Posted on

Designing with Fantasy in Augmented Reality Games for Learning

PhD Thesis, Tengjia Zuo

Contemporary young generations face numerous 21st-century learning challenges. Young students living in a technologically and information-rich culture benefit from advances in educational technology yet are distracted by the clutter that information technology brings. Previous work suggested that educators showed concerns about the effect of learning with digital technology in schools, and many students were disengaged and unsatisfied with e-learning environments.

T. Zuo, Designing with Fantasy in Augmented Reality Games for Learning, PhD Thesis, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, 2023. FULLTEXT: PDF REFERENCE: BibTeX EndNote

Game-based learning, integrating entertainment with instructional content, invites players to immersive and engaging contexts to acquire 21st-century skills with fewer geographical and time limits, as well as a more creative and a cognitively interesting manner. As a technology that also brings novel experiences and alternative views, Augmented Reality, which enhances tangible reality with virtual content, is considered a promising solution for motivating and situated gamebased learning.

Despite the potentially positive impact of AR game-based learning, designing an efficacious and engaging learning game is still challenging. Game-based learning differs from entertainment video games in that participants do not always voluntarily engage in gamified learning activities and may not perceive the activities as playing. Well-blended game elements with learning content can transition participants from a task-oriented to a play-oriented mindset and subsequently from adapting the game rules or fiction, to constructing meaning in the fictional reality. Designing with fantasy in games and creating imaginative and fictional situations that deviate from real-life has shown positive effects on engaging young players. However, little is known about how to design an enticing fantasy with pervasive AR technology in a way that capitalizes on technological affordances, engenders a motivating and satisfying experience, stimulates learning, and fits well into the educational context.

Empirical research on the effect of fantasy on player experience, educational contextual adaptation, learning motivation and efficacy is required to establish design strategies for incorporating fantasy into AR game-based learning. In this research, we first conducted a literature review to identify what constitutes fantasy and classify the aspects of fantasy in game-based learning that can be designed. With what we defined as fantasy elements in games, we designed and developed four games for learning Mathematics, English, and Chemistry in four studies we conducted. For each consecutive study, we conducted a quasi-experiment comparing fantasy and non-fantasy game elements.

Through a literature review, we initiated our research by investigating the constitution of fantasy in serious games. We found two major perspectives to explain fantasy, the imaginative concept that deviates from reality, in serious games: mental activity and artifacts. Fantasy in mental activities, an internalization process of fictional concepts, is mainly researched in psychology with respect to fantasy orientation, fantasy proneness, fantasy states, and player experience. Fantasy in artifacts, reflecting human-created fictitious themes, concepts, and circumstances, has various aspects in serious game design and research, including innovation of fantasy, fantasy game elements, fantasy genres, and integration strategies. With a structured understanding of fantasy in serious games, we performed four studies to investigate our research topics and provide design solutions for before, during, and after gameplay, as well as for classroom integration.

In study 1, we used our own design Mathmythos AR2 to explore the effect of avatar design (fantasy and similarity) on player identification and motivation. We discovered several correlations between player identification, motivation, and the similarity and fantasy settings of games in this study with 34 individuals aged 9~10 from Changzhou, China. We summarised several strategies to design avatars that entice students into the gameplay. This study inspires further research on the fantasy state, player experience, and motivational effect of fantasy avatars and narratives.

In study 2, we conducted research regarding fantasy states, autonomy, presence, and enjoyment using MathmythsosAR2 with 31 participants aged 9~11 from Qingdao, China. We constructed mediation models that explain the relationships between fantasy settings, fantasy states, player experience, and motivation. We synthesized several design strategies to engage players during the gameplay. We also reflect on this study. We found that exploring through qualitative perspectives on situating fantasy could help us understand children’s play and learning.

In study 3, we present our study regarding the possible learning effects of AR fantasy using our design Chemikami AR. We conducted a quasi-experiment with 124 participants aged 11-14 from the Netherlands and China. We found positive effects of AR and fantasy on declarative knowledge recall under different situations. We also compared age groups and cultures to generate diverse design solutions for different target groups to achieve effective learning after the gameplay.

In study 4, we introduce MathymythosAR2 and FancybookAR to investigate situating learning in fantasy for different educational subjects and learning contexts. Through qualitative and quantitative analyses, we summarised several design strategies for balancing players’ experience, engagement, and comprehension, as well as effectively integrating the role of teachers when situating learning in the fantasy of AR.

In general, this research presents 4 game designs and a theoretical framework. Through 4 studies with our designs, we identify relative concepts and explore and experiment with different stages of play and contexts of learning with AR fantasy. This research aimed at learning in the classroom with children aged from 7 to 14. We reflect on the design choices made and generalize practical design strategies that can benefit the future design of fantasy in AR game-based learning.