Games for Education (Serious Games)


Games hold an intriguing promise for education: even though it takes a lot of time and effort to learn to play a game well, players willingly do so. Well-designed games excel at helping the player learn what to do when they need to do it and giving them as much practice as they need to master skills.

research questions

There are so many questions about serious games, not least of which is how effective are they? There have been relatively few studies that have shown significantly learning which transfers outside of the game context. Another general issue is that games are complex systems with hundreds or thousands of components. Not only does this make them very costly to develop, it also makes it very difficult to know which of those are important for learning, or which should be modified to improve the game.

Other important research questions are:

  • What is the role of the different aspects of games (challenge, control, mystery, etc) that make them so motivating?
  • What is the best way to assess learning in games (since they are often closer to the intended use context than other assessment methods like traditional tests)?
  • What subjects are serious games especially good or not good for?
  • What is the cost/benefit trade-off of serious games?
  • Are there particular design choices / aspects that should be avoided to maximize learning?


Ali Alkhafaji completed his dissertation on mystery in video games in 2018. Previously, it was accepted that mystery was a significant aspect of motivation for video games, but the concept itself was mysterious – there was no standard definition of what it meant. Ali found two important dimensions of mystery: transient and persistent mystery, and player-centered vs designer-created mystery. He also looked at how these interact with different game genres, and validated the taxonomy with an empirical study.

I designed and implemented a game, Advisor to the King, aimed at helping students learn to better analyze and understand argumentative texts. In the game, the player takes the role of a new cog in the bureaucracy of a medieval government, tasked with (increasingly harder) aspects of evaluating petitions from the citizens. The stages of analysis are based on cognitive psychology research in reading processes. Evaluations of learning in the game are ongoing.


Ali Alkhafaji, A Critical Analysis of Mystery in Videogames, Doctoral Dissertation, DePaul University, Chicago Illinois, June 2018. Available at:

Ali Alkhafaji, Brian Grey, and Peter Hastings. Perception vs. Reality: Challenge, Control and Mystery in Video Games. In Proceedings of CHI 2013 Games User Research Workshop, 2013. Download

Ali Alkhafaji, Brian Grey, and Peter Hastings. A New Design And Analysis Methodology Based On Player Experience. In Proceedings of CHI 2013 Games User Research Workshop, 2013. Download

Peter Hastings. Exploring the Solar System in Two Classrooms. Unpublished 2010. Presented at Games, Learning and Society Conference 6.0. Download

Peter Hastings, Anne Britt, B. Sagarin, Amanda Durik, and Kris Kopp. Designing a Game for Teaching Argumentation Skills. In AIED 2009: 14th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education, Workshop Proceedings, Workshop on Intelligent Educational Games, 2009. Download


  • Keith Cochran (started Phd Program in 2018)
  • Ali Alkhafaji (graduated)
  • M. Anne Britt (NIU)
  • Brian Grey
  • Peter Hastings

( 2019-08-15 Thu 15:46