaction level
with the provided educational content and a reluctance to follow the encountered texts. This
lack led us to wonder about the role of virtual landscapes in educational games and their
effect on the data comprehension rate. However, no study or research has been done regard-
ing the gradual change of the virtual landscape in educational games and the content they
transmit chronologically. Hence this research aims to see how virtual landscape in educa-
tional games has gradually evolved and how this change and the invention of virtual reality
technology have affected the intended topic of education transmitted by digital games.
2 Virtual Landscape Classification Methodology
To figure out the changes that have occurred in the virtual landscapes of educational games,
first, it is essential to have an understanding of how it is possible to classify the virtual land-
scape in the digital games. According to literature, in 2016, KIM proposed a classification
methodology for digital games. According to APPERLEY (2006), the characteristics of each
game are defined by the characteristics of its constituent virtual landscapes.
Table 1: Virtual landscape classification methodology by KIM (2016)
Principle
Variable 1
Variable 2
Variable 3
Variable 4
Story
Generating
Representing
Player Scale Single Group Massive
Interaction level None Partial All
Dimension
2D2D
2D3D
3D2D
3D3D
Space shape
Spot
Linear
Chain
Face
S. Vaez Afshar et al.: Pattern Analysis of Virtual Landscape within Educational Games 437
Hence, Kim's methodology, which follows the principles of landscape architecture, architec-
ture, and urban planning to sort a game's type, classifies the virtual landscapes in that digital
game based on five categories and sixteen variables, not the game itself. Table 1 presents the
overall structure of the methodology with standards and variables.
According to KIM (2016), in this classification methodology, the player scale, which indi-
cates the number of simultaneous players in the game, is divided into three variables. While
in a digital game, a single player scale demonstrates only one player is in the virtual land-
scape, two or more users are concurrent game players with a group player scale. Finally, in
a massive game, two or more groups play the game at the same time. In a digital game, the
story can be either generating or representing. In a representing story, the elements in the
virtual landscape have an assisting role in designing the virtual landscape. Contrarily, the
game story is not designed based on the virtual landscape elements in a generating type. In
these types, the player itself generates the game story. The dimension principle, which is
composed of two digits, is representative of the axes in the virtual landscape and the axes in
which the player can move. While the first digit is about the virtual landscape, the second
one demonstrates the player's movement, which both can be 2D or 3D. The space shape with
its four variables defines the player's movement pattern in the virtual landscape. The player
can freely move within a specified boundary if the digital game has a spot space shape in its
virtual landscape. In a linear landscape, the player has a restricted area but a fixed direction,
the same as the spot. While the chain is a mixture of spot and linear shapes, the face is a
virtual landscape that the player can freely move without boundaries. Finally, regarding the
interaction level, there may be no environmental elements for the player to interact within a
virtual landscape. In other types, the player may be allowed to partially interact with a set of
elements or be able to be in touch with any of the objects existing in the virtual landscape
during gameplay. Hence, to classify the virtual landscape of digital games, all these elements
should come together in a six-digit code. From left to right, respectively, the initials of the
variables represent the story, player scale, interaction level, dimension, and space shape.
3 Data Collection and Management
As mentioned, the study wants to examine the role of virtual landscapes in educational games.
To do so, we filtered all existing digital games in Steam, one of the largest game platforms,
with the tag education, and consequently, 2531 entries appeared. However, after adding the
"game" tag, the number decreased to 1102. Afterward, by eliminating some irrelevant con-
tent, which was not educational when examined or didn’t have suitable content, the final
number of games was reduced to 702. We transmitted their introductory information, includ-
ing the content's title, release year, whether they support HMD or not, to an Excel database
and sorted them chronologically. Since the oldest release year in Steam dates back to 1992,
our study focuses on a time spectrum from 1992 till 2020. Additionally, whether something
is a simulation game or not, which means a game that simulates real-world activities (JONES
2013), was further information added to the database (Table 2).
We classified these contents based on the virtual landscape classification methodology (KIM
2016) and coded the games based on their player scale, story, dimension, space shape, and
interaction level. To classify the games and indicate the topic addressed, we observed game-
playing videos in Twitch and YouTube Gaming, professional and popular community hubs
438 Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture · 7-2022
for gamers, or investigated the videos and information provided by the developers in Steam.
Finally, we played them if none of the sources were sufficient.
Table 2: Brief version of raw database
# Game title Year HMD Simulation Subject Result
1
Scrapping Simulator
2020
Yes
Business
GSP33C
2
Powerboat VR
2020
Yes
Boat driving
GGP33C
3
Papa's Quiz
2020
No
General info
RGN32L
.
.
.
702 Word Rescue 1992 No No Kids' learning RSN22S
As a sample, Discovery Tour by Assassin's Creed: Ancient Egypt (Figure 1), released in 2018,
is an educational game with a core content of history. This game, a living museum depicting
ancient Egypt, conveys information about life, habits, and customs there by enabling the
player to explore that world without conflict. This game is a walking simulator, a genre in
which players explore environments accompanied by a set of notes (MCCREE 2020). How-
ever, it does not support an HMD. Its virtual landscape classification code is RSP33F, mean-
ing it is representing in the story, single in player scale, partially interactive, with a 3D en-
vironment enabling player movement in three axes. It is one of the rare games providing a
face space shape, not restricting the player with a boundary.
Fig. 1: Discovery Tour by Assassin's Creed: Ancient Egypt (UBISOFT 2018)
After gathering the required data for all 702 educational games, we managed them to figure
the intended results. Hence, we divided each year's data in a separate Excel sheet and made
pie charts for each column title. We re-designed a new Excel sheet as final statistics using
S. Vaez Afshar et al.: Pattern Analysis of Virtual Landscape within Educational Games 439
the generated graphs. In this table, we calculated the number and percentage of each title for
all the years. Generating a heatmap in the database, we discovered the most and least numbers
to transfer them into line and bar charts for better comprehension. However, we considered
only the three most used ones regarding the subject and result code. The raw data of this
research is available on the researcher's website at the following link: https://bit.ly/3naRf7y.
4 Results
As the result of this research, the graphs demonstrate a yearly increase in the number of
educational games. From 1992 till 2013, only one to three games were released each year.
While this number increased to 11 in 2013, we saw a significant shift in 2020. The total
educational games reached 271 cases in 2020, meaning 188.2% more than 2019 and 2363.6%
more than 2013. The HMD was added to the educational games in 2012 for the first time. In
2020, we had 49 cases using the HMD, 18.1% of all educational games. This amount is nearly
equal to the total cases using HMD from 2012 till 2019. We analyzed what kind of subject
has been taught within the educational games, and we found out that the topics got more
complicated year by year. The educational games started in 1992 with the issue of kids' learn-
ing. During the time with the emergence of the HMD, the subjects like general science, his-
tory, and programming increased among the topics. From 2018 to 2020, the puzzle and mind
games are at the first stage with 10.9%, 8.5%, and 15.1%, respectively. With the increasing
use of HMD in educational games from 2012, we see a significant increase in the simulation
category of educational games. In 2020 we had 88 simulation games which are 32.5% of the
whole games of that year. This number is even more than the total cases from 1992 till 2019.
We spotted the virtual landscape has become more complicated to develop by the growth of
more generating stories within the educational games. Since in a generating story, the player
is free to interact with all the landscape elements, it is not limited to a specific and predefined
idea and needs more consideration to design and develop. Although developers try to manip-
ulate the players' behaviors and actions in the form of generating space, it will be much harder
than just simple representing form. Also, most educational games are suitable for generating
stories instead of developing them as representing forms (Figure 2).
Fig. 2: The growth of the story principle in educational games (1992-2020)
More and more games became group in terms of player scale, but it is still hard to find mas-
sive games within the educational games (Figure 3). Additionally, still, most of the games
have a none interaction level. However, while they became partially interactive more than
ever, it is very hard to find any educational game with an all interaction level (Figure 4).
440 Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture · 7-2022
Fig. 3: The growth of the player scale principle in educational games (1992-2020)
Fig. 4: The growth of the interaction level principle in educational games (1992-2020)
Even though the number of educational games and virtual landscape contents is increasing,
the quality of the space is not very well developed yet. For instance, non interaction or par-
tially interactive 2D2D games, which account for the most released game types, are at the
same time one of the simplest types to develop (Figure 5). Similarly, while the results show
a significant rise in the number of chain and spot games, educational games with a face space
shape are very limited in number (Figure 6).
Fig. 5: The growth of the dimension principle in educational games (1992-2020)
Fig. 6: The growth of the space shape principle in educational games (1992-2020)
S. Vaez Afshar et al.: Pattern Analysis of Virtual Landscape within Educational Games 441
5 Conclusion and Outlook
As the result of this research, we spotted a gradual change pattern in the classification code
of the digital games, depicting how time and developing visualization, modeling, and virtual
reality technologies changed the virtual landscapes within the educational games. The study
revealed an intimate relationship between the virtual landscape revolution and the virtual
reality emergence in educational games with the information they are able to convey as edu-
cational content, as more practical and less needed to be memorized. Also, the appearance of
virtual reality concepts is sensible in the virtual landscape classification codes by increasing
the interaction rate in educational games. It means the interaction level causes a remarkable
change in the code. Additionally, as anticipated before, we spotted an increase in the three-
dimensional codes in the dimension part. Generally, the virtual landscape in educational
games has been more complicated to generate, interactive, and rich.
This research is limited in terms of the broadness of the dating spectrum and comprehensive-
ness of gaming platforms. The results would have been more precise if the examined database
within the study included a variety of platforms for more old games and a broader period
with newer educational games after 2020. Our future studies aim to provide a road map for
educational game developers to increase the educational content retention success rate by
raising the player interaction with the surrounding virtual landscape within the game. While
multiple studies, such as VAEZ AFSHAR et al. (2021), focused on the data retention rate
amongst the players, and some others proposed frameworks for developing quality educa-
tional games (ANNETTA 2010), no research had been done regarding its relationship with the
virtual landscape in the educational games.
Finally, this result is not restricted to educational games only. It is possible to apply the final
pattern to any virtual landscape to increase the interaction rate of the user with the intended
environment. As KIM (2019) mentioned, landscape architecture is currently trying to merge
this new virtual reality technology into its domain. However, this domain is still simply
adopting virtual reality as a tool to help design activities in the real world. Soon, the virtual
landscape will become an additional design domain for landscape architects. When that time
comes in the near future, the result of this research will be a clue and a roadmap to generate
landscapes with high interaction capability for digital games, educational games, virtual re-
ality, or even for Metaverse. Therefore, sooner or later, landscape architects will have a great
role in the virtual landscape within the digital game industry.
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Improving the Popularity of Educational Games Using Optimal Game Development
  • J Allers
  • G R Drevin
  • T Benade
ALLERS, J., DREVIN, G. R. & BENADE, T. (2019), Improving the Popularity of Educational Games Using Optimal Game Development. International Conference on Applied Computing, 2019, 146-154.