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Using Self-Determination Theory to Explore Enjoyment of Educational Interactive Narrative Games: A Case Study of Academical


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Choice-based interactive storytelling games such as Academical, our responsible conduct of research training game, show great promise as a novel way of providing efficacious ethics training. However, much work remains to determine what factors of such games contribute to their advantages over traditional text-based training tools, especially if we hope to further improve their enjoyment, engagement and efficacy. In this article, we present a case study exploring how the motivational factors of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) underlie players’ perceived most and least enjoyable experiences arising from the design of Academical. Specifically, we discuss how certain elements of Academical’s design influence different SDT factors and subsequently player experience, as well as how such elements can be changed to further improve the game. Furthermore, our work highlights potential limitations of existing conceptualizations for the relatedness factor of SDT—discussing ways that it can be extended to properly understand player enjoyment within single-player educational interactive narrative games.
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Using Self-Determination Theory to
Explore Enjoyment of Educational
Interactive Narrative Games: A Case
Study of Academical
Katelyn M. Grasse
*, Max Kreminski
, Noah Wardrip-Fruin
, Michael Mateas
Edward F. Melcer
Alternative Learning Technologies and Games Lab, Computational Media Department, University of California, Santa Cruz,
Santa Cruz, CA, United States,
Expressive Intelligence Studio, Computational Media Department, University of California, Santa
Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
Choice-based interactive storytelling games such as Academical, our responsible conduct
of research training game, show great promise as a novel way of providing efcacious
ethics training. However, much work remains to determine what factors of such games
contribute to their advantages over traditional text-based training tools, especially if we
hope to further improve their enjoyment, engagement and efcacy. In this article, we
present a case study exploring how the motivational factors of Self-Determination Theory
(SDT) underlie playersperceived most and least enjoyable experiences arising from the
design of Academical. Specically, we discuss how certain elements of Academicals
design inuence different SDT factors and subsequently player experience, as well as how
such elements can be changed to further improve the game. Furthermore, our work
highlights potential limitations of existing conceptualizations for the relatedness factor of
SDTdiscussing ways that it can be extended to properly understand player enjoyment
within single-player educational interactive narrative games.
Keywords: interactive narrative, game-based learning, enjoyment, self-determination theory, case study
Choice-based interactive storytelling games are enjoyed by many groups and show great promise as a
novel way of providing efcacious ethics training. For example, we created a choice-based interactive
narrative game, titled Academical, that was designed to teach responsible conduct of research (RCR).
We previously demonstrated that Academical is an effective web-based tool for training the three key
learning outcomes that are thought to drive ethical behaviorconceptual knowledge, moral
reasoning skills, and positive attitudes Grasse et al. (2022). Critically, we showed that our game
can train both cognitive and socio-affective learning outcomes simultaneously, which is a rare
accomplishment for traditional ethics pedagogy Powell et al. (2007),Antes et al. (2010),Plemmons
and Kalichman (2013),Kalichman, (2016). However, much work remains to determine what factors
contribute to the games advantages, especially if we hope to further improve its engagement and
efcacy. Enjoyment is an important experiential concept to evaluate because it can strongly predict a
players feelings of engagement with an educational game Busselle and Bilandzic, (2009),Ainley and
Ainley, (2011), which has been shown to contribute to learning and academic performance in turn
Hamari et al. (2016).
Edited by:
Hartmut Koenitz,
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Reviewed by:
Deborah Richards,
Macquarie University, Australia
Katja Zibrek,
Inria Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique
Research Centre, France
Katelyn M. Grasse
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Virtual Reality and Human Behaviour,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Virtual Reality
Received: 01 January 2022
Accepted: 24 May 2022
Published: 16 June 2022
Grasse KM, Kreminski M,
Wardrip-Fruin N, Mateas M and
Melcer EF (2022) Using Self-
Determination Theory to Explore
Enjoyment of Educational Interactive
Narrative Games: A Case Study
of Academical.
Front. Virtual Real. 3:847120.
doi: 10.3389/frvir.2022.847120
Frontiers in Virtual Reality | June 2022 | Volume 3 | Article 8471201
published: 16 June 2022
doi: 10.3389/frvir.2022.847120
In this article, we present a case study exploring how the
motivational factors of Self-Determination Theory (SDT)
underlie playersperceived most and least enjoyable
experiences arising from the design of Academical. According
to SDT, players can be intrinsically motivated to enjoy and engage
with a game via three basic psychological needs: autonomy,
relatedness, and/or competence (ARC). Since Ryan, Rigby and
Przybylskis seminal paper describing how SDT can be used to
explain the motivational pull of video games Ryan et al. (2006),
much research has demonstrated that each of the ARC factors can
impact playersenjoyment and/or engagement of a game
experience Tamborini et al. (2010),Peng et al. (2012),Azadvar
and Canossa, (2018). However, Tyack and Meklers recent review
of SDT literature from premier game conferences (i.e., CHI and
CHI Play) emphasizes that certain core concepts (e.g.,
relatedness) have received little to no attentionand that few
papers engage with SDT beyond merely descriptive accounts
Tyack and Mekler, (2020). Notably, our work brings to light
potential limitations of existing conceptualizations for the
relatedness factor of SDTdiscussing ways that it can be
extended to properly understand player enjoyment within
single player educational interactive narrative games.
Furthermore, we highlight how this new conceptualization and
overall analysis approach could be benecial to the design and
evaluation of educational interactive narrative games more
2.1 Interactive Storytelling and Learning
Prior work has argued for interactive storytellings power in terms
of providing therapeutic benets Starks et al. (2016),Dias et al.
(2018) and enabling learning experiences through educational
games Weiß and Müller, (2008),Danilicheva et al. (2009),Melcer
et al. (2015),Nguyen et al. (2018),Camingue et al. (2020).
Specically, narrative/storytelling is an important element that
can be incorporated into educational games in order to maintain
and increase studentsmotivation Dickey, (2006),Rowe et al.
(2011),Padilla-Zea et al. (2014), with some suggesting that
integration of a good story into an educational game will
determine its success or failure Göbel et al. (2009). Interactive
storytelling has been incorporated into a number of educational
games focusing on topics such as history Christopoulos et al.
(2011),Song et al. (2012), STEM Danilicheva et al. (2009),Rowe
et al. (2011),Weng et al. (2011),Zhang et al. (2019), and bullying
Aylett et al. (2005),Watson et al. (2007). However, the majority of
research on educational interactive storytelling games has focused
on adaptivity Göbel and Mehm, (2013),Kickmeier-Rust et al.
(2008), interactivity Song et al. (2012),Zhang et al. (2019),
emergent narrative Aylett et al. (2005), player and knowledge
modeling Magerko, (2007),Rowe and Lester, (2010), narrative
planning and generation Riedl et al. (2008),Hodhod et al. (2011),
Wang et al. (2016),Zook et al. (2012), and the game creation
process itself Spierling, (2008),Christopoulos et al. (2011),Diez
and Melcer (2020). As a result, there is comparatively little work
evaluating the impact of an interactive storytelling approach on
learning outcomes. This is especially the case for topics such as
RCR with ethically complex concepts that require a variety of
perspectives, which our previous work sought to address Grasse
et al. (2022).
To better understand how interactive narrative game design
relates to teaching efcacy, this paper extends our previous work
by using SDT to explore playersmotivations for enjoying our
RCR training game, Academical, as well as educational interactive
narrative games more broadly. Our attempt to explicate this
relationship ultimately serves to demonstrate the complexity of
tensions between various intrinsic motivations (i.e., ARC factors)
and educational interactive narrative game design choices that we
intended to facilitate acquisition of learning outcomes. Based on
the success of our prior research demonstrating the efcacy of
Academical for training RCR learning outcomes Grasse et al.
(2022), we posit that our insights from this work can be
generalized beyond the scope of research ethics to more
broadly inform the design of motivation within interactive
digital narratives representing complexity.
2.2 Self-Determination Theory
Intrinsic motivations, such as those described by Self-
Determination Theory, are thought to satisfy basic
psychological needs and have been demonstrated to be potent
drivers of enjoyment and engagement Tamborini et al. (2010),
Peng et al. (2012),Oliver et al. (2016). The following descriptions
broadly summarize each factorsdenition (Ryan and Deci, 2017,
pgs. 51317):
1) Autonomy: a sense of control or volition. The very nature of
virtual environments removes some real-world constraints
and opens up choices that are often unavailable in everyday
realities (e.g., through customization); allows players to
choose activities and roles from an increasingly large menu;
and provides opportunities for action.
2) Relatedness: a sense of social connectedness. Relatedness
needs are satised when others recognize and support ones
self and when the person feels able to connect with, feel
signicant with, and be helpful to others; when there is a
rich and textured social worldone in which players actually
have things to do together; and relatedness, being in part a
function of contingent responsiveness, can be experienced
toward animated virtual characters who demonstrate this
3) Competence: a sense of mastery or effectiveness. Feelings of
competence come about when people have opportunities to
apply skills and effort; when there is clarity of goals; when
there is rich, multilevel, effectance-relevant, positive feedback;
and when there is smoothness of the interface through which
playersactions in a game are mediated.
SDT also highlights a fourth motivational
constructpresence or immersionthat is distinct from the
above ARC factors because it is not a source of psychological need
satisfaction. Ryan and Deci summarize presence/immersion as
peoples sense that they are, psychologically speaking, within the
game world, as opposed to experiencing themselves as agents
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Grasse et al. Evaluating Academical Using Self-Determination Theory
outside the game, manipulating controls or charactersand
clarify that people perceive and respond to events within a
medium as if the medium were not there(Ryan and Deci,
2017, p.520). Additionally, they state that the capacity for
presence/immersion involves the ow of psychological
satisfactions that keep players uidly and fully engaged within
the game worldRyan et al. (2006). Presence/immersion can
certainly arise from conditions such as the realism of a storys
setting and/or characters Smith, (1994),Green and Jenkins,
(2014), but these feelings of engagement (i.e., narrative,
emotional and physical presence) can be enhanced and better
predicted by ongoing opportunities for meaningful, need-
satisfying activitiesRyan et al. (2006).
According to Ryan and Deci, different types or genres of
video games afford distinct proles of the psychological needs
that they can satisfyRyan and Deci, (2017). Thus, it is rmly
understood that the ARC denitions described by SDT are not
relevant to every game. For instance, SDT (and its afliated Player
Experience of Need Satisfaction survey, i.e., PENS) does not
ofcially dene how relatedness can contribute to intrinsic
motivations to enjoy and/or feel engaged with single-player
games (e.g., interactive narratives like Academical). The
authors of SDT specically describe single-player role-playing
games (RPGs) as satisfying autonomy and competence, whereas
similar games with multiplayer options (e.g., massively
multiplayer online RPGs, or MMORPGs) further satisfy the
need for relatedness through supportive interactions with
other players (Ryan and Deci, 2017, p. 518). However, the
theorys designers admit (and some studies indicate) that
players can experience relatedness through interactions with
non-playable characters (NPCs; i.e., interactive characters that
are not controlled by humans), particularly via contingent
responsivenessRigby and Ryan, (2011),Ryan and Deci,
(2017),Dechering and Bakkes, (2018). For example, an NPC
could foster a sense of relatedness with the player by providing
them with aid in the form of an action or advice. Further
bolstering this claim, the Ubisoft Perceived Experience
Questionnaire (UPEQ), a similar validated game-specic
survey based on SDT, amends the concepts covered by the
PENS survey to explicitly include assessment of relatedness to
NPCs via 3 of its 9 relatedness questions Azadvar and Canossa,
(2018). Thus, it is possible for a single-player game (particularly
one with a strong narrative and developed characters) to support
enjoyment and/or engagement via each of the ARC factors
described by SDT, including relatedness.
While the UPEQ survey is able to assess relatedness within
single-player narrative game content, other game and media
researchers have suggested that the denition of relatedness
within this context (i.e., contingent responsiveness) can be
further rened and extended Smith, (1994),Tyack and Wyeth,
(2017),Adachi et al. (2018),Dechering and Bakkes, (2018).
More specically, this body of work suggests that, under
certain conditions, it is possible for players to feel
relatedness with the main character of a story (playable or
not) in addition to supporting characters or NPCs. Drawing
from this body of work, the following section describes the
relatedness criteria we included in the nal version of the
rubric we used to code playersqualitative answers for the
presence of ARC factors.
2.3 Relatedness in Single-Player Games
Relatedness in games is typically interpreted in terms of the
players relatedness to other players, particularly in a multiplayer
context Ryan and Deci, (2017). Here, however, we interpret
relatedness primarily in terms of the players relatedness to
ctional characters in general, including both the player
characters that they control and the non-player characters
with whom they interact. In this regard we follow both Tyack
and Wyeth, (2017), who extend relatedness to include parasocial
relationships Rubin and Perse, (1987),Schramm and Hartmann,
(2008),Kavli, (2012) with non-player characters, and Bopp et al.
(2019), who address player feelings of attachment to both player
and non-player characters.
The idea that spectators of ction understand ctional
characters by modeling them as other people is well-supported
by the modern cognitive-narratological understanding of
character (Schneider, 2001, p. 608), as is the idea that readers
can therefore experience a sense of relatedness to ctional
characters. Smith, (1994) proposes a structure of sympathy
consisting of three distinct levels of imaginative engagement
with ctional characters: recognition, in which spectators are
presented with legible and consistentinformation about
characters that lead them to model these characters as
internally coherent others; alignment, in which spectators are
given access to a characters subjectivity to facilitate perspective-
taking; and allegiance, in which spectators are led to root for(or
against) characters on the basis of moral evaluation. The rst of
these three levels is largely connected to the spectators sense that
the characters are believable, while the latter two levels
increasingly address affective relationships with characters of
the sorts that we usually discuss under the label of
identication. However, all three levels involve the
application to ctional characters of cognitive functions (such
as perspective-taking) that are normally applied to other people.
