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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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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Another interesting distinction in game genres or game types is that of Exergames. Broadly speaking ‘exergames’ are all games that are controlled by bodily movement. Think of a game of virtual tennis, bowling or raft racing (Wii) and games like Dance Dance Revolution.

“Recently videogames that use physical input devices have been dubbed “exergames” — games that combine play and exercise.” (Bogost, 2005)

There was – and sometimes still is – concern that playing all these videogames is making us less physically active. Video games over the years have moved from the arcades of the 1970’s and 1980’s to desktops or game consoles in our living rooms, as well as to mobile platforms in our pockets. This means that we went from playing games (mostly) while standing up, slamming on big buttons and rattling a joystick to playing games (mostly) while sitting down and manipulating smaller buttons or keys with our fingertips (Bogost, 2005). By adding to our screen-time and our sedentary lifestyle, gaming was thought to be bad for our health and especially the health of our young people (Vandewater, Shim, & Caplovitz, 2004). In a time when the problem of child-obesity is of epidemic proportions, these concerns seem relevant. So eyes and hopes were turned to promoting a different method of game interaction; still on a screen but obliging the player to move around in order to control the game. Exergaming seems like a promising solution to the threat of sedentary gaming.

In order for all exergaming to work, some sort of sensoring is required. Sensors that can capture our bodily movements became more advanced and cheaper – making their way from research and therapeutic settings into peoples’ homes. Exergames are now used voluntarily in many living rooms, where the physical interaction is not viewed as ‘exercise’ but the whole game experience is viewed as entertainment.

Interacting with an exergame requires a certain expenditure of energy – more than a sedentary screen based interaction would – but not to the same amount as the original physical interaction that is being mimicked in the game environment (Daley, 2009).

Bogost, I. (2005). The rhetoric of exergaming. Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Cultures (DAC).
Vandewater, E. A., Shim, M.-s., & Caplovitz, A. G. (2004). Linking obesity and activity level with children’s television and video game use. Journal of adolescence, 27(1), 71-85.
Daley, A. J. (2009). Can exergaming contribute to improving physical activity levels and health outcomes in children? Pediatrics, 124(2), 763-771. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2357

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DEAL WITH IT / Serenity

One of the things out there that can give us more insight into coping by breaking a few things down is the structure of Primary and Secondary Appraisal (Chesney, Neilands, Chambers, Taylor, & Folkman, 2006). These are the two connected processes of looking at a situation to see if it is stressful and then deciding how to deal with it (being of aware of these two processes and being able to purposefully direct them would be meta-cognition).

Primary Appraisal is where we ask ourselves “Do I care?”. If we think that yes, this does matter to us and that this might take a lot of resources than the situation is judged as possibly stressful.

If so, secondary appraisal begins by asking “What can I do about it?”. Immediately tapping into your sense of control – or not – and your sense of self-efficacy – or not. It matters here that you value yourself and your skills and you recognize the abilities you have and foresee yourself applying them with vigour. It also matters that you see the situation for what it is and make a realistic judgement about how much of it can be changed. By you or by anyone else.

Secondary Appraisal continues into “What am I going to do about it?”. The answer to this question is your selected coping strategy – and more effort is not always the right answer. Sometimes in life there is really not much we can change about a situation. You would be better of trying to deal with it differently instead of trying to change it. There is no predetermined right or wrong coping strategy because it always depends. Mostly it depends on how much control you can have and how many resources you have available, emotional or otherwise.

When you choose a coping strategy that matches the amount of control you have, we call this ‘adaptive coping’ and this leads to fewer negative psychological symptoms than ‘maladaptive coping’ (Park, Folkman & Bostrom, 2001). Adaptive coping might mean that you select to do nothing because there is nothing that can be done, except deal with how you feel about it.

In my opinion this Secondary Appraisal process is most eloquently expressed in the Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971), famously used by Alcoholics Anonymous:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.


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Rehabilitation thinking for games in health

Designing and researching games in health has underlayers of models we (unwittingly) hold on what rehabilitation should be  – and held within this our concepts of disability – driving our design decisions or the questions we ask.

Rehabilitation: all measures that aim to lessen bodily, mental or psychological disability or social isolation or the effects thereof and to guide those afflicted by it (back) into society

(Franke, 2010).

Following this definition every measure that was intended to lessen suffering should be thought of as rehabilitation. It would follow that any measure intended to rehabilitate someone is ‘rehabilitation’ regardless of the effect of such a measure, at the same time the definition does not leave room for measures that might not have been intended to rehabilitate but in effect lessen a person’s disability. Here we find the same hopeful designer-driven definition as we do in Serious Games versus the more effect driven definition of Serious Gaming (see my chapter Understanding Serious Gaming for more on this).

In the application of gaming in rehabilitation we can often recognise INTEGRATION and even SEGREGATION thinking. Supposedly, a subgroup of humans (the disabled) is in need of games that are different from games for ‘normal’ people. In this line of thinking segregation occurs for example when hard- and software platforms are especially built for the disabled. An integration approach would be to build different games for the disabled but using the same platform as ‘normal’ players.

When a game is prescribed as part of a therapy – when the game is on a device made exclusively for the disabled and the gameplay is entirely focused on rehabilitative action, than these games adhere to the MEDICAL or NATURAL MODEL. In this model of thinking disease is an opposite state to health and never the twain shall meet. The SALUTOGENESE MODEL views health and disease not as a dichotomy but as a gliding scale (Lindstrom, 2010). In this model every person at every moment in their lives is healthy to some extend and unhealthy to some extend. So even when we are diagnosed as diseased (by the medical model) there are parts of our lives in which we are healthy. Thinking within either the medical or the salutogenese model leads to a different approach of the player and possibilities for gameplay. One can approach the design as for the ‘disabled’ or for a ‘player with a disability’.

Some definitions of disability concern the limitations in the expression of individuality, normality, adaptation and differentiation (Franke, 2010). Games can allow for all different kinds of expression by their designers and by their players. They move in between the realms of art, exploration, creation and learning.  There are different ways in which mediated games could be used to bend limitations of expression that disabled people might struggle with. A game designed in such a way that the experience of a disabled person may be shared with any another human being connects the gameplay to the Right of Community and Participation (Franke, 2010).

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