The Compendium of Bothersome Beasties: A SPLOT for Self-Reflection & Formative Feedback


The link to the Compendium is here:

Following the pilot of Remixing D&D (find the original post here: Remixing D&D – Student Self-Reflection & Formative Assessment in a Playful Way.) there have emerged some interesting findings so far. Unfortunately, due to a number of issues with the way our AddVantage+ Module scheduling runs and time tabling (optional modules that run alongside core discipline studies), I was only able to test out the journal and monster reflection techniques. I plan on writing another post that talks about the trials, tribulations and unexpected joys of the pilot, but for now I want to show one thing that came out of the research so far.

Following the feedback from the pilot, the students indicated that the paper version that was being trialled, was a useful tool to reflect each week on the issues they were facing. They further went on to say that they would use their journal to help them write their final assessment piece at the end of the module. All good stuff and essentially what I was hoping for.

However, another thing that the students fed back on in our early focus groups, was that they wanted a more structured system. Something easier to manage. Something less faffy. Essentially, something online. This was great to hear actually, as I had always envisioned the reflection tool as an online entity, where students could access it at any point and I would have very little admin to carry out each week (yey to less admin!). Whilst I am sorry about the potential of no more physical journals (although these were also received very well by the students as they were beautiful things), it did affirm our suspicions that online was the way to go with this sort of edu exercise.

And so, our journey of the SPLOT began. SPLOT (Smallest Possible Learning Online Tool) was suggested to me by Lauren at the Lab (/wave hi Lauren) as a tool that could hold my rambling thoughts of somehow smooshing D&D and student self-reflection into a thing. After rambling in her general direction, and then at Cogdog (who is the dude behind SPLOTS), and then at Lauren again, we settled on a layout of what would become ‘The Compendium of Bothersome Beasties (and how to deal with them). Inspired by D&D, JKR and the wonderful Brian Froud, the Compendium is essentially a Bestiary of student problems.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 20.12.37

Although the Compendium makes up only a small part of what I had originally envisioned, I think it has an elegance about it (if I do say so myself) that allows students to semi-anonymously post their problems as ‘Beasties’ online. Students can be creative in how they frame their problems and the platform allows lecturers/ facilitators/ other students to comment directly on the post to offer formative feedback. We’ve added a system in which Beasties can be categorised into different types such as Motivation, Wellbeing or Confidence. This allows us to quick search Beasties under different categories, useful for a student who wants to see feedback in a particular area.

I really like this idea of having a tool that is a ‘quicktime’ event! And when students start posting their Beasties, a lovely arrangement of different problems can be available for others to browse and feel like they are not alone and learn from. Im really happy its live and *whispers* if you think its a tool you want to use, then good news – go ahead! Its free, you don’t need to sign up and I’d be over the moon if you would like to contribute to the Compendium. Im also very open to feedback and if you do use the tool I would love to hear your thoughts. I suggest reading through the ‘About’ and ‘Guide’ sections of the tool, but it really is very simple.

Next stage with this is to run a few trials with different course modules to find out how it is received in its online form. My plan is to slowly introduce some more of the core concepts I developed for the full Remixed D&D method. But for now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:  The Compendium of Bothersome Beasties (and how to deal with them).

Remixing D&D – Student Self-Reflection & Formative Assessment in a Playful Way.

Most of us working in the space of education know the importance of students being able to develop their self-reflection and critical analysis skills. I don’t really want to use this space to talk about that too much in depth as there is already a lot out there, but for those who are interested in the why’s, here’s some links for further reading about reflection:

Jisc Self-Reflection

Edutopia Self Reflection & Closings

And this is also the same with the likes of formative assessment. We know that students like and respond well to feedback that updates them over the course of their workings, rather than feedback purely at the end of their project/ module/ coursework, (where in my opinion it is almost useless at this point –  *ask me sometime about the lecturer that asked me to design something and then at the very end of the module told me i had done it all wrong and should have done it in a specific manner – annoying AF*). Thankfully we are not evil here at CU and constantly use formative assessment to guide students and ask them to think critically about the whys and hows of their work whenever we can.