Because relatedness centers on affective relationships, we code
for relatedness any player response that contains evidence of the
presence (or conspicuous absence) of either of the following
constructs drawn from Smithsstructure of sympathy:
1) Alignment: Players being given privileged access to a
characters subjectivity, including their emotions and inner
thoughts, and consequently taking the characters perspective
to some extent.
2) Allegiance: Players emotionally responding to characters,
either as sympathetic or antipatheticSmith, (1994).
However, we do not code for relatedness (and instead code for
presence/immersion) when only recognition is present. This is
because players can recognize characters without identifying or
sympathizing with them further.
3) Recognition: Players suggesting that characters are
psychologically believable, that their actions seem to stem
from a legible and consistentmental agency Smith, (1994).
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2.4 Academical
Academical is a choice-based interactive narrative game that
provides players the opportunity to role-play as various unique
characters immersed within a collection of ethical dilemmas that are
common in research. The game comprises fundamental ethical
topics that inform all aspects of the research process and
highlights how this process can be complicated by many factors
such as power dynamics and marginalized identities. Each playable
scenario in Academical centers on a conversation between two
stakeholders in the RCR issue at hand, one of whom is
controlled by the playerin the sense that they select dialogue
options for that character (see Figure 1). By virtue of these choices,
the player will ultimately reach one of several possible endings, a
subset of which represent successful navigation of the situation.
Upon reaching a good ending for the rst character, the player then
unlocks the other interlocutor and replays the scenario from that
persons viewpoint. In turn, reaching a good ending for the second
character in a given scenario unlocks the next scenario/RCR topic.
2.4.1 Prior Work
We have conducted two studies evaluating the efcacy of
Academical for teaching RCR learning outcomes Grasse et al.
(2022).Ourrst study was a randomized group comparison
study (N= 14 for each group) that showed that our game is
equal or better than traditional web-based training materials at
teaching students RCR knowledge and moral reasoning skills Melcer
et al. (2020a). Notably, this experiment also revealed that the game
was signicantly more engaging than the web-based training
materials Melcer et al. (2020b). Our second experimenta
within-subjects comparison study (N=60)showed that the
game can signicantly improve attitudes about RCR for students
who have never received RCR training Grasse et al. (2021).This
quasi-experimental correlational study also revealed that the
studentspost-game scores and changes in pre-post scores were
signicantly correlated with their engagement. Together, these
studies were the rst to demonstrate the promising value for
using choice-based interactive narrative games to train research
ethics, including both cognitive and socio-affective RCR learning
outcomes. Importantly, each study also highlighted that engagement
may be an important factor driving learning outcome performance.
Clearly, merely using the interactive narrative medium does not
guarantee that a story will feel immersive or engaging for all (or even
any) readers. For instance, the results of our second study described
above indicated that some players did not feel particularly engaged
with the game. Furthermore, the most engaged participants were
signicantly more likely to report positive attitudes compared to
their least engaged peers. Considering that the aim of the game is to
train RCR learning outcomes (e.g., knowledge, skills and attitudes), it
is crucial to understand how the design of our interactive narrative
game can impact engagement since engagement seems to contribute
to learning outcome performance.
3.1 Participant Recruitment
This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the
University of California, Santa Cruz (a Tier 1 research university). All
participants were recruited as a convenience sample from an
undergraduate course offered through UCSCs engineering
department. Two weeks before the conclusion of the course,
participants were informed of the study through email and offered
extra credit toward their class grade in exchange for completing all
parts of the study. Participants were told that the purpose of the study
was to test the efcacy of a new RCR training program.
3.2 Procedure
This study was conducted entirely online. Participants accessed
the game and post-game survey using the same methods as prior
studies on this RCR training tool Grasse et al. (2022)through
their preferred web browser on their personal computers and
without any supervision beyond automated data collection. Two
of the nine possible scenarios were selected for students to play
through (i.e., peer review and authorship). Participants were
instructed to play through each character at least once in each
scenarioequating a minimum of 4 total playthroughs (2
characters/playthroughs per module)before completing the
post-survey. After playing Academical, participants responded
to short answer questions asking them to describe which aspects
of the game they found most and least enjoyable.
FIGURE 1 | Two perspectives and corresponding choice points from Academicalsrst scenario, The Head Start.In this story, the player can role-play as an
adviser or a graduate student struggling to navigate the human subjects research approval process. The two highlighted text blocks from each scene represent the
players dialogue options for their character.
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3.3 Post-game Survey
3.3.1 Short Answer Questions About Enjoyment
Participants answered two qualitative short answer questions
assessing their reasons for enjoying the game. The questions
were phrased in the following way: What did you enjoy 1) MOST
or 2) LEAST about your experience?Other than the phrasing of
the questions, no instruction was provided prompting
participants about what to include in their answers.
3.3.2 Interest in Research Career
To help gauge participants interest in the games subject matter,
we included a question asking: How likely are you to pursue a
career in research?Possible answers ranged along a 7-point
Likert scale from Very Unlikely (1) to Very Likely (7).
3.4 Qualitative Coding
Three of the authors independently coded all of the qualitative
answers (154 total, 77 answers for each enjoyment question) to
determine whether their content described feelings of autonomy,
relatedness and/or competence. Participantsanswers could be
categorized as including more than one factor (e.g., autonomy
and competence). The initial rubric used for coding was based on
denitions described in SDT-based game literature Ryan et al.
(2006),Przybylski et al. (2010),Dechering and Bakkes, (2018),
Azadvar and Canossa, (2018). After using this rubric, the ratings
for autonomy and competence showed high agreement (percent
agreement = 98.7 and 97.4%, respectively). However, there was still
disagreement on what answers qualied as
relatednessparticularly for responses that involved enjoyment
of perspective-taking(a prominent feature of interactive
narratives, especially Academical). Using both game- and
media-based SDT literature Smith, (1994),Tyack and Wyeth,
(2017),Dechering and Bakkes, (2018), the rubric was
subsequently rened to clarify how perspective-taking could
support feelings of relatedness with any of the games
characters. The coders then separately re-evaluated the
responses for relatedness content, resulting in high agreement
(percent agreement = 98.7%). Though presence/immersion is
not categorized as an ARC factor, it is a substantial component
of the PENS survey and indicated as an expression of a player being
TABLE 1 | Rubric used for scoring qualitative answers (left column) and corresponding MOST enjoyrepresentative responses from study participants (right).
Autonomy Representative response
Foster a sense of equinality Przybylski et al. (2010) I liked being able to play two character perspectives of the story.
Varied opportunities for action Przybylski et al. (2010) The fact that you can choose what you want to say. The impact that the decision-
making has can lead to different parts of the dialogue.
Agency to perform activities in preferred playstyle (i.e., being able toor getting to
do something) Azadvar and Canossa, (2018)
I liked being able to have options to choose what to say next or what could happen
Perceiving action as meaningful Dechering and Bakkes, (2018) I liked having a variety of decisions so I could choose the in game action that I was
most likely to actually do.
Relatedness Representative Response
The act of perspective-taking I liked being able to see a situation unfold from two different perspectives seeing how
each character could respond to a given prompt.
