Masters and Doctoral Theses on Serious Games

A list maintained by Katrin Becker at SFU, ‘Serious Games Pathfinder‘:

The following is a list of Master’s and Doctoral theses that have been completed that have to do with serious games (and in some cases more broadly with digital games). Doctoral Theses are marked in bold. You can get more info on each thesis by clicking on the associated ‘details’ link.

Note: I am just starting to develop this list. So far, almost all the theses are Canadian ones. If anyone has a thesis they would like me to add, please let me know the following:

Name, Title, Year, Degree, Country, Institution, Department, Abstract, URL to the thesis (If you are willing, I’d like your nationality too).

Please send info on theses that are about DIGITAL GAMES ONLY (I am not interested in theses about Game Theory (i.e. math), ELearning, Virtual Spaces, Social Websites, Blogging, Graphics, AI, … UNLESS they specifically focus on applications to or for digital games)

I reproduce below the listing she has for 2008:


details Applications of CSP solving in computer games (camera control) Ali, Mohammed Liakat
details The invention of good games: understanding learning design in commercial video games Becker, Katrin
details Gamers as learners: Emergent culture, enculturation, and informal learning in massively multiplayer online games Chu, Sarah
details Consistency Maintenance for Multiplayer Video Games Fletcher, Robert D. S
details Homeless: It’s No Game – Measuring the Effectiveness of a Persuasive Videogame Lavender, Terrance
details The “Heat Game”: an augmented reality game for scientific literacy Rees, Carol
details Beyond Fun and Games: 
Interactive Theatre and Serious Videogames with Social Impact Shyba, Lori
details Believability, Adaptivity, and Performativity: Three Lenses for the Analysis of Interactive Storytelling. Tanenbaum, Joshua Glen
details Adolescent problem gambling: relationship with affect regulation, Internet addiction, and problematic video game playing Taylor, Robyn N
details Video game expertise and visual search and discrimination Wu, Sijing
details Computer-aided exercise Yim, Jeffrey W.H

Call for Papers: Chicago Digital Humanities

In my inbox this morning, a notice of what looks like a fantastic opportunity:

Call for Papers: 3rd Annual Chicago Digital Humanities/Computer Science Colloquium

DHCS Colloquium, November 1st – 3rd, 2008
Submission Deadline: August 31st, 2008

The goal of the annual Chicago Digital Humanities/Computer Science (DHCS) Colloquium is to bring together researchers and scholars in the Humanities and Computer Sciences to examine the current state of Digital Humanities as a field of intellectual inquiry and to identify and explore new directions and perspectives for future research. In 2006, the first DHCS Colloquium examined the challenges and opportunities posed by the “million books” digitization projects. The second DHCS Colloquium in 2007 focused on searching and querying as both tools and methodologies.

The theme of the third Chicago DHCS Colloquium is “Making Sense” – an exploration of how meaning is created and apprehended at the transition of the digital and the analog.

We encourage submissions from scholars and researchers on all topics that intersect current theory and practice in the Humanities and Computer Science.

Sponsored by the Humanities Division, the Computation Institute, NSIT Academic Technologies and the University Library at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the College of Science and Letters at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Interactive Fiction, Passively

PMOG:The Passively Multiplayer Online Game

An interesting feature of Pmog ‘missions’ is the way that so many of them are really guided tours of specialty websites (e.g. this one). This is a handy approach if, say, you teach via distance and you want to show your students what constitutes ‘good’ research sites.

Yet, that’s really nothing a powerpoint couldn’t already do. An interesting variant on these missions is the ‘puzzle’ mission, where creators exploit a glitch in the game to create breaks in the flow of the mission. The only way to progress is to solve the riddle to learn what website to go to next – whereupon the mission resumes.  Some of these, like ‘The Mystery Machine‘, require you to read the page to fill in the blanks: each word represents a letter in an ultimate URL. If you’ve got the right letters and you complete the last URL, the resulting webpage represents the ‘Victory!’ screen.  Others are more complex, more devious. My own mission, ‘The Case of the Missing … Something” depends on anagrams of URLs (which is mean, I know). I can’t solve ‘The Lost Gold of Dr. Nes‘, since it depends on a gamer’s knowledge of nintendo, but the principle is good.  ‘Meet Felix Klein‘ takes the player on a tour through various flickr photographs to create a kind of visual story. No puzzle, but it certainly *feels* like an old-style text adventure.