Well in the true spirit of our new mantra in the playful and gameful strand of DMLL,*Remix Play* (you can find the workshop here: Remix Play Workshop), I decided to have a look at how we could make the formative assessment and student self-reflection process a little more playful. Being a huge D&D fan the following happened…

So how do you combine D&D with student self-reflection you ask? Well here’s my initial concept:


If you’re looking at that picture thinking huh? Then here is an outline of my concept in a more readable version in a step by step process that was envisioned.

Step 1 – Journals

Physical Journals will be given to each student in Week 1 of module (this can be upgraded to an online version after trial). Specially customised D&D character sheets sit in the front page of the journal.

Journals will provide a chance for ongoing reflection and can be used as evidence (by the student) to support their final assessment. Lecturers can also use these as an opportunity to provide written feedback and assess progress on a weekly basis if needed.

Step 2 – Roll Character Attributes

Students are asked to roll dice (just like D&D) and come up with a series of stats for their character ‘themselves’ attributes. Students are asked to reflect on their current strengths and weaknesses and assign their dice stats to each attribute.

Attributes in the D&D world are equal to Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Charisma, Intelligence and Constitution. In this version, these attributes are assigned a real world context into the following: Motivation, Multi-Disciplinary Working, Creativity, Collaboration, Subject Knowledge and Mental/Physical Wellbeing.

Example: A student rolls the following stats: 12, 8, 14, 18, 10 & 11. After reflection they put their 18 into creativity believing that, that is where their strength lies and the 8 into collaboration believing that they are not very good or have had little practice at working in a team. 

This process should highlight where they may need to improve and give some thoughts for the next step.

Step 3 – Define Epic Quest and Outline Attributes to Work Towards

Students will be asked to think about why they chose the module and what is the main thing they wish to achieve at the end of it ie. ‘Epic Quest’. They will also be asked to identify two attributes that they wish to work on improving during their time on the module.

The completion of the ‘Epic Quest’ can form part of the final reflection task at the end of the module and should be done with the Dungeon Masters (Lecturers). Students should be encouraged to convince the DMs that they have succeeded in their quests, using their journals as evidence.

Step 4 – The Adventuring Party

No D&D adventure is complete without the adventuring party. In order to make sure we have balanced teams. Students are asked to stand in groups based on their highest attribute score. This should (hopefully) give a mixture of groups. DMs will then assign students into teams of four, combining students from differing groups to achieve a balance where possible. This will hopefully allow students to work in a more inter/multi-disciplinary nature.

Step 5 – Team Composition 

Now each team has hopefully four members in each, its time to let the students decide their individual roles. Students are asked to decide between themselves which role that they would like to take on.

Tank – This student is responsible for overseeing the projects final concept/product. They bring together the ideas and are a spokesperson for the idea. Think Product Lead.

Healer – This student is responsible for overseeing the team (think HR). They must manage the people and personal element of the team. This could be anything from moderating arguments to supporting a team mates physical/mental wellbeing. Think Team Lead.

Close Combat Support – This student is responsible for overseeing the execution and technical delivery of the concept/product. They ensure the team has a tangible concept/product to show at the end of the module.

Ranged Support – This student is responsible for overseeing the research and creative thinking element of the concept/product.

Whilst the team is split into four areas, teams will be encouraged to engage with all aspects of the modules project (research/execution etc.) but those members assigned a particular role should have a greater level of input when it comes to that particular area.

Step 6 – The Team Health Bar

Each team has a collective health bar. It is a visual representation of the teams performance in class and how they are working as a team. Parameters can be set for decreasing and increasing health.

Example: A student doesn’t come to class and has given no prior notification of intended absence – the teams health suffers -10. A student presents some research to the class that is a direct benefit to the their team +10 to their overall health. 

