Investigating the success factors of serious games : a systematic review
Ravyse, Werner Siegfried
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Serious games are a vehicle for enhanced learning experiences and are delivered across a multitude of sectors and disciplines on a variety of platforms—some more successfully than others. This study addressed what makes serious games successful through the voices of significant authors in the field of serious games by means of a systematic literature review (SLR). An additional aim of the study was to determine whether the theoretical understanding of the empirical answer could contribute to a practical prototype tool for rating serious game designs. The varied levels of serious games success could be attributed to disputes about pedagogy over enjoyment (or vice versa), how much realism is enough or whether artificial intelligence is worth the cost. Furthermore, the contested debating gives rise to a perceived disconnection amid serious games protagonists. An initial investigation amongst individual articles to uncover specific serious games success factors was unsatisfying. Serious games articles predominantly report on the criteria that serious games are measured against (e.g. the ability to capture and maintain player interest). Researchers, inter alia, tend to repeatedly measure whether or not their games meet the criteria instead of seeking the success factors leading to these standards. Through this, the field of serious games appears to be in a perpetual spiral of does-my-game-work research while why-does-my-game-not-work research would be more worthwhile. Notwithstanding unconnected and somewhat led-astray studies that have little value, the field of serious games does seem to be built around immeasurable contributions and the selected SLR studies certainly contain nuggets of wisdom relating to the success factors of serious games. This success-factor wisdom was mined from 63 papers, obtained from a variety of electronic libraries and databases, for the time period 2000 to 2015. A constant comparison method for qualitative analysis unearthed five themes (backstory and production; realism; artificial intelligence and adaptivity; interaction; and feedback and debriefing) which became containers for the multiple success factors that were also brought to light. Three dimensions (learning, fun and dynamics) and their interplay with the five theoretical themes emerged from the SLR. This interpretation provided the backdrop for pilot-testing the practically oriented serious games gauge (SGG) prototype developed in Excelwith an underlying weighted grid structure. Four BSc Honours in IT students formatively pilot-tested the SGG against four serious games. Observation, interviews, perceived usefulness questionnaires and comparing the SGG ratings with existing remarks about the test games supplied a basis for determining that the SGG prototype has taken the first strides towards further development. A three-dimensional model describing the inter-relationships between the themes and dimensions concluded the theory-building exercise towards better understanding of the heart of serious games. The SLR indicated that the face value of significant individual studies should not be used to judge the unity of serious games research, but that the consolidated embedded details impart an essential structure of cohesiveness to the field of serious games. Future research with the SGG prototype has the potential to contribute a practical set of standards for quality serious games—games that will no longer be imposed, but rather played out of choice.