All of these represent a new twist on “interactive fiction”, with the fiction layered on top of the day-to-day internet (perhaps a riff on augment reality, too?).  In a way, they are like the ‘Prisoner Escape from the Tower of London‘ game created by mscape: the fiction intersects with daily life to create the game, with events being triggered by your physical or virtual location in the game space. Unlike regular interactive fiction, the game creator does not control that game space – other people intrude (in Pmog, other players might lay, for reasons unrelated to the mission you happen to be on, mines or portals on pages within a mission, which could -perhaps- prevent you from completing it).

The archaeological angle: simple show and tell of vetted sites is good, for starters. Using Pmog (or other AR) to create layers of information/meaning on top of the information is even better. You could imagine a student creating a pmog mission on curse-tablets. This might begin as simple show and tell. Other students could then play the mission, leaving mines on pages they think are ‘bad’ (poor information, bad research, whatever) or portals to ‘good’ sites… the game records the play, and the meta-analysis afterwards with the prof would spark a deeper discussion. Inserting puzzles into the mission would force a deeper engagement still, and completing a puzzle mission would constitute a formative assessment exercise.  Creating missions could also be exercises in public archaeology for the students,  if built around a decent resource (say the British Museum, or Chaco Canyon).

What I’m arguing for is that we, as educators, need to be using things like Pmog to get our students to engage with online materials in a deeper fashion. They are too often uncritical users of what they find. They need to interact passively.

Text-based virtual worlds: an archaeological MOO

Who says immersive learning or virtual worlds have to be in 3D? Text-based worlds solve a lot of problems for the designer of a virtual world, since, as the old Infocom advertisement had it, your brain is the best graphics processor out there. From a few words, you can fill in the blanks, making the world as rich as you can imagine it. I mentioned the Like-a-Fishhook MOO in this post, but I didn’t explore it very much.

The Like-a-Fishhook MOO aims to be a representation of an archaeological excavation. You can browse the content without necessarily playing the game.

“This project aims to construct a virtual, immersive, multi-user, spatially oriented, exploratory, “to the inch” simulation of the Fort Berthold and Like-A-Fishhook Village site complex. The reconstruction is based on archeological data and records of the site’s excavation. The first version is text-based, with migration to a 3D graphical interface part of the project plan. Our goal is to create an active and educational space where visitors are engaged in goal-based tasks that promote exploration and problem-solving.
This is NOT intended to be a museum peice where people come to wander around and passively look at things. Visitors will be engaged in learning a) writing, or b) history, or c) anthroplogy, or d) archeology; later modules may incorporate elements of e) geology, or f) botany, or g) nutrition.”

The opening screen looks like this:

“Entrance to 32ML2

Room # 515

The pickup stops and you get out. You are on a road heading west from Fort Stevenson. You see a large, flat, grass-covered plain that extends for about 2000 feet.

To the south, you see that this terrace slopes down toward a body of water.

Far to the west, near the edge of the terrace, you see a some tiny specks that look tents, some even smaller specks that might be people, and several mounds of dirt.

To the north you see a grassy area and north of that a field.”

Now, I copied-and-pasted that description from the ‘Browse the MOO’ popup, since when I tried to create an account, there was mismatch between the domain name of my email, and the domain through which I connect to the net. Wiser minds than mine will have to explain what was going on. Anyway, the text version of this world – in which the player will conduct archaeological research – is supposed to migrate to a 3d world eventually. But having been made motion sick playing Oblivion recently, there’s something to be said for text…

One advantage of having this text-only world (which is of course similar to the text adventures that dominated computer gaming in the 1980s) is best put by the authors of the Wikipedia entry on MOOs:

“One of the most distinguishing features of a MOO is that its users can perform object oriented programming within the server, ultimately expanding and changing how the server behaves to everyone. Examples of such changes include authoring new rooms and objects, creating new generic objects for others to use, and changing the way the MOO interface operates. “

This enables the user, a la Second Life, to make the world around them (more or less)  and differentiates a MOO from a straight-forward text adventure such as you’d create using Inform.