Privileged understanding of the characters perspective Smith, (1994) I really liked how developed each character was given their extra bits of background
text that I could click through.
Identication with or sympathy for (i.e., allegiance) the characters Dechering and
Bakkes, (2018)
I enjoyed the variety in the storylines, as well as the ability to switch between the
perspectives of those in power and the students. Some of the students experiences
were relatable to me as a college student.
Competence Representative Response
Challenges and goals to be mastered Przybylski et al. (2010) I really enjoyed unlocking new scenarios and characters. I felt a sense of
accomplishment after getting the responsible ending. I replayed that one scenario
3 times trying out different dialog options in order to get that good ending.
Provide motivating performance feedback Przybylski et al. (2010) I liked how each decision I make can lead into different endings. This made me get
motivated to try clicking other options to see other outcomes, to get a complete sense
of all the consequences.
Opportunities to acquire new skills/abilities Ryan et al. (2006) I actually did learn quite a bit about the correct ways to respond or react to situations
that even though Ive never been in, I could see how this would be very useful.
Skill-graded challenges Przybylski et al. (2010) I enjoyed that I actually had to focus to make the right choices and couldnt just skim
through it.
Presence/Immersion Representative Response
Scenario feels relatable (Green and Jenkins (2014))Its educational and relevant, depicting real-world scenarios that are very relatable to
Scenario feels realistic Green and Jenkins (2014);Ryan et al. (2006) Being immersed in what could be a very real situations.
Characters feel realistic Smith, (1994) I liked the amount of detail put into the dialog between the two characters in each
scenario. Each choice that was available seemed like a likely reaction anyone could
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motivated to engage with game content. Therefore, we also report
presence/immersion results (percent agreement = 100%) by
showing the quantity of responses that described recognition of
either the characters or setting as being familiar, real or believable
Smith, (1994),Ryan et al. (2006);Green and Jenkins (2014).Since
most literature discusses need satisfaction, the most enjoyrubric
served as the reference point for coding the least enjoyanswers
(e.g., a lack of choice was regarded as low autonomy). A summary
of coding themes and representative responses can be found in
Tables 1 and 2.Table 1 shows the nal rubric used for coding
SDT-based need satisfaction (most enjoy), while Table 2 shows the
nal rubric used to identify SDT-based need frustration (least
enjoy). Responses that received two or more codersvotes were
included in the motivational factor tallies provided in Table 3,
whereas responses with only one vote were excluded.
4.1 Participants
A total of 99 undergraduate students registered for this study
through a participant recruitment website hosted by the
university. Within this pool, 77 successfully participated by
completing the study requirements. Nine of these participants
reported that they had received prior RCR training. Altogether,
we analyzed data from 51 males, 23 females and 3 non-binary
individuals. The average participant age was 20.7 ± 2.2 years
(median = 20, range = 1829), which is a typical age for university
students who are starting to engage in research and consider
applying to graduate school. In response to the Likert survey
question, participants on average indicated some interest in
pursuing a research career (mean = 3.74, SD = 1.7, range = 17).
TABLE 2 | Rubric used for scoring qualitative answers (left column) and corresponding LEAST enjoyrepresentative responses from study participants (right).
Autonomy Representative response
Limited/redundant/no preferred choice in options/paths I believe that would be playing the professor in the rst scenario, you have little to no options and no way to
change the path the story takes save for about two dialogue choices near the end.
Limited/no agency (i.e., having toor not being able todo
Having to play the story from both angles, right after I just played it once.
Relatedness Representative Response
Character is unrelatable The way I would handle the situation would be different from what that grad student complaining about his
adviser would have done. I did not feel like I was able to actually do it the way I would do it. I eventually
gured out the right choices, but they did not seem like the right choices to me. In real life, I would have
eased into things and talked calmly about the situation.
Character is too relatable The male character not getting credit for writing a chapter.
Competence Representative Response
Poorly scaled challenges Many of the dialog choices had rather predictable outcomes. Im not sure if that is the intent or not,
however, in a way it serves to make the overall storyline less compelling/enjoyable to play through.
Harsh or confusing performance feedback How confusing it was to understand the way to reach the ideal endings for the second character of each
Unclear premise/goals/context The premise of the game is not exactly obvious for someone who has never conducted this sort of
research and does not have experience with understanding what is considered ethical or correct.
Presence/Immersion Representative Response
Scenario feels unfamiliar or unrelatable I feel like Im not immersed and interested with these character and choices since these stories never
happened to me in a way, and I feel like these stories are other peoples stories that I dont really care
Scenario feels too relatable What I enjoyed least was thinking about these scenarios and how often they occur in everyday student
Unrealistic characters It was not very engaging, I felt like some of the responses were unrealistic making overall experience less
TABLE 3 | Prevalence of SDT factors participants used to describe notable qualities of playing Academical.
SDT Motivational Factor Most enjoy (%) Least enjoy (%) Total N (% of 154)
Autonomy 23 (30%) 21 (27%) 44 (29%)
Relatedness 11 (14%) 7 (9%) 18 (12%)
Competence 18 (23%) 27 (35%) 45 (29%)
Presence/Immersion 15 (19%) 7 (9%) 21 (14%)
Total N of responses with any factor (%)
53 (69%) 45 (58%) 97 (64%)
The percentages in the rst four rows do not add up to the values in this row because some responses contained more than one SDT factor (see Table 4).
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Participants reported pursuing the following undergraduate
degrees: Arts and Design: Games and Playable Media (n=29),
Computer Science: Computer Game Design (16), Cognitive Science
(16), Computer Science (9), Technology and Information
Management (4), Psychology (2), Economics (1), Electrical
Engineering (1), Film and Digital Media (1), Physics (1), Politics
(1), and Sociology (1). Two participants reported that they had not
yet declared a major, while seven reported pursuing two majors.
Design-based (30) and engineering (30) degrees were the most
common, followed by science (20) and economics/politics (2).
4.2 ParticipantsReported Reasons for
In the following sections, we quantify and summarize the reasons
participants gave for their most and least enjoyable aspects of the
game. Notably, some participants provided multiple distinct
reasons within a response, even for the same ARC factor. In
Table 3, we simply tally the number of responses that contain
each of the SDT motivational factors. However, the proceeding
qualitative breakdown of these answers further delineates the
presence of multiple distinct mentions of the same factor, which
explains why the sum of these cases may exceed the total number
of responses that contain that factor.
4.2.1 Self-Determination Theory Factors
Table 3 shows the quantity of responses that included the following
SDT motivational factors: autonomy, relatedness, competence, and
presence/immersion. Since a response could be coded to include
more than one factor, the bottom row of Table 3 indicates the
quantity of responses that included at least one of the SDT factors.
Tables 1 and 2provide representative responses for each of the SDT
categories, while Table 4 shows samples of responses that included
codes for more than one category. At least one of the SDT factors
(including presence/immersion) was identied in 64% (N = 98) of all
154 of the responses. These factors were more prevalent in the most
enjoyresponses (69%) compared to the least enjoyresponses
(58%). Overall, these results indicate that the majority of participants
chose to use SDT-based intrinsic motivations to describe both their
most and least enjoyable aspects of Academical. Need Satisfaction
Autonomy was the most-cited reason that participants used to
explain why they felt Academical was enjoyable to play (30% of
responses). Participants were most often motivated by the games
provision of choice (N= 11). In general, these participants stated
that they enjoyed the affordance and act of making decisions on
behalf of the characters. The next most common autonomy-based
cause for enjoyment involved the games capacity to facilitate
various abilities and playstyles (N= 9). For example, participants
enjoyed how the games design afforded them the ability to switch
character perspectives for the same story, replay a scenario
multiple times, read background information about the
characters and setting, and choose to progress the story at
their own pace. Thirdly, some responses involved equinality
(i.e., multiple routes to the same end, N= 4). These responses
involved enjoyment of seeing the story from both perspectives (in
contrast to simply enjoying being able toswitch perspectives)
and experiencing multiple correctendings with varying
emotions between the characters. Finally, a few participants
reported enjoying the game most when they perceived their
actions as meaningful (N= 3). These participants specically
enjoyed how the decisions they made had causal impacts upon
the direction of the story.
Competence was the next most prominent cause of
participantsenjoyment while playing Academical (23% of
responses). Participants particularly enjoyed the feeling of
accomplishment they got from unlocking new characters and
reaching the good story endings (N= 7). They also enjoyed that
the game gave them the opportunity to learn and practice new
skills and abilities (N= 5). This could involve practicing
perspective-taking, good judgement, or decision-making skills
as well as learning about how to have crucial conversations with
important people (in research or in general). Some other
participants enjoyed that the game provided them with an
appropriate level of challenge (N= 5). More specically, these
participants enjoyed that the game was a kind of puzzle that they
had to focus on and think about for a while in order to reach the
desired ending, although one participant said that they simply
enjoyed being given many additional chances to progress to a
good story ending. Finally, a few participants appreciated that the
game provided motivating feedback (N= 3). This was specically
because each scenario had multiple different endings that were
identied as being either good or bad.
Of the three ARC factors and overall, relatedness was the least
common reason participants used to describe their enjoyment of
the game (14% of responses). Within this category of need
satisfaction, participants overwhelmingly explicitly reported
TABLE 4 | Examples of responses that contained more than one SDT factor (PI = presence/immersion).
SDT Motivational Factors Representative response
Autonomy and Relatedness I like being able to play two character perspectives of the story.
Autonomy and Competence I did enjoy the fact that there were multiple endings to both stories depending on what actions you took. Unlocking the othe r
sides of the story after each play through was nice too.
Relatedness and PI Learning about the various situations and the reality of the endings. It was also good to learn about both perspectives of the
Autonomy, Relatedness, and PI I enjoyed the variety in the storylines, as well as the ability to switch between the perspectives of those in power and the
students. Some of the students experiences were relatable to me as a college student.
Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence I actually failed a lot more than I expected to, and sometimes felt like I wasnt given options that would reect how I would
have responded.
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enjoying the act of perspective-taking (N= 10). Most of these
participants specically liked how they could see the story unfold
from multiple different perspectives. A few participants enjoyed
feeling alignment or allegiance with the characters (N= 3). They
either liked that they could know what was going on inside the
charactersmind (alignment) or that the student characters
provided a relatableperspective (allegiance).
Finally, presence/immersion was a slightly more common
motivational factor for explaining participantsenjoyment than
relatedness (19% of responses). Most of these participants
enjoyed that the stories were immersive because they were
relevant and/or relatable, either personally or conceivably to
other students (N = 9). After saying that they liked how the
story was relatable, one participant claried that it felt so because
they have not received credit for some group projects (a theme of
the authorship story). Many of the participants stated that they
felt immersed either because of how realistic the stories felt or
because they made sense(N= 7). For some participants, this
description coincided with their enjoyment of the relatability of
the scenarios (N= 2), which is a similar but distinct concept.
Lastly, a couple of participants most enjoyed that they could
recognize the characters as being realistic (N= 2). They claimed
that the characters seemed real either because each choice seemed
like a likely reaction that anyone could give or because the
characters showed varying emotions. Need Frustration
Competence was cited as the most common reason for explaining
the least enjoyable aspects of the game (35% of responses). This
need frustration was expressed in many forms. More than half of
the participants who struggled with feelings of competence
essentially described poorly scaled challenges (N= 16). These
participants didnt like how the decisions they had to make in the
game felt either too easy or too hard, that the games story or
method of presentation was too difcult to understand or
navigate, or that the dialogue of the two characters from the
same scenario felt too redundant. Next, many participants felt like
the game provided performance feedback that was either too
harsh, vague or confusing (N= 8). Some of these participants said
that they felt like the consequences of their decisions didnt make
sense (e.g., some expected a different outcome to happen based on
their choice), while others didnt enjoy being sent back to the
beginning of the story after reaching a bad ending (i.e., they would
have preferred to have save points in the middle of the story).
Finally, a few participants least enjoyed the game because it did
not provide clear enough objectives and/or means to reach them
(N= 4). In particular, these participants felt like they were either
unable to understand the games goals, context, or ethical
The next most common cause for participantslack of
enjoyment involved frustrated feelings of autonomy (27% of
responses). These participants primarily had issues with the game
either not facilitating preferred playstyles or requiring those that
were not preferred (N= 13). For example, these participants did
not enjoy the lack of agency when having to do thingslike read
background information about the characters and/or situation,
reach a good ending before unlocking new characters, play the
story from the beginning for every attempt, or play both
perspectives of the story. Alternatively, a number of these
participants reported that they would have preferred having
the ability to make decisions based on what they personally
would have done (rather than being restricted to options
based on the characters personality), while some others
wished that they had been able to navigate around the game
more easily (e.g., to go back to the main menu at any time).
Similar to the need for agency, many participants would have
preferred a different breadth of choice in navigating the stories
than what was provided (N= 12). Lastly, one participant reported
that they least enjoyed how they felt that the game did not provide
them with any realdecision-making power (which we
interpreted as a lack of meaningful choice).
Similar to the need satisfaction results, relatedness was the
least common ARC factor that participants used to explain their
least enjoyable aspect of playing the game (9% of responses).
Notably, no participants reported disliking the act of perspective-
takingin contrast, perspective-taking was an overwhelmingly
common relatedness reason for enjoying the game. Instead, these
participants mainly had issues with feeling an inappropriate
amount of alignment (N=8)orallegiance (N= 1) with a
character. We found that participants had issues aligning with
characters because they did not like or were not able to
understand the charactersdialogue options. More specically,
a failure of alignment happened when participants said that they
would have preferred to have choices that aligned with their own
personal logic rather than that of the characters personality.
Interestingly, the one participant who felt frustrated via their
allegiance with a character did so because they felt overly
sympathetic with that characters unfair struggle (i.e., to
receive authorship credit).
