The Interactive Systems Research Group (ISRG) were commissioned by the National Learning and Skills Council to design, implement and evaluate a serious game to address the development needs of young people at risk of social exclusion; characterised as having low self esteem, poor levels of confidence, aggressive tendencies, and lacking basic and employment related skills.
Given an exacting functional specification and a content specification that was developed in collaboration with subject expert tutors, a design based on a role play adventure was implemented. In taking a first person perspective the trainee could only escape an about to explode volcanic island by undertaking personal development tasks (self esteem, managing aggression, responding appropriately to stress) where each successfully completed task earned a vital crew member to aid their survival.
The second part of the adventure found the survivors at New Island where their tasks were to train themselves in order to find sustainable employment in the island’s fish Factory. Testing was carried out in four major stages, each in four geographically distinct regions. The major goals that were identified in the design of the system were selected for evaluation. These were the ability of the system to engage (and sometime re-engage) learners and effectiveness.
The first goal involved qualitative analysis by comparing actual levels of engagement against tutors’ expectations and via observational studies; the second goal was more quantitatively focussed involving pre and post tests of subject related knowledge.
In most cases the levels of engagement of the target audience far exceeded expected levels, and in some startling occasions allowed previously excluded students to remain part of classroom activities. In all cases post test levels of learning either remained the same or improved upon pre test levels.
Finally the robustness of the experimental methodology is discussed, in the light of the needs of a follow up project to use serious games to engage offenders and those at risk of offending in learning basic skills, personal development and work sustainability. Potential limitations in using tutors’ expectations as a baseline measure for students’ customary levels of engagement are discussed.
A more objective method is suggested, based on an earlier EPSRC study to determine the strategies that human tutors use in scaffolding the activities of people with severe learning disabilities in using virtual environments. A repeated measures study with an experimental and control group is also suggested for measuring effectiveness.