Team health can be topped up by coming a tutorial with a DM. When team health is low or failing, a team must attend a mandatory tutorial to heal. Teams that fall in the top tier of the health bar can be considered for extra credits/ whatever reward that can be applied to show that they have worked well as a team.

Step 7 – Weekly Self-Reflection

Each week, students will be asked after each core session to choose and reflect on each of the following:



Students will be asked to identify at least one problem concerned with the ongoing module work (this could be a personal development, team or project related problem) and they must pose a solution in order to defeat said monster.

Example: A students team has a problem with deciding on a particular issue to address with their project. Their monster is the ‘sludge of indecision’. The student then suggests that in order to overcome this monster, the team must meet on another day and make a firm decision on which issue they are going to concentrate on. 



Students will be asked to identify at least one person/ type of person/ company/ Contact that may be useful to help their research and development of their final concept/product.

Example: A team proposes targeting a solution for raising awareness in student mental health. Each member of the team proposes a contact to talk to for research purposes, this could be for example a staff member from the Wellness Centre.



Students will be asked to identify at least one resource that they may need to help the research, design and/or development of their concept/ product. Students will also be asked to identify how they will go about obtaining the resource.

Example: A student identifies that for their board game concept, the team would like some physical pieces for their prototype. The student then suggests they look at the 3D printing resources available at the University. 

Journal & Epic Quest Reflection


Students will update their journal each week with the above sections, but also a section after that, that comments on their reflections of their personal progress in class and with an emphasis on how they are moving forward in pursuit of their Epic Quest and how they are working on approving their chosen and/or other attributes.

DMs can feedback in these journals and offer guidance and maybe a bit of story (if creative enough) on each students journey. They can also award skill points that can be spent in the Feat Tree (see below) and/ or offer suggestions in other ways providing formative feedback each week.

Step 8 – The Feat Tree

Each different attribute will have a series of ‘Feats’ attached to it.

Example: The Attribute ‘Motivation’ may have the following Feats – self-motivation, team motivation, self-identity, meaningfulness, needs etc. 

Students can expand into each of these attributes by acquiring Feats in the specific attribute section. Every two attribute specific Feats gained = 1 attribute point (in the Feat gained attribute).

Example: If a student wanted to improve their Motivation attribute score of 8, they would try to attain some of the Feats in the Motivation Tree section. Gaining two Feats attached to the Motivation Tree would give them an Attribute point in Motivation, thus raising their overall score to 9.

DMs can award skill points when they see fit. Alternatively a student can ask for a skill point but must justify why they should be awarded one, reflecting on their progress and recent contributions to their team and general progress in class.

Step 9 – Compare and Reflect with a Spider Graph

At the end of the module, students should hopefully have different attribute scores to when they started (again hopefully improved scores). Using a Spider graph (thanks Alex for this insight), students can see where they were when they started the module compared to where they are at the end of the module. The use of a Spider graph gives great instant visual feedback to a student and can be used as an aid for self-reflection and how they developed skills over the course of the module.

And there we have it. A system loosely based on some of the D&D systems but for aiding student self-reflection and a formative assessment process. At the moment this is just an idea but we plan on trialling this with our new Add-vantage module January cohort with some ‘proper’ research attached. If people would like to discuss this, Id love feedback and always happy to work with others to make this process better.

Finally just want to mention my colleague… the lovely Lauren Heywood, who helped to direct and design my ramblings of D&D into something productive.

bewilderED: An Experiment in Using Non-Digital, Transmedia Story Telling & Mystery for Exercise Science Education.

For a long time I have been obsessed with ‘The Mysterious Package Company’ which can be found here: Mysterious Package Company.You can read more about the Mysterious package Company at their website or here. Their tag line ‘Stories you can Touch’, really caught me, and I was instantly interested to find out more about this idea of physical stories. Although a bit pricey, I ordered one of their bespoke story experiences for my partner (The Weeping Book) and waited. We were not disappointed. A month later, a nailed shut wooden crate arrived, addressed to my partner who had no idea what this was or that it had been ordered for him (something that the company suggests for an authentic feel). And then began our journey. I wont spoil the story or go into detail about what was inside the package, but what I will say is that the package managed to balance the art of theatre with beautifully made props alongside the powerful engagement factors of mystery and storytelling, in order to deliver an experience that was quite unlike anything Ive ever experienced before. We are still trying to work out the puzzles that are so wonderfully hidden within the story and props, and the experience has given us lots to talk about.

