Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Research Plan: The Role of Story in Educational Games

I've (finally!) been working on a concrete thesis research plan and wanted to share a general idea of what I'm intending to do.  The short version is that I want to experimentally determine how different types of stories actually affect learning outcome in educational games, and make it easier for others to incorporate story into future games.

Stray Souls Dollhouse Story game screenshot  

These are the main questions I'm hoping to answer in three phases:
  1. As shown through experimentation, does the use of story in educational games offer
    players an opportunity for deep learning beyond simply providing motivation or engagement?
  2. Does the use of nonlinear narrative or interactive storytelling improve engagement and/or learning?
  3. How can narrative best be incorporated into educational games? What set of metrics could
    be developed to help game designers ensure that they are able to effectively tie together their story, educational content, and gameplay mechanics?
  4. Using this knowledge, what would a tool to support the authoring of stories for educational games look like?
The idea is to first choose a set of games with which to conduct experiments that test learning outcome.  Some of these games will be already established works with clear learning objectives and stories that can be removed without severely affecting the educational content. We will also use some of our own designs.  The selection of games will be made with the second research question in mind; that is, we wish to find games that use both linear and nonlinear storytelling techniques.  The results of these experiments will heavily influence the rest of the research.

In the second phase the set of metrics mentioned in the third research question will be developed.  Established games and games of our own design will be used to iterate on the metrics until a reasonable set can be settled on.

Finally, the third phase involves writing a tool that will both help enhance an author's creativity when writing stories for educational games and help ensure the story is consistent with the educational content.  How it will look depends, of course, on the results of the first two phases, but I am imagining using some AI techniques to help check consistency and make story suggestions.  There may also be an opportunity to use some graph analysis, for example to take advantage of connections between content topics present on sites like Wikipedia.

One of the coolest things that's happening with respect to this plan is hearing excitement from writers who want to be able to write better interactive stories for educational games.  I'm thrilled to have people I can speak with directly to ensure that what I do ends up being useful, and I may even have some professional writing help when designing our own games for our experiments.  Hopefully it'll be win-win for all of us!

Did reading this raise any red flags to you? Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Please leave a comment and let me know! The more feedback, the better.


Anonymous said...

If you study "stories that can be removed without severely affecting the educational content", then you are looking at games which do not connect the story to the learning. Is that really what you are interested in studying?

Gail Carmichael said...

Good question. As it stands there are some other issues with the approach described here as well... the plan evolves as we speak... :)

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