Finally, participants were also least likely to use presence/
immersion to explain their least enjoyable aspect of the game (9%
of responses). The majority of these participants took issue with
the games relatability (N= 6). Most of these participants did not
like how the scenario content felt unfamiliar or unrelatable.
Conversely, a couple of these participants did not enjoy the
game content because it was too relatable (e.g., one participant
did not like thinking about how common these issues are in real
life). Just one participant described that they did not recognize the
characters as believable (N= 1). Specically, they stated that some
of the responses seemed unrealistic.
4.2.2 Other Factors
The following sections summarize any non-SDT factors that
participants used to describe their reasons for enjoying the
game. Some of these factors were sourced from responses that
also included descriptions of SDT factors. Most Enjoy
A total of 25 participants (32%) described reasons for enjoying
the game that did not involve SDT-based motivational factors.
The most common reason these participants enjoyed the game
was because they liked the art that accompanied the story text
(N= 10). Some participants also stated that they liked the writing
and story, either because of its quality, depth or setting (N= 4). A
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Grasse et al. Evaluating Academical Using Self-Determination Theory
couple of participants (N= 2) specically liked the novelty of the
games content (i.e., its setting or characters). A handful of
participantsexplanations for enjoying the game (N= 7) were
not able to be categorized with any of the above reasons
(including the SDT factors) because the coders found the
phrasing of the responses to be too vague (e.g., one participant
simply liked the end). Least Enjoy
About a third of the participants (N= 26, 34%) described various
non-SDT factors to explain their least enjoyable aspects of the game.
Half of these participants simply did not enjoy how much reading
was required to play the game (N= 13). Some other participants did
participants either thought that the story was boring or just stated that
they did not like the setting. Others did not like gamesvisuals(N=4).
Some did not like the quality or style of the art (e.g., one wished for a
presentation style more like a comic book), while others found the
color or the way the game transitioned between scenes). A couple of
participants wished that there had been some form of audio (N=2).
Again, some participants provided reasons that were too vague to
categorize (N=3).
In this paper, we presented a case study aimed at qualitatively
examining the primary reasons why a group of 77 undergraduates
found our choice-based interactive narrative game, Academical,to
provide an enjoyable play experience. This type of analysis was
valuable for a few reasons. First, although validated surveys like
the PENS or UPEQ are useful for assessing intrinsic motivations to
enjoy or engage with a game, these types of quantitative evaluation are
not able to represent playersexperience in ne detail. Though
substantially more time and effort was required to analyze our
results, we believe that they are especially benecial for informing
specic improvements to future iterations of the gamesdesign.
Additionally, not only were we able to assess the extent to which
participantsintrinsic needs were satised, our qualitative results
provided us with just as much information about what aspects of
the game frustrated these needs. Tyack and Mekler explicitly
recognize the value of this analysis in their recent review when
they observed that fewer studies have investigated experiences of
need frustrationTyack and Mekler, (2020). Next, our results showed
motivations accounted for their most salient causes of enjoyment.
The other third of responses instead involved various commentary
about the games aesthetic design. These results provided a sense of
scale for the salience of intrinsic need satisfaction for player
enjoyment, showing that SDT-based factors were about twice as
important compared to any other factors combined (e.g., less
functional aspects of our games design). This further validates the
relative value of SDT and the use of its quantitative assessment tools
for explaining the motivational pull of video games. Finally, the
results from this study are valuable because there are relatively few
studies that qualitatively explore the relevance and utility of SDT in
games researchmost SDT-based games research does not engage
with SDT beyond merely descriptive accountsTyack and Mekler,
5.1 Design Considerations for Academical
5.1.1 Autonomy
Autonomy was one of the most prominent factors that
contributed to both need satisfaction and frustration (about a
third of the responses for each). Participants especially enjoyed
that the games design provided them with a series of choices that
allowed them to control the characters and drive the course of the
story (N= 11). However, a comparable number of participants
reported that they least enjoyed the game when it did not give
them adequate control over the story (N= 12). Choice is a central
design feature of interactive narrative games. For Academical,
allowing the reader to control how the characters navigate
through the story is the only educationally-relevant interactive
component of the gamewithout it, the experience would
become a passive reading exercise much like most traditional
learning materials. Thus, it was not surprising that most people
perceived the provision of choice to be such a salient component
of their play experience. Only one participant reported that they
felt like they were given too much choice. As a result, we predict
that giving players a greater range of dialogue options would
likely improve their enjoyment of the game.
The other major experiential factor participants most enjoyed
was that the game afforded them certain abilities or playstyles
(N=9)giving them the perception that they were able/allowed
to docertain things in the game (e.g., perspective-taking).
Conversely, participants especially disliked when they felt like
the games design either forced them to play a certain way or did
not allow them to play in a way that they would have preferred
(N= 13). This was the second most common single factor that
negatively impacted participantsenjoyment of the game. The
specic reasons that participants provided varied widely, so it is
not immediately clear which design feature is the most crucial to
address. Furthermore, some of the issues players cited are core
features of the game that are key to the ethics learning process
(e.g., playing through a scenario from both perspectives).
However, we feel it is more reasonable to address some of the
other design concerns, such as the fact that the game does not
provide save states in the middle of the stories. As discussed in the
next section, this particular change may help improve players
enjoyment of the game for multiple reasons.
5.1.2 Competence
Competence was another feeling that was critical for participants
to enjoy playing Academical (about a third of all the responses),
but it was noticeably more likely to frustrate participants
enjoyment (35%) than to satisfy it (23%). One common
reason that participants said they enjoyed the game was
because reaching milestones gave them a sense of
accomplishment (N= 7). Additionally, it was encouraging to
see that the game was successful at making the act of learning and
practicing new skills particularly enjoyable (N= 5). However,
many participants claimed issues with the games perceived
difculty (N= 16), which was the most common reason of all
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that players gave to explain their lack of enjoyment. This result is
understandable considering that the participants were
undergraduate students, the vast majority of which had never
undergone RCR training (88%). As a result, our game gave most
of the participants an in-depth introduction to research settings,
professional roles and ethical dilemmas for the very rst time.
Though the stories and objectives in the game could have been
made clearer to some participants, others stated various reasons
for why the game seemed too easy or predictable. For instance, the
requirement to play each scenario from both perspectives was
clearly associated with the perception that the games content was
too easy or redundant. However, we addressed in the previous
section how we believe that this feature is valuable (theoretically
in the development of moral reasoning skills). Further work is
required to clarify how the game can be improved to properly
challenge players with a range of ethical experience and skill.