My mind instantly thought of the work that we had been doing on escapED and how these experiences played with very similar themes (puzzle solving, story, props and the feeling of being involved in something much larger). I also thought on the theories surrounding the use of object play and storytelling play for children, and realised that experimenting with this type of method might have some interesting findings and outcomes for adult play at the level of University education (an area where the ideas of play are desperately needed more!). The three main things that really stood out for me though with ‘The Weeping Book’ and made me sit up and think.. this is where we should be developing our ideas, were the following thoughts:

1. this idea that the experience arrived out of nowhere, my partner didn’t know if this was real or not and I found this really powerful. The not knowing felt like an ARG but with a greater pull. I began to think how could we harness this for education? It felt so powerful, and I was immediately hooked when the crate arrived without warning!

2. the experience seems to keep giving. The more you look into it, the deeper the rabbit hole goes. Puzzles that weren’t there before, suddenly emerge, or you think about something in a slightly different light and boom! Mind blown! It offered a longer experience that we could come back to at any point.

3. I never knew this idea of non-digital transmedia storytelling existed (id seen digital transmedia but never this idea of using real props), but I instantly fell in love with the idea. I felt that it brought together all of the elements of game design, narrative design and theatre that I have always loved. I felt like a child again, uncovering some big Enid Blyton mystery!

So bewilderED was born. A spin off of the escapED series, this was to be the educational version of ‘The Mysterious Package Company’, at least in my head!

So with much enthusiasm, I explained the premise of the project to a colleague of mine, Michael Duncan, Professor of Exercise Science at Coventry University. Luckily, he was also super excited about using this method with some of his Master’s students. He had already developed and was teaching a module that asked the students to look over a fake sports personalities information and data in order to come up with a sports conditioning recommendation for them. The students at the end of the module are asked to present their recommendations via a 15 minute presentation to a fake company who ‘commissioned’ the students to deliver this information. Since the structure was already there, we decided to adapt this module to fit with the bewilderED method so we could compare the data of the new version with the previous version.  

Following the main concept used by ‘The Mysterious Package Company’, the idea that things are delivered through the mail and randomly turn up somewhere from unknown sources, was something that I wanted to try and emulate as much as possible. We decided that the materials were going to be delivered to the students classroom, seemingly from different outside sources, over a 4 week period in the following setup.

Week 1: Introduction to the students of the module by Professor Duncan. To start the illusion that the students were going to be experiencing working with real companies and the element of mystery around the materials and companies involved, we had the students sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) that they would not discuss any personal information regarding what they would see and experience within the next few weeks.

Week 2: The first pack would arrive. Addressed to Mike, the contents held a letter from the British Martial Arts Institute (false company), with instructions detailing what they wanted the students to do (provide a recommendation via presentation) and a physiological assessment report with ‘data’ for the BMAI’s ‘client’.

Page of Fake Report from BMAI

The pack also indicated that they would be shortly contacted by the BMAI’s sister company: Power Prime Labs.

Week 3:  The second pack to arrive was from the sister company ‘Power Prime Labs’. This company was responsible for providing the ‘client’ with supplements. A letter contained in the pack, detailed how they would like the ‘client’ to use the supplement ‘NITRO-Train’, and promised enhanced performance. Alongside this letter was a flyer for NITRO-Train and a sample pack of the NITRO-Train supplements (completely safe for the students to consume, made up by Professor Duncan).

