The Case for Adaptive Serious Games

With the rise of ubiquitous computing we face the challenge of computers becoming more than specialist tools but fully integrated components of our environment, accessible by anyone at anytime.As a result, it becomes increasingly important to have software systems capable of altering themselves to accommodate the diversity of users that differ in knowledge, competency,  goals and preferences [1].
While, Serious Games (SGs) have already demonstrated great potential in providing both effective and motivating educational experiences, they do not necessarily guarantee successful learning. Certain aspects of gameplay may even prove  detrimental to the learning process [2].  An adaptive Serious Game therefore must not only strive to maintain player enjoyment but also impart on the player a particular set of educational objectives or behavioural changes [3]. Given the unique challenges faced by Serious Games they stand to greatly benefit from the developing of adaptive solutions, and while full player adaptation remains a long way off, Serious Games stand poised to profit from user adaptation research already conducted in other fields, including Human Computer Interfaces(HCIs) [1], robotics, automation and computer games [4].
Challenges faced by adaptive Serious Games include: player affect, ensuring an effective learning experience and potential real-time computational restraints.  Player affect and related states such as motivation, empathy and attention are known to play a key role in influencing learning outcomes [5]. Learning can fails to occur in the presence of negative states such as anxiety or boredom and can be enhanced by positive states such as engagement. However, despite the crucial role of affect in learning it is often overlooked within the research community and Serious Game design [6]. In order for an adaptive system to be able to process user affect it must possess some understanding beyond its internal environment. It must be able to perceive the affective status of the user and act accordingly to meet its goals. Affective agent technologies offer the potential to perceive and adapt to their environment, however they lack the ability to detect elements of user affect in real-time and to consequently adapt in a pedagogically effective manner. Furthermore, the mechanisms behind the learning benefits of Serious Games are still not fully understood. Only by developing clear links between gameplay and learning can a adaptive Serious Games system that can make intelligent and pedagogically effective decisions.
Reaching the goal of a fully realised adaptive Serious Game requires the development of more in-depth user models, methodologies for capturing user affect, a deeper understanding of gameplay, learning and the process through which they are linked. However, in spite of these challanges and more, Serious Games stand to benefit greatly from the development of adaptive systems in a number of ways from improved player experience to reductions in development costs.

References:

[1]Stephanidis, C. (2001). User Interfaces for All: New perspectives into Human-Computer Interaction. In C. Stephanidis (Ed.), User Interfaces for All – Concepts, Methods, and Tools (pp. 3-17).

[2]Rowe, J., McQuiggan, S., Robinson, J., and Lester, J. Off-task Behaviour in Narrative-Centered Learning Environments. 14th International Conference of Artificial Intelligence and Education, pp. 99-106, 2009.

[3]Cody, M., Ritterfield, U., Vorderer, P. 2009. Serious Games: Mechanisms and Effects.

[4]Fairclough, S.H. Psychophysiological Inference and Physiological Computer Games.

[5]Arroyo, I., Muldner, K., Burleson, W., and Woolf, B. Designing Affective Support to Foster Learning, Motivation, and Attribution

[6]Shute, V.J. Focus on Formative Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 2008.

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