We also found that many participants did not enjoy the game
when they perceived that the feedback they received about their
choices was either hard to comprehend or inappropriately scaled
(N= 8). Though we want to address the fact that some
participants had trouble understanding the games story-based
feedback, the data we received is not detailed enough to be able to
clarify why this was the case. We hypothesize, for example, that
participants may have struggled with the feedback because they
did not understand the ethicality of a decision, but it could have
also been because the charactersdialogue options were too vague
to allow meaningful predictions about the downstream effects of a
choice. Considering that understanding the games feedback is
crucial to facilitating its learning goals, future playtesting studies
should focus on acquiring more information about how to make
these parts of the stories less confusing. Lastly, many participants
agreed that they especially did not enjoy having to replay the
stories from the very beginning every time. This feature of the
game was perceived as too large a punishmentfor failure. As an
example, one participant said, It was really defeating to get a bad
ending and being sent back to the beginning instead of just
looping to a separate point or having a save state.Considering
that this was also commonly perceived as an impediment to
participantsautonomy, we believe that implementing a back
button or save state feature in future iterations of the game would
likely considerably improve enjoyment of the gameas is
successfully employed in other genres such as platformers
Cuerdo and Melcer (2020),Melcer and Cuerdo, (2020),
Cuerdo et al. (2021). However, care should be taken in this
implementation since it has been shown in other game-based
learning contexts that players are more likely to think carefully
about how to solve a problem when there are greater
consequences for failure (e.g., the amount of time required to
make more attempts) Mann et al. (2009),Melcer and Isbister
(2018),Villareale et al. (2020).
5.1.3 Relatedness
In the context of our single-player interactive narrative game,
relatedness occurred when the player engaged in perspective-
taking or when they felt some form of alignment or allegiance
with a character. Relatedness was considerably less common of a
factor (12%) than autonomy or competence (29% each), which
emphasizes the relatively greater impact that the latter two factors
have on enjoyment of interactive narrative games. Alternatively, this
result may be due to the fact that autonomy and competence had a
greater breadth of coding denitions compared to relatedness.
Descriptions of relatedness more often contributed to enjoyment
(14%) compared to lack of enjoyment (9%). Nearly all of the
relatedness-based enjoyment was because participants enjoyed
taking the perspective of the characters (N= 10). Interestingly,
no participants stated that they did not enjoy the act of perspective-
taking. Although a couple mentioned that they did not like having to
play the same story from both perspectives, many explicitly enjoyed
the opportunity (which is a relatively rare feature of interactive
narrative games). Importantly, the act of perspective-taking ended
up being one of the single most prominent experiential factors
driving playersenjoyment of the gamecomparable to the games
provision of choice (autonomy) or its perceived difculty
(competence). The emphasis on perspective-taking is another
core facet of the games design, which may explain why so many
participants found it to be so salient. However, what is clear from our
results is that the game was very successful at making the act of
perspective-taking enjoyable, at least for those participants who felt it
an important enough part of the experience to mention in their
responses. Therefore, we conclude that emphasizing the act of
perspective-taking in an educational interactive narrative game is
not only pedagogically relevant, but it can also be a major factor
driving enjoyment of the learning experience.
The stories in Academical always involve a conversation between
two characters with different levels of professional power (e.g., a
student and an advisor). Amongst all the responses, participants
were overwhelmingly more likely to describe their relationship to
any of the characters in terms of alignment (N= 10) rather than
allegiance (N= 2). It was rare for participants to mention either of
these concepts with respect to their most enjoyable aspect of the
game. In contrast, we interpreted that most participantsrelatedness
frustrations involved not feeling aligned with their character. More
specically, participants mainly wished that they had access to
dialogue options that aligned better with their own preferred type
of response. While the reasons for this based specically on our
games design are unclear, interactive narrative research suggests that
readers most often make decisions based on what they would
actually do (rather than based on what the character would do),
and that doing so exclusively fosters greater feelings of identication,
perceived reality and attitude change Green and Jenkins, (2014).
Furthermore, players are thought to experience relatednessand
thus thriveand experience well-beingwhen video games support
the expression of their true selfPrzybylski et al. (2010),Tyack and
Wyeth (2017),Tyack and Mekler (2020).Academical was designed
to help the player practice seeing situations from multiple
perspectives, and each characters unique personal struggles were
purposefully constructed to amplify the reality that not all dilemmas
are capable of being perfectly resolved. Importantly, there is a
practical limit to both the number of choices that can be hand-
authored into a branching storyline and the amount of time students
can invest in a given activity, and so each of many possible endings
were also purposefully selected to provide the player with the most
valuable ethically-relevant learning opportunities. While we
recognize the benets of making the charactersbehaviors more
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Grasse et al. Evaluating Academical Using Self-Determination Theory
relatable to the player to stimulate need satisfaction, we predict that
redesigning the characters to be less dened has the potential to
disrupt the intended learning process in a variety of ways. More
research is required to understand the educational consequences of
these design-based trade-offs.
5.1.4 Presence/Immersion
Presence/immersion was described in half as many responses
compared to autonomy and competence. Participants were much
more likely to cite presence/immersion factors to explain what they
most enjoyed about the game (19%) compared to what they least
enjoyed (9%). The majority of these participants most enjoyed that
the games stories felt relatable, relevant and/or realistic (N=14).
Conversely, just a handful of other participants did not enjoy how
the stories did not feel familiar or relatable (N= 4). Interestingly, two
participants did not like that the game was too relatable (N=2).We
would expect a lack of relatability to the games content to negatively
impact presence/immersion and thus learning Green, (2021).This
could also apply to those who feel overly connected to the material
because interacting with it may hit too close to homeand therefore
feel too threatening to properly facilitate learning Green and Jenkins,
(2014). However, our results indicate that most people enjoyed being
able to relate to the game because it provided a safe learning
environment for practicing skills and behaviors that would be
useful in the future. This result is encouraging considering that
However, since the game is also intended to train more senior
research personnel, we remain curious to know how immersive the
game feels for readers of all ages.
5.1.5 Non-Self-Determination Theory Factors
A number of aesthetic game design features stood out as worthy of
discussion. First, the games art was appreciated by a notable number
of participants (N= 10). Only a couple of participants found the art
to be the least enjoyable part of the game (N= 2). Visual resources
can help stimulate immersion and reduce cognitive load Angeli and
Valanides, (2004). Therefore, we conclude that the provision of art
throughout the game was a valuable investment. Next, a comparable
number of participants either did (N=4)ordidnot(N=5)enjoy
various aesthetic qualities of the writing and/or story. These opinions
did not appear nearly as inuential to participantsenjoyment
compared to many other factors. Thus, our impression is that the
quality or style of the writing is adequate for satisfying most readers,
and the most valuable improvements to the story should instead
involve, for instance, increasing the variety of dialogue choices or
adjusting the presentation of the characters to make them more
universally relatable. Lastly, the second most common reason of all
that participants used to explain their least enjoyable part of playing
the game was simply that it required too much reading (N=13).
While the act of reading is an expected part of the learning process, it
is possible that these participants did not feel that the mental
investment matched the educational value of the experience. We
are hopeful that the inclusion of save states would alleviate this
burden. Additionally, reducing the depth of character descriptions to
make them easier to identify with could also help decrease the
amount of time players need to spend reading.
5.2 Experiencing Relatedness Through
This paper has aimed to extend existing conceptualizations for the
relatedness factor of SDT so that it can be better understood and
applied within the context of single player educational interactive
narrative games. Relatedness traditionally requires a minimum of a
dyadic relationship characterized by contingent responsivenessthat
allows a person to psychologically thrive, experience well-being, and
support the expression of their true self.Indeed, Ryan et al. (2006)
explicitly posit that immersion players desire to ... engage in role-
play and be part of the story,which implies that role-play is more
closely associated with presence/immersion than relatedness.
