Here it is, after a two week break. This week we’ll look at the following article:
Dickey, Michele D. “Game Design Narrative for Learning: Appropriating Adventure Game Design Narrative Devices and Techniques for the Design of Interactive Learning Environments.” ETR&D. 54.3 (2006): 245-263.
Michele Dickey is a professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She focuses on instructional design and technology and has several publications on games and gamers. So, she knows a thing or two about instruction and video games.
Dickey’s main purpose is to look at the possible place of narrative structures and games in the problem solving process and learning environment. This article focuses on adventure games, after briefly covering other genres and mentioning the overlap of genres. Adventure games tend to have the most developed narrative structures. After a literature review (with some wonderful resources I’ll be digging up later), Dickey moves into the theoretical framework section of the article. In this section she touches on the idea of learning environment. Basically, this is a more modern idea among educators that students learn best when engaged and have an interactive environment in which to learn. Knowledge (unlike information) cannot be transmitted from the instructor to the student. The student has to construct her knowledge within the framework of the learning environment. The old notion of lecturing and mindlessly copying notes doesn’t cut it here. Students can be approached individually in a learning environment unlike the old school approach of having “each student do the same thing at the same time” (249).
Again, Dickey focuses on the adventure genre of games because of the more developed narrative structures found in them. They can overlap with other genres, such as puzzle, first-person shooters, etc. The adventure genre of games can, according to Dickey, “be characterized as a problem-solving environment” (250). Problem-solving environments require players to interact and synthesize the information. They have to use the narrative structure and environment of the game to solve problems, puzzles, go on quests, etc. This can mean interacting with and interpreting characters in the game, utilizing objects, solving riddles, etc.
Dickey also discusses how narrative factors into motivation. She does this by looking to the field of literature (my old stomping ground). Narrative based games use plot hooks (what keeps you guessing, wanting to find out more) and emotional proximity (identification with the character the gamer is playing, investment in the narrative) to engage gamers. Using literature again, Dickey looks at the idea of the quest as a draw to keep gamers engaged and interacting.
While motivation is important in gaming and to the narrative design, Dickey sees narrative better served in the instructional setting as a “cognitive framework for problem solving” (252). What’s that, you may wonder? Humans have a habit of using narrative to define boundaries when they’re solving problems. If you’re playing a game where the character can use magic spells, you’ll put that into your cognitive framework. Likewise if your character has the ability pick locks, sword fight, utilize modern technology, etc. The cognitive framework aids you in developing categories and relationships to work with. You become aware of the characters you can interact with and how you can interact, what objects are beneficial and not, what skills are likely to be relevant, etc. The narrative allows you to “identify and construct causal patterns that integrate what is known (backstory, environment, rules, etc.)” (252). You figure out what you can and cannot do in the game setting through the narrative and through some trial and error in that narrative setting.
Dickey points out that the narrative structure provides a “scaffolding for problem solving” (256). Players develop skills for problem solving and “multimodal literacy” as they encounter problems, puzzles, and obstacles. They have to use critical thinking skills in order to navigate the game and reach their goals.
Dickey closes the article with a section on integrating adventure game narrative into the learning environment. She points out that this is a framework not a “formula” for designing a course or learning environment. She also points out the obvious notion that games are designed primarily for entertainment. So, not all games will work for learning environments or as educational tools.