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23 January 2015

Young Children’s Serious Gaming Behaviors Revealed

Keywords: computer, Western Europe, experiment, gaming, kids, learning,

Serious games are thought to foster young children’s learning by making the learning experience more fun and engaging. However, a study in Computers & Education shows that success of serious gameplay highly depends on children’s ability to regulate their attention and behavior. In order to develop effective serious games for young children, it’s important to take these developmental characteristics into account.  

Take aways

  • Success of serious gameplay depends on children’s ability to regulate attention and action behavior:
    • Children who are better able to control their attention, score higher on strategy-formulation and problem-solving when playing a game for the first time. 
    • Children who are less able to control their action, find it more difficult to stay engaged and focused when a game becomes more familiar.
  • Thus, children’s attentional control is important when children want to succeed in a serious game they play for the first time, and action control is important when they want to stay focused while playing serious games they are already familiar with.
  • For serious games to be successful, it is important that they are designed with new challenges (so it remains engaging even when played more than once), and without too many distractive features (so children keep goal-oriented over time).

Study information

  • The question?

    How are attentional and action control related to the in-game behaviors of children while playing a serious game? 

  • Who?

    106 5- to 7-year-old children (mean age: six years; 59% were boys) 

  • Where?

    The Netherlands, Europe

  • How?

    Children were instructed to play the serious game ‘My name is Hare’ twice. In the game a hare smells a nice odor and goes on an adventure to search the odor’s source. On his way, the hare must solve different tasks, by drawing story elements in the game (this was done with the computer mouse that was visualized as a paintbrush). The researchers registered amount of support that children needed to solve the tasks, time to succeed, number of mistakes, verbal expressions, questions, irrelevant game activities (i.e., extra drawings), and off-task behaviors.

    Next to these in-game behaviors, the researchers assessed two types of executive control: attentional control which refers to the ability to coordinate information processing, and action control which refers to the ability to coordinate behavior. 

Facts and findings

  • Children mastered the serious game quickly: they were for instance better able to solve tasks independently and needed less time to complete the tasks during the second round of gameplay as compared to the first time they played the game. 
  • Attentional control was related to efficient task performance the first time children played a serious game: children with lower levels of attentional control needed more time and support to succeed
  • Action control was related to children’s focus on and engagement with the game when playing the game for the second time: children with lower levels of action control showed more irrelevant activities and off tasks.