NITRO-Train Flyer found within Week 3s Pack

 Week 4: The third and final pack to be delivered, would be slightly different from the previous two packs. Contained in a plain envelope, a usb stick containing videos of a Muay Thai fight and an interview between a Trainer and a Muay Thai fighter. The videos and interview, would all contain information that alluded to the idea that the fighter was struggling with certain things; psychological issues, training issues, problems with supplements etc). Unlike the previous two packs that obviously came from corporations, this pack had underlying hints that it may have come from the fighter themselves. A cry for help almost.

Week 5: Students are asked to present their findings and overall recommendations to the BMAI company regarding their Muay Thai client. The students believe that a good presentation might land them a real job at this company.

Following the rundown of the packages each week from the different ‘sources’, it was hypothesised that the students should face some challenging ethical issues. They should believe that they are in with a chance of achieving a real job from the BMAI if they present a good client recommendation. However, based on the information they are given, they will need to make a choice about whether they report that the client shouldn’t necessarily take Power Prime Labs supplements (BMAI’s sister company) based on the final packs information.

How the students present their information, and how they’ve thought about the overall welfare of the ‘client’ will all lead to their final grade from the module. The narrative of the ‘client’ and their relationship to the companies, BMAI and Power Prime Labs, provided through the packs is vague and shrouded in mystery enough to allow the students to make their own conclusions as to what they believe the real motivations of each fictional player  in this module is. Used alongside the element of props that they can use, feel and believe are real artefacts, a level of believability was hopefully added to the whole performance.

Currently we are in Week 3 of the experiment. Reports so far have indicated that students have shown assertiveness in leadership in their groups and are inquisitive to the packages that are being ‘delivered’. The students have also tried the ‘NITRO-Train supplements, with some reporting that they feel an increase in their performance (these supplements are placebo pills with no effects).

Following the end of the module, our plan is to run a focus group at the end of the project to report on overall student opinions and feedback. We are planning to focus on various areas such as motivation, engagement, power of mystery, the use of story, use of props and the illusion of reality. I am really looking forward to seeing whether this method of delivering a module, actually encouraged active participation within the students and if so, what were the elements that they found to be the most powerful in their learning experience. Once we have the data we are planning to publish this further, and if we find successful results, we are planning to adapt this method further for other subject areas as well as other ares of Exercise Science.



Developing Interactive Fiction with Learning Objectives for Fostering Player Choice & Ownership in Education.

*** Link to Google Drive Folder: Free resources for structure of your own IF –

Under CC license – use and modify for own purposes but credit ‘Samantha Clarke, Disruptive media Learning Lab, Coventry University’ for origins.***

Most people are familiar with the paradigm of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, but for those who are not familiar, wiki defines these books as:

“Choose Your Own Adventure is a series of children’s game books where each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome.

The player is asked to choose a path that they wish to take at key moments in the story or asked to roll a die/other random generator to select a path, allowing for the player to experience an individual route through a non-linear branching storyline. The player often feels more of an emotional connection to this process because they have had some influence on the outcome of narrative and therefore feel a sense of ownership over the choices they have made within the process. Tom Kuhlmann’s “3C model” to construct scenarios or interactive e-learning in his Rapid E-Learning Blog describes a 3C process in order to create digital-based, interactive choose your own adventures. The 3C’s are as follows:

Challenge: Pose the challenge to the player/reader. What are the problems they face and how is the emotion conveyed/fostered?

Choices: What are the choices available to the player/reader to deal with the challenge that has been posed?

Consequences: Your player/reader has selected a choice, what is the outcome from the choice they made? Are they better or worse off? Has it opened up the story further?

This is a great model in order to remember the basic principles of creating choose your own adventures and adequately describes the mechanics process at the fundamental level. Of course when you talk about interaction fiction and branched scenarios, inspiring connection and emotion from your players is a little more complex and requires a flair for creative writing.

