Review: Our Princess Is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education

Young, M. F., Slota, S., Cutter, A. B., Jalette, G., Mullin, G., Lai, B., … Yukhymenko, M. (2012). Our Princess Is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education. Review of Educational Research, 82(1), 61–89.

Abstract: Do video games show demonstrable relationships to academic achievement gains when used to support the K-12 curriculum? In a review of literature, we identified 300+ articles whose descriptions related to video games and academic achievement. We found some evidence for the effects of video games on language learning, history, and physical education (specifically exergames), but little support for the academic value of video games in science and math. We summarize the trends for each subject area and supply recommendations for the nascent field of video games research. Many educationally interesting games exist, yet evidence for their impact on student achievement is slim. We recommend separating simulations from games and refocusing the question onto the situated nature of game-player-context interactions, including meta-game social collaborative elements.

The authors ended up looking at 39 game studies in this meta-analysis: 3 in history, 8 in math, 7 in physical education, 11 in science, and 10 in language learning. 

Type of Study: Meta-Analysis

Terms highlighted in the article: 

  • Play according to Vygotsky is a means for children to develop abstract imaginative thinking and realize goals that they could not yet achieve in real life. (Very Cool!) Children use games to imitate war or "house" to mimic adult activities for which they must prepare. 
  • These authors define games as a culmination of many definitions as a voluntary activity structured by rules, with a defined outcome (e.g. winning or losing) or other quantifiable feedback (e.g. points) that facilitates reliable comparisons of in-player experiences.
    • They chose this because it eliminates simulations and digital visualization tools, which are not "true" games according to the definition, but can also include "game-like" games often found in alternate reality or virtual reality.  
  • Csikszentmihalyi (1990) suggests that is work can be fun, fun can also be work. Depending on the context of the gameplay, games that are normally enjoyable may be burdensome experiences depending on how they are utilized. 

This is a great meta-analysis of game use across multiple domains: Math, Language Learning, Physical Education, History, and Science. They suggest that educational games need to be designed and researched with learning theories in mind with close attention to matching learner capabilities and skill with gameplay. Game designers need to design in such a way that games feel situated to each learner, which, to me, suggests a real problem with using off-the-shelf games (i.e. Assassin's Creed, etc.) as instructional tools - only because controls and game navigation can be difficult for non-gamers. They suggest that the learning and game objectives must be closely linked before the student touches the controls. I cannot tell you how many times my daughters have invited her friends over and they decided to play video games. Since my daughter grew up with them, she has no problem jumping in and running around in free-world games; she understands how they work and can freely test the boundaries of her environment. She friends were often lost on what to do and what they are capable of doing. The game Super Mario Sunshine comes to mind. I recall the girls unable to use the control effectively, becoming frustrated, and handing the controls back to my daughter. This, of course, is not enough for me to completely see off-the-shelf video games as useless, but it should be notes that many non-gamers do not see video game environments the same or have the situated experiences to get the most out of the experience. It would come with time, of course. 

Also, the biggest learning improvements across all the learning domains were found in language learning and physical education. Games in many content areas are either too short, too "surface" (i.e. quick vocabulary skill-and-drill, practice exercises), or not immersive (i.e. lack of story). 

At the end of the article, the authors make some great recommendations:

  1. Construct working definitions that will facilitate the separation of video games and simulations
  2. Create a repository for educational video games
  3. Researched educational games already in use
  4. Conduct more longitudinal studies 
  5. Encourage collaboration between game companies and the educational community
  6. Conduct research where the game is not the sole component of the intervention
  7. Design assessments that explore learner social interactions 
  8. Match learning objectives with game objectives
  9. Stop seeking simple answers that address the wrong question. Certain games match with certain objectives and certain students; therefore, no video game outcome should be anticipated.