A tale of two papers

Writing, submitting and publishing a paper contains the best of times and the worst of times. There is great pleasure in getting your thoughts down on paper, hammering on them with earlier research and the critical eyes of all the available authors, editors and peers and putting them to test of  scientific method. We’ve gone through this process twice now with Bloom’s revised taxonomy and five psychotherapeutic games.

One of the thoughts at the centre of my research for a Philosophical doctorate, was that greater transference of game content into life beyond, might be achieved when a game would address a meta-cognitive level. This is an interesting higher level of cognition where your actions are decided – possibly by you. All very well, but first we needed a solid determination of this meta-cognition and when it was happening during gaming before we can start testing it’s power of transference. I found the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy which included a category for meta-cognition and wondered if this might be suitable to task.

While discussing such considerations with a fellow Horizon2020 reviewer and game researcher,  who seemed interested in this concept of meta-cognition, we came up with a plan: Let us try this taxonomy on five different psychotherapeutic games and see what we get. We did this work and shaped our results into the paper Looking for Metacognition subsequently send to GALA 2016 (International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance) where it was reviewed, accepted and won 3rd place in the best paper competition.

Rejoice! This distinction also meant that we were invited to publish an extended version of our paper in the IJSG (International Journal of Serious Games) special edition. I saw fit to use this opportunity to confront a limitation of our work that had been bothering me – if I wanted to use this Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy across different games to identify meta-cognition for further analysis, I needed to prove that it had intercoder reliability. We decided that adding the process of TESTING our application of the taxonomy on the five games would provide enough of an extension – and that we were in need of more researchers to perform the coding with us. Luck was with us, as two more befriended researchers considered this work to be interesting enough to pursue, and on we continued with the four of us.

Headlong into trouble. Our process of applying the taxonomy proved itself as highly subjective and we concluded that this taxonomy was entirely unsuitable for the kind of work we had had in mind for it. This was not what we had expected – but a question once asked must content itself with the answer it receives. We described our process in detail and sent out our findings to IJSG to be peer-reviewed. Our work was returned to us with many comments. Most of which greatly added to the structure and clarity of the paper. Most of the critique of our peers was much appreciated and the paper was changed accordingly. Some comments threw out our process under ‘bad methodology’ due to the results we obtained. One of our peers felt that if the taxonomy did not meet the criteria of intercoder reliability, we should work on a protocol until it did meet the criteria and that that paper might be a work worth publishing. We disagreed.

Now, our paper wasn’t the greatest of works. No great academic achievement, no awards were awaited by any of us. Certainly, there was much to improve and with the help of another round of reviewing, improve it we did. And yet comments remained that we could not bend to without disavowing our results. We disagreed. We were notified that our work would not be published.

So our combined efforts lay in vain. Restructured, debated and refined into a simple point being made in great detail. No great revelatory work, but I felt none the less that it was work that would contribute in a small way to a greater understanding in our discipline. I happened upon a journal (International Journal of Computer Games Technology) that matched the interests of our work, practiced publishing open to everyone and willing to waive the payment it usually required. Quickly, I adapted our work one more time, to the style demands of the publication, and notified my fellow researchers as we send out hope once more. The editor returned that they were interested in our work and once more it moved onwards to be critiqued by our peers. We received the comments of just one reviewer. Most of the comments were small and adhering to them improved the work further, some of the comments questioned the method due to the results. We disagreed.

We were notified that that our work would be published: Using the Revised Bloom Taxonomy to Analyze Psychotherapeutic Games.

So here we stand – at the end of a road that took two years. A road that has seen much debate and effort of all kinds, for which we are grateful. At the end we can conclude simply that the thoughts we had did not pass the act of being tested – which is helpful, as it prompts us to look elsewhere. If we are to find what is efficient we also need to distil what is unsuitable.

Both papers – and other work – might also be found here

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Learning strategies and metacognition

In very broad strokes there are three kinds of learning strategies:
and organisational.

Rehearsal is the much used ‘rinse and repeat’ approach of content repetition or rote learning.
Elaboration might include the use of mnemonics, paraphrasing or summarizing content. These elaboration strategies lead to a deeper level of processing and better comprehension of the content as compared to rehearsal strategies (Pintrich, 2002).
Applying organizational strategies means connecting content elements by note-taking or, for example, creating a mind-map.

Metacognition is applied in the planning, monitoring and regulating of various learning strategies.  This metacognitive knowledge of different learning strategies and their (conditional) application seems to be involved determining the transfer of learning. ‘Transfer’ refers to the ability of using knowledge learned in one setting or situation, in another setting or situation (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999).

