Fun and Learning: Blending Design and Development Dimensions in Serious Games through Narrative and Characters

  • Tim MarshEmail author
  • Li Zhiqiang Nickole
  • Eric Klopfer
  • Chuang Xuejin
  • Scot Osterweil
  • Jason Haas


This chapter describes the development of four versions of a game for learning and comparative study carried out in a Singapore high school to shed light on the effectiveness of puzzle and narrative-based games in engaging students, their learning experience and understanding of the physics concepts of displacement and velocity. In particular, it describes the introduction of an off-screen character to help reach a synergy of fun and learning, through an optimal blend of design and development dimensions. The off-screen character achieves this through narration of an extended narrative/story intertwined with aspects of the learning topics. In this way the character’s purpose is twofold; firstly, as part of the narrative/story and secondly, as learning partner or assistant. Results from the study demonstrate that while some aspects of learning were comparable from both the puzzle and narrative versions of the game, the narrative versions provided a flexible and powerful approach to introduce technical/scientific terms and language associated with the topics of learning. In addition, players consistently rated the narrative versions as being more fun, more exciting, and more engaging. While relatively simple, it is argued that this approach is cost-effective and accessible in informing academics and teachers in schools in customizing their own virtual environments, simulations, games for learning, serious games, and commercially available off-the-shelf titles (COTS) with topics from the curriculum.


Gaming Experience Game Mechanic Learning Topic Game Feature Learning Game 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The research described herein is funded through the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Games Lab and is part of the project “Investigating the role of narrative in puzzle-based games and their relationship to students’ engaged learning experience”. Thanks to all members of the original Waker 1.0 development team (MIT, Summer 2009): Chuang Xuejin, Brandon Cebenka, Rini Ong Zhi Qian, Steven Setiawan, Anna Loparev, Lin Yuanqin, Eunice Khoo, Wong Chang You, Rich Vreeland, Kevin Driscoll, Sara Verrilli, Geoffrey Long, and product owners: Scot Osterweil, Eric Klopfer, Tim Marsh and Lan Xuan Le. Thanks also to Waker 2.0 development team led by Tim Marsh (NUS, 2010–2011): Lin Yuanqin, Steven Setiawan, Ho Yun, Diana Marsh, Yih-Lun Huang and Audrey Tan who assisted with programming, artwork, audio, character voiceover, study preparation and studies, respectively. Special thanks to teachers, staff and students of Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore.


  1. Bandura, A.: Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. W. H. Freeman, New York (1997)Google Scholar
  2. Behrend, T., Thompson, L.F.: Similarity effects in online training: effects with computerized trainer agents. J. Comput. Human Behav. 27, 1201–1206 (2011)Google Scholar
  3. Gulz, A.: Benefits of virtual characters in computer based learning environments: Claims and evidence. Int. J. Artif. Intell. Educ. 14, 313–334 (2004)Google Scholar
  4. Gulz, A., Haake, M.: Visual design of virtual pedagogical agents: Naturalism versus stylization in static appearance. In: Proceedings of the 3rd International Design and Engagability Conference, NordiChi 2006, Oslo, Norway (2006)Google Scholar
  5. Haake, M.: Embodied pedagogical agents: From visual impact to pedagogical implications. Doctoral Thesis, Department of Design Sciences, Lund University, Sweden (2009)Google Scholar
  6. Henriksen, T.D.: Dimensions in educational game-design: Perspectives on designing and implementing game-based learning processes in the educational setting. Nordic Playground, Reykjavik (2006)Google Scholar
  7. Kim, Y.: Desirable characteristics of learning companions. Int. J. Artif. Intell. Educ. 17(4), 371–388 (2007)Google Scholar
  8. Marsh, T., Li Zhiqiang, N., Chuang, X., Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., Haas, J.: Narrative and puzzle-based serious games and their relationship to students’ engaged learning experience. In: CGames 2010, 15th International Conference on Computer Games: AI, Animation, Mobile, Interactive Multimedia, Educational & Serious Games, Louisville (2010a)Google Scholar
  9. Marsh, T., Li Zhiqiang, N., Chuang, X., Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., Haas, J.: Investigating narrative and puzzle-based serious games and their relationship to students’ engaged learning experience. In: 1st International Workshop on Serious Games Development and Applications, Derby, UK (2010b)Google Scholar
  10. Marsh, T., Li Zhiqiang, N., Klopfer, E., Chuang, X., Osterweil, S., Haas, J.: Fun and Learning: The Power of Narrative, Foundations of Digital Games 2011 (FDG2011), Bordeaux, France (2011)Google Scholar
  11. Waker: Versions 1.0 and 2.0. Available from: Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Games Lab, MIT: DOI= (2009, 2011)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Marsh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Li Zhiqiang Nickole
    • 2
  • Eric Klopfer
    • 3
  • Chuang Xuejin
    • 4
  • Scot Osterweil
    • 5
  • Jason Haas
    • 6
  1. 1.James Cook UniversityQLDAustralia
  2. 2.Ubisoft & National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  5. 5.The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  6. 6.Comparative Media Studies Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations