Rory Davidson

Rory Davidson

Learning and Strategy Acquisition in Digital Games

Given the success and impact of games and the gaming industry, it is unsurprising that it has become the centre of a significant body of academic research and other literature. However, while the cognitive effects of gameplay have been extensively studied, this has typically been done from a “black-box” perspective – that is, looking at the effects of gameplay as a whole upon some other task or metric, such as ability to strategize or proclivity to violence – leaving the inner mechanisms of cognition during gameplay much less understood. In particular, while the idea of learning from games is an area of continued interest in educational psychology, very little literature exists on the subject of how learning in games actually occurs on a cognitive level.

This study aims to fill this knowledge gap by examining the ways in which player learning and strategy acquisition occur within games. This examination will have two main hierarchical goals. In the first phase, the study will use experimental methods inspired by analysis of learning methods used in games as well as literature review of more general theories of learning and cognition, such as the dual-process account or the CLARION model, in order to form a model better specialized for the field of digital gaming. In the second phase, it will analyse how such a theory may be put to practical use to inform the design of games and game-like experiences.

These two phases can be summed up in the following main research questions:

Phase 1: How can strategy acquisition in digital games most effectively be explained as a cognitive process?

Phase 2: How can this understanding be put into practice in the development of games with specific desirable characteristics?

By linking a more complete understanding of cognition and learning during games with measurable or observable gameplay characteristics, this study will further research on gameplay experience, such as that on immersion. The first phase of research additionally has relevance to the field of AI, in which human responses to difficult and complex problems such as digital games may be mimicked or otherwise used to inform the design of new techniques, as well as to gamification, which attempts to elicit such responses in non-game contexts.

Home institution: York

Supervisor: Dr Paul Cairns

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