It would be interesting to have students work through both this text simulation of an excavation, and my 3d version in Second Life, and examine the kind of (and if!) learning occurs…

Damnatio Memoriae, a work of Interactive Fiction by Emily Short

I am, amongst other things, interested in interactive fiction for teaching, learning, and research. And of course I’m not a dried-up old prune: I like these things to be fun too!

Emily Short is currently one of the best writers of interactive fiction – here’s a piece by her with a Roman flavour, ‘Damnatio Memoriae’

“14 AD. Agrippa Postumus, grandson of the recently-deceased Augustus, tries to avoid death at the hands of the next emperor, Tiberius. At his disposal: a couple of old manuscripts, a lamp, and a recalcitrant slave. And a powerful knowledge of the Art of Venus Genetrix, of course — the magic eventually known as the Lavori d’Aracne.

Damnatio Memoriae belongs to a series with the author’s previous game Savoir-Faire; though it can stand alone, the game’s mechanics will make most sense to players already familiar with that work.

It is a fast, timed game, taking only a few minutes to play once, but probably requiring multiple attempts to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.”

Interactive Fiction experiment continues

I wrote a while ago about how I’ve been working with a local grade school teacher to use text adventures to improve literacy with her class. The approach she took with this ‘interactive fiction’ was a bit different than what I expected – but perhaps is a model for others.

She first built a simple adventure using ADRIFT, to get the students used to how the story might work (see my earlier post, Interactive Fiction (Text Adventure!) in the Classroom). Over a series of sessions she had the students divide into groups to work on particular ‘rooms’ for their own adventures. What does the room look like? What will happen in this room? This collaborative work was all done with pencil and paper, followed by students’ swapping their work with each other for group edits. What was interesting about this stage was how – interactively, without a computer – an adventure took place situated in their own school grounds. In most cases, the editing process really improved the descriptions of each room – although there was one group, who upon receiving the edited version of their room, proceeded to erase others’ edits to return it to its original state. When the disparate parts were put together using ADRIFT, remarkably, a plot seemed to emerge. This allowed the teacher to discuss the mechanics of fiction with a group that has an extremely low level of literacy ability.

So… the computer was only used to bracket this project. ‘Interactive fiction’ usually refers to the playing or reading of these works, but in this case, it was actually the creation that demonstrated the interactivity.

Twisty Little Passages

Have just got myself a copy of Nick Montfort’s “Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction”. He’s analysing interactive fiction – sometimes text adventures, sometimes not – from a narratology point of view, which is quite interesting. Especially the first bit, where he’s talking about the different ‘voices’ in the fiction…. makes me think of the role of the chorus in Greek tragedy… Speaking of things classical, I’ll be speaking at the Classical Association of Canada Annual General Meeting at Memorial University in Newfoundland in a few months – here’s my abstract:

“Why Read About Rome When You Can Build It?” Simulations, Gaming, and Classics

It is no coincidence that a huge number of commercial game titles feature Classical themes. People enjoy these games not least because they are entranced by the subject matter. This is an opportunity for us as educators, but we have to reflect carefully on how to take the advantage. Done well, the incorporation of games can lead to increased levels of literacy, domain knowledge, and critical thinking skills. For distance students in particular, online simulations and games provide a level of immersion that has been demonstrated to improve their learning to a level above that of traditional classroom experiences.

However, sometimes, games and simulations used in a learning context achieve precious little in terms of the resources invested. In this paper therefore I suggest a rationale and methodology for embedding simulations and games in the teaching of Classics. I will also present the design for a prototype of a text-based adventure game written in Latin, for improving students’ ability to read the ancient language naturally.”

Interactive Fiction (Text Adventure!) in the Classroom

Text adventures have completely dropped off the radar, as far as gaming is concerned, although there is still a hard-core of devotees out there. I always liked playing them as a kid, and as part of my research for the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock, I’ve been looking at them again as teaching tools.

I now have two versions of the Interactive Fiction aka Text Adventure project in two different classroom settings. One is as a club activity at lunch time at a local high school, the other is formally integrated into a split grade 4/5 classroom. Both have been interesting experiments so far…

I wanted to see if the process of building a game could help foster historical literacy amongst high school students – more on that later. Another teacher I know (the 4/5 teacher) became interested and wanted to see what would happen in her classroom – her students have reading and writing problems, and she hoped that the making and playing a text adventure would help improve her class’s general literacy.