The demand of metacognition on working memory is two-fold:

  • The problem solving thoughts
  • Monitoring and regulating the thinking about the problem solving thoughts

In a teacher-student situation, the demand on working memory might be shared as the teacher offers cognitive resources for the actual problem solving or for the monitoring and regulating. This sharing of working memory resources is an application of distributed cognition (Schwartz et al., 2009).



Christoph, L. H. (2006). The role of metacognitive skills in learning to solve problems.

Weinstein, C. E., & Mayer, R. E. (1986). The teaching of learning strategies. Handbook of research on teaching, 3, 315-327

Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into practice, 41(4), 219-225

Bransford, J. D., & Schwartz, D. L. (1999). Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications. Review of research in education, 61-100

Schwartz, D. L., Chase, C., Chin, D. B., Oppezzo, M., Kwong, H., Okita, S., Wagster, J. (2009). Interactive metacognition: Monitoring and regulating a teachable agent. Handbook of metacognition in education, 340-358

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A Framework for developing Serious Games for Health

The paper Developing Theory-Driven, Evidence-Based Serious Games for Health: Framework Based on Research Community Insights by Verschueren and colleagues provides a well-researched framework for developing any serious game and especially one for health/wellbeing purposes.

Their research into efficacy and best-practices in game development is poured into a framework with five stages

It all starts with asking the right questions, finding out what is relevant to your goals and preferable forming a hypothesis & thereby setting metrics, early on in development. Gather data from research, interviews and observation. Get your players, health care professionals and other stakeholders involved but not every step of the way begs the same kind of involvement. Test, iterate, test, iterate… and always keep your eyes on what you’ve determined as your goal and what was relevant to this. And finally, if you can, test your hypothesis.

I really recommend this paper – great read with good guidelines to follow!

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PhD Gaming to cope

Gaming has promise.
In order to fulfil its didactic promise we need to understand exactly what goes on while people are ‘in game’ and how this joyful experience can be used to facilitate positive behaviours – such as functional coping strategies.
In my research I will be investigating the concepts of motivation, control beliefs such as self-efficacy and knowledge processing on a metacognitive level. My hypothesis is that the transfer of in-game behaviour and experiences to ‘real life’ behaviour and experiences can best be facilitated on a metacognitive level (as well) in order to manifest.

The (un)proving of such an hypothesis, leads to the question of measurement. Currently, there is no decent measurement for transference of in-game behaviour and experiences to ‘real life’ behaviour and experiences which takes into account the interactive nature of a game environment and the more abstract knowledge levels that might be the key to behavioural success.
This research aims to add to and deepen effect research of gaming.
• Transference
• Metacognition
• Coping strategies
Game environments
• Exergames
• Alternate Reality Gaming
• Massively Multiplayer Online
Methodological issues
• Interactive environments
• Mediated modelling

The research is done under the supervision of Prof. Ute Ritterfeld and jun. Prof. Matthias Hastall of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Science at the Technical University of Dortmund. Here you will find the original proposal Gaming to cope – a three year plan written by me and accepted by the TU Dortmund in the fall of 2013.

summer 2015 Two years in and of course, things look different than they did at the start. Deepening of the concept of ‘strategic knowledge’ and discovering ‘meta-cognition’. Finding ‘resilience’ and different types of ‘stress or arousal’ – doing an online priming experiment and adding PROCESS – mediation, moderation and conditional process analysis – to the research toolbox. Please find some of the pieces I wrote along the way here:

Recipe for serious gaming (in health care)
Reality is broken – McGonigal – book review
VR and games as therapeutic tools
A knowledge taxonomy
Barriers to health appeals
So you think you can… Self-efficacy, health and reappraisal

Summer 2016 I ended the PhD without finishing it. Below you can find results from an online experiment I worked on and some other writings:

Does a game prompt make us excited?
Keep your arousal high
Rehabilitation thinking in game design
If you have any questions or possibilities for collaboration, contact me anytime.

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Greater self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is a persons’ belief in their capability to perform any task. When looking at self-efficacy we are not so much loooking at how correct this assesment is, but rather we are interested in the belief of the person.


We can enhance our sense of self-efficacy in four ways (Bandura, 1994, 2004, 2006b):

Mastery experience,
Social models,
Social persuasion and
Reappraisal of somatic and emotional state.

Our success experiences build up our sense of self-efficacy while experiencing failure lowers our self-efficacy. However, if our successes are too easily achieved our built up self-efficacy collapses at the first unexpected setback. A robust sense of self-efficacy comes from the experience of overcoming obstacles; good mastery experiences require effort.

We can judge what effort we expect to lead to what results in our own behaviour, by observing the behaviour of others. This social modelling depends highly how similar we judge the people we are looking at to ourselves. The more alike we think we are, the more our self-efficacy shifts depending on the efforts and results of the other. We look for social models that display the skills we desire and try to learn ways to achieve such skills from them.

Psychological boosts by social persuasion are easily deflated by reality and do not provide any resilience over time. However, persuading people that they are capable can create just enough of an increase in effort and commitment that it might lead to a successful mastery experienceSocial persuasion is most successful when it focuses on teaching how to structure situations to maximize the chance of success and by prompting to measure success in terms of self-improvement instead of comparison to others.

We often interpret our physical responses and our mood-state as related to our capabilities in a negative way while this need not be the case. Persons with a high sense of self-efficacy can interpret a state of arousal as a motor to action whereas persons with a low sense of self-efficacy can interpret the same state as an obstacle to action, or even an indication to cease all efforts (Brooks, 2013). Learning to Reappraise your somatic or emotional state from negative (I am anxious) to positive (I am excited) can increase self-efficacy. Read more on reappraisal here: Keep your arousal high

Bandura, A. (1994). Self‐efficacy: Wiley Online Library.
Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health education & behavior, 31(2), 143-164.
Bandura, A. (2006a). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents, 5(307-337).
Bandura, A. (2006b). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on psychological science, 1(2), 164-180.
Brooks, A. W. (2013). Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement.

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Different theories on humour

Aggression, incongruity, and arousal-safety are the three explanatory mechanisms that most humour theories rely on.

When a joke attacks an individual or group, this is considered an aggression based joke. These kind of jokes usually contain a lot of stereotypes that are considered to be funny and popular (Zillmann & Cantor, 1976). Jokes of this nature have two important goals: one is to gain solidarity of the joker with the audience and the second one is to exclude a (victimized and ridiculed) target group (Norrick, 2003). Even when an aggressive element is clearly present, the social “meaning” of the joke is often to be found at a deeper level (Ritchie, 2005).

Giora’s (2003) salience hypothesis provides a more detailed account of humourous incongruity. According to Giora people access the most salient meaning first. Humour exploits this tendency by providing an account consistent with a highly salient interpretation; the punch line forces us to revisit initially activated but still contextually suppressed concepts. A crucial feature of Giora’s account is the prediction that jokes involve not merely a surprise ending, but active suppression of the original interpretation.

Yus (2003) also mentions the punch line of a joke as being the most salient. It’s about discovering the congruous elements. The tension and the relief will come after the meaning of the joke is figured out. This is called the arousal-safety theory. This theory explains the relief of  ‘getting it’. But what is the humourous effect in this? Sperber and Wilson (1986) argue that according to relevance theory, searching a relevant context ceases with the first interpretation that provides an adequate balance of effects for efforts.  The punch-line at the end  makes this initial interpretation go away and activates a new interpretation, based on an entirely different context (Giora, 2003).Yus suggests that the realization that one has been fooled by the joker, coupled with “a positive interaction of the joke with the addressee’s cognitive environment” helps explain the humourous effect.

Reasons to laugh

Laughing is not always a result of humour; according to relief theory, people sometimes laugh because they need to reduce physiological tension (Meyer, 2000). Relief theory assumes that laughter and mirth result from a release of nervous energy.

According to superiority theory, people laugh because they feel some kind of triumph over others or feel superior to them (Meyer, 2000). From this perspective humour has a primarily emotional function, helping the humourist to build confidence and self-esteem (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2004). Laughter and mirth appear when one feels a certain superiority towards the other who is inferior, weak and defeated. Ridicule and making fun of those who are less fortunate, are typical themes of humour covered by superiority theory (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2004).

From the perspective of incongruity theory, people laugh at unexpected or surprising happenings. According to this theory, it is the unexpected that comes up which provokes humour in the mind of the receiver. Rather than focusing on the physiological (relief theory) or emotional (superiority theory) function of humour, incongruity theory emphasizes cognition. It assumes that the cognitive capacity to note and understand incongruous events is necessary to experience laughter or mirth. The main themes here are absurdity, nonsense, and surprise.


Excerpt from Humour theories: Schadenfreude in the media. Literature review, 2008. http://www.priscillaharing.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Schadenfreude-lit-review.pdf

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