Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Interdisciplinary Models and Tools for Serious Games: Emerging Concepts and Future Directions


Problem solving is often discussed as one of the benefits of games and game-based learning (e.g., Gee, 2007a, Van Eck 2006a), yet little empirical research exists to support this assertion. It will be critical to establish and validate models of problem solving in games (Van Eck, 2007), but this will be difficult if not impossible without a better understanding of problem solving than currently exists in the field of serious games. While games can be used to teach a variety of content across multiple domains (Van Eck, 2006b, 2008), the ability of games to promote problem solving may be more important to the field of serious games because problem solving skills cross all domains and are among the most difficult learning outcomes to achieve. This may be particularly important in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which is why serious game researchers are building games to promote problem solving in science (e.g., Gaydos & Squire, this volume; Van Eck, Hung, Bowman, & Love, 2009). This is perhaps why serious game researchers are building games to promote problem solving in science Current research and design theory in serious games are insufficient to explain the relationship between problem solving and games, nor do they support the design of educational games intended to promote problem solving. Problem solving and problem-based learning (PBL) have been studied intensely in both Europe and the United States for more than 75 years, and while the focus of that study and conceptualization of problem solving have evolved during that time, there is a tremendous body of knowledge to draw from. Most recently, researchers (e.g., Jonassen, 1997, 2000, & 2002; Hung, 2006a; Jonassen & Hung, 2008) have made advances in both the delineation and definition of problem types and models for designing effective problems and PBL. Any models and research on the relation of games and problem solving must build on the existing research base in problem solving and PBL rather than unwittingly covering old ground in these areas. In this chapter, the authors present an overview of the dimensions upon which different problems vary, including domain knowledge, structuredness, and their associated learning outcomes. We then propose a classification of gameplay (as opposed to game genre) that accounts for the cognitive skills encountered during gameplay, relying in part on previous classifications systems (e.g., Apperley, 2006), Mark Wolf’s (2006) concept of grids of interactivity (which we call iGrids), and our own cognitive analysis of gameplay. We then use this classification system, the iGrids, and example games to describe eleven different types of problems, the ways in which they differ, and the gameplay types most likely to support them. We conclude with a description of the ability of problems and games themselves to address specific learning outcomes independent of problem solving, including domain-specific learning, higher-order thinking, psychomotor skills, and attitude change. Implications for future research are also described. We believe that this approach can guide the design of games intended to promote problem solving and points the way toward future research in problem solving and games.

First Page


Last Page