She told her students “we’re going to be making a video game” – to great cheers – “and it’s going to be a text adventure” – to great moans. But as it turned out, her students had no idea what a text adventure was. She has a smart board, a digital white board, installed in her classroom. She loaded up the small demonstration game that we had built and put it on the smart board. Then, as the class read the text aloud, she selected students to go up to the board and type in commands. The kids love going to the smart board, so the chance to do so is a very useful management technique for her. As different kids tried to put in commands, others in the class would offer suggestions, or corrections, to the kid at the board. Pretty soon, the whole class was deeply engrossed in the game.

Today she told the class that the game they would be making would be for a more junior class. This has the advantage that her kids get to feel important – they’re helping the teachers teach the smaller kids! – and it allows her weaker kids not to be embarrassed by their own level of literacy since as a class they’re aiming at the younger kids (and so weaker readers/writers). The kids are mapping out rooms (the adventure will take place in their school), they’re creating characters, and they’re planning out puzzles. The software for making the game is itself probably too advanced for these kids, so we will either take their ideas and put them into the game editor, or else work intensely with some of the more advanced kids (so that they get to stretch their minds too!).

Interactive Fiction – the Text Adventure Returneth

I used to love text adventures as a kid. I remember playing ‘Adventure’ for hours… I find it amazing that text adventures haven’t made a bit of a comeback these days. My students send text messages to each other for hours (even when they sit beside each other) – surely this is a ripe market? And indeed, there are companies out there making adventures for Ipods etc..

So, in conjunction with the local high school and its archaeology club (how that club came to be is another story, for another time), I’m going to see whether creating an historically-based text adventure can be a way of creating historical literacy. The hand-out I’m giving the kids is below:

A lonely steam whistle punctures the darkness. You turn, and watch the Prince Arthur slip her moorings and steam away into the night along the Ottawa River. You sigh to yourself. It has been a long journey from Montreal and the offices of the Canadian Illustrated News.

“Go to the wilderness, young Henry! See what is happening in the Dominion’s newest Towns and Cities!” said your editor.

An easy assignment…. But on board the steamer from Union Village to Portage, you began to hear rumours about this village, unpleasant eddies beneath its placid exterior.

“Well Henry, time to see if there are any lodgings to be had in this town” you say to yourself, as the rain begins to pelt down.

A flash of lightening reveals another lonely figure standing on the wharf. It looks to be a girl of about 12. And she’s crying.

You can see a building by the water’s edge.


This project is to create a work of interactive fiction, also known as a text adventure. Before decent graphics, text adventures were one of the best selling games in the industry. They are now enjoying a renaissance, since they can be played on Ipods and other PDAs and handheld computers that can’t handle complex graphics. ‘Text adventure’ does not mean that there are not any graphics or sounds. However, they are used generally to support the action of the text, by providing visual or auditory clues to solve the puzzles of the game.

I’m inviting the PHAC to become involved in this project. I will provide a game generator to help you make the game. There is a very real possibility that we will publish this game on the internet – so if you can make a good game, you will be able to put this on your resume, and it might open up some career or educational doors for you (Algonquin has a three year game design programme, for instance). And it just might be fun too!

What are the parameters?

  • The game will begin with the paragraph above (‘A lonely steam whistle…”)
  • It will be set in Portage sometime in the last quarter of the 19th century. There are maps and photographs of Portage in the Archives that you will need to consult to construct the game.
  • You will need to develop the locations, the tasks (puzzles), the characters, and the descriptions of the people, places, things : the story
  • You will need to plan out all of the locations, and use storyboards to work out what will happen in the game

Game development companies usually divide these tasks up, with one or two people providing overall guidance and control. I will act as the producer, providing you with the resources you need to build the game. Other roles are:

· Project Manager: keeps everybody on schedule, and on task

· Level designer: creates the map of the ‘world’

· Lead Writer: creates the overall story

· Writer: writes the descriptions and texts

· Puzzle designer: works with the lead designer and the level designer to work out what the puzzles are, where they will be, and how they are solved

· Programmer: puts the game together so that it may be played.

In this case, the programming will not be from scratch, but rather will use a game editor called ADRIFT. I will provide training in how to use this program.