According to Tyack and Wyeth, (2017),it remains improbable
that relatedness needs can be fully satised without any form of direct
human contact.However, various studies (theirs included) have
suggested that relatedness can at least be partially satised within the
context of media and story/character-based games Smith, (1994),
Oliver et al. (2016),Tyack and Wyeth (2017),Dechering and Bakkes,
(2018),Adachi et al. (2018). This can occur, for instance, when a
person forms a parasocial relationship with a celebrity or movie
character or when they form a more interactive supportive
relationship with an articial character in a game.
Role-play is an activity common to games that explicitly engages a
persons capacity to experience the world from anothers perspective
as well as to experience alignment and allegiance with ctional
characters. Many people feel very motivated to engage in these
kinds of activities and feelings because it is enjoyable (e.g., reading
choose your own adventure books). Ultimately, we determined that
previous research supported the idea that: People enjoy role-playing
and connecting with ctional characters because it is intrinsically
motivating (i.e., via relatedness). This theory indicates that the act of
role-playing and/or connecting with ctionalcharactersisableto
satisfy the psychological need to support genuine self-expression and
feelings of well-being. Green and Jenkins, (2014) explain that role-
play, specically within the context of interactive narratives, induces
identication with a character. They further state that narrative can
affect self-perceptions, ... temporarily broaden the readers
perspective, ... and expand the self or allow people to explore
new possible selves.The authors then emphasize that the act of
perspective-taking may translate into motivation for real-world
behavior change.
Interactive narratives are typically designed to
support self-expression through the provision of choice on behalf of
one or more characters (though our analysis indicates that
Academical could be improved in this respect). Additionally, it is
possible for educational interactive narratives to encourage feelings of
Another body of research has shown that VR experiences that manipulate
embodiment by spatially swapping perspectives can also be effective for
promoting moral judgement and ethical decision making (Seinfeld et al. (2018);
Herrera et al. (2018);Stavroulia and Lanitis (2019)). This type of experience is
technologically more complex and currently not as accessible as playing an
interactive narrative game, suggesting that it is less convenient as a means for
mass education. Nonetheless, it emphasizes the value of perspective-taking for
driving behavior change and may even be more effective than interactive narratives
at facilitating presence/immersion (Herrera et al. (2018)). Our current
methodology may be useful for evaluating how these two learning
environments relate to each other in terms of enjoyment and efcacy.
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Grasse et al. Evaluating Academical Using Self-Determination Theory
well-being through attitude and behavioral change. Indeed, we
previously found that our game is capable of signicantly
improving attitudes about RCR training Grasse et al. (2021),
though we do not know if these changes in attitude were
associated with the exploration of possible selves or increased
feelings of well-being. Our current research evaluating the reasons
why players felt that playing Academical was enjoyable provides some
support to the theory that role-play induces feelings of relatedness. Of
the 77 participants in our case study, many made a point to explain
that they especially liked the perspective-taking (i.e., role-playing)
experience that the game provided. That this experiential aspect was
such a prominent explanation for the games enjoyment, combined
with the fact that the majority of the other responses involved other
intrinsic motivations, suggests that the role-playing nature of the
game may have contributed to SDT-based need satisfaction.
However, more research is required to conrm this hypothesis.
5.3 Study Limitations and Future Work
This case study had a variety of limitations, especially in its ability to
conrm the relationship between role-play and relatedness. This issue
could have been addressed by asking the participants to complete a
validated SDT-based survey such as the PENS or UPEQ.
Furthermore, though our analysis is based on rubrics informed by
popular psychological theory (i.e., SDT), other literature suggests that
our assessment of presence/immersion may be oversimplied
McMahon, (2003),Mestre et al. (2006),Roth and Koenitz (2016).
Moving forward, future studies will account for the differences and
relationship between presence and immersion using more nuanced
assessment tools, such as the Game Experience Questionnaire (GEQ)
Johnson et al. (2018)
or Roths measurement toolbox for evaluating
the user experience of interactive digital narratives Roth, (2016).Next,
we recognize that the participant pool (i.e., undergraduates pursuing
mainly design and engineering degrees) is not an ideal target
population for this study. For example, the number of negative
responses that mentioned feeling unrelatable to the content of the
stories could be lower for graduate students and/or undergraduates
intent on pursuing a career in science. Additionally, the results we
discussed were most relevant in the assessment of our game and
therefore may not hold true for other narrative-based games. In
particular, educational interactive narrative games are by design more
relatable than those for entertainment, and so some of our
observations may only be applicable for the former sub-genre.
Finally, our data collection methods were designed to only capture
information about what made the game most or least enjoyable.
Therefore, we were not able to report the prevalence or subjective
importance of every SDT-based factor for each participant.
While this study constitutes a valuable starting point, in future
studies we want to dive more deeply into determining explanations
for why players perceive some game design features to assist
enjoyment and engagement more than others (e.g., by conducting
semi-structured interviews rather than online surveys). We can use
these results to better predict how much impact certain changes will
have on improving the quality of the game experience for a wide
player audience. Ultimately, an interesting line of research would
involve manipulating features of the game that we expect would
directly impact specic need satisfactions Tamborini et al. (2010),
Peng et al. (2012). In this way, we would be able to conrm whether
the act of role-playing supports intrinsic need satisfaction via
Using the lens of Self-Determination Theory, this case study
extensively elaborated design considerations for our choice-based
interactive narrative game, Academical. Our results bolster the
importance of satisfying intrinsic motivations for making
educational interactive narrative games in general enjoyable to
play. Overall, we found that the most salient aspects of our
games design involved the need for autonomy and competence,
and that these motivations were about twice as prevalent as
relatedness and presence/immersion. Furthermore, all SDT-based
factors combined were about twice as prevalent as non-SDT factors
(e.g., game design aesthetics). Additionally, we evaluated the
relevance of role-play for satisfying the need for relatedness. We
concluded that our results provided some support for the idea that the
act of role-playing and connecting with ctional characters is
intrinsically motivating to players, but that further work is
required to conrm this theory.
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be
made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
The studies involving human participants were reviewed and
approved by Institutional Review Board of UCSC. The patients/
participants provided their written informed consent to
participate in this study.
KG designed and conducted the experiment, coded the qualitative
data and authored the manuscript. MK coded the qualitative data and
contributed to the manuscript. NW-F oversaw the development of
the Academical game. MM provided contributions to the theories
discussed in the manuscript. EM funded the experiment, coded the
qualitative data and contributed to the manuscript.
The authors would like to thank Jim Moore and the UCSC
Division of Graduate Studies for sponsoring the development
and evaluation of Academical. We would also like to thank the
Though see (Law et al. (2018)) for concerns regarding use of this particular
assessment tool.
Frontiers in Virtual Reality | June 2022 | Volume 3 | Article 84712012
Grasse et al. Evaluating Academical Using Self-Determination Theory
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