There are some really great examples out there of digital choose your owns and interactive fictions for both entertainment (Trapped in Time (Simon Christiansen, PDF), Hadean Lands (Andrew Plotkin, Glulx), and education (look at work from Dr. Zorn who is based in York University). And whilst I am all for digital versions of choose your owns and IFs, I personally am more interested in developing physical books (such as the FF book series by Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone) and props for this type of experience. Why? Well I believe allowing your players to play through a physical experience of something, allows for another level of emotional connection. Through the use of props, I believe you can create a really great haptic experience that stimulates the senses and enhances the storyline of the adventure. The element of mystery and intrigue can be embedded into these props to add puzzle-solving elements, and due to a physical space being adopted, these experiences could be made for multiplayer purposes, allowing for collaborative learning. In this area, I have recently been inspired by the work of Gisken Day and her experiences that use props to spur conversation and reflection. You can connect with her and her work here: Gisken Day.

So, in a bid to start experimenting in this area of using physical choose your owns for higher education/learning, I set about making a prototype in which we could plan a layout, structure and mechanics of a choose your own in which we could then adapt for various learning objectives at a later date.

I set about creating a story or fan fiction as it were, that was based loosely on a Stephen King novel. The story itself I felt was fairly easy to write, however it took me a long time (longer than anticipated) to figure out the structure.


As seen in the photo, it was very much trial and error to create the structure without any software (there are many out there such as Chatmapper), which to be honest would have helped if I had had the foresight to use (yes thats a paintbrush linking two paths!).  But essentially the structure ended up becoming the following formula:


In this formula, players are presented with a starting piece of the story and given a challenge. They are offered a choice of either path A or B. Once they select a path of either A or B, they are presented with the consequences of their actions and another series of choices depending on the path taken, path A provides the choices A1, A2 or A3 and path B provides the choices B1, B2 or B3. Moving forward from here, the players, depending on the choice they pick, for an example lets say they chose to follow path A and then chose the path A1, are presented once again with the consequences of their actions and then a final ending choice of either eA1.1, eA1.2 or eA1.3. This was the basic structure that I settled on, as this could be expanded or condensed depending on the needs of the story/learning objectives. Within this structure each path way could contain a valuable learning objective for a player to explore or the whole experience could be used as part of a reflective exercise to show different outcomes of real-life scenarios (nursing/medicine/crisis management/business management etc.)

Once this structure was in place, I wanted to explore interesting ways in which players would be able to get from path to path. I settled on two options to play through the experience, offering the player/facilitator options to suit their needs.

The first option is the traditional, allow the player to choose which option they feel they would do in that situation. This allows for a fully player-led experience with the motivations and engagement properties that player choice and ownership offer.

The second option was to use Tangram geometric puzzles and a timing system to choose the paths for the player to follow. Based on the time it took for the player to complete the puzzle, this would lead to a designated path. This idea meant that time could be the factor that affected the outcomes, based on how quickly or slowly the player took equalled how long the player took in the game to respond to something that was happening. In this option, it was determined that different types of puzzles could be used in place of Tangrams depending on the depth of connection with the story and whether the puzzles themselves could be a deeper level of understanding for the story (uncovering extra materials).


Once this main structure was put together, I harnessed the power of help from my colleagues at the DMLL (Rebecca Morris and Olly Wood) to start constructing the real prototype that could be used to show how the experience worked.


Above shows Becky creating the system for the prototype and the layering of each of the paths for the physical experience, and below is the final experience compiled together into a folder.


As previously stated, I am really interested in how props and theatrics enhance the experience of the story and whether they foster a greater emotional engagement in the overall narrative. In each path that held the main branching storylines, physical props (made by Olly Wood) such as maps, shopping lists, photos etc were added with the exert of story. My plans are to include in a future evaluation of the experience whether or not props increase emotion/attachment to the narrative/experience to determine whether they have any meaningful affect on the players for future development.


Whats Next?

Now we have a fully completed prototype, our first exercise into adapting this for educational purposes, is to target the dry area of Research Methods. Currently we are assessing and developing learning objectives in which we can build into a structure that follows the prototype experience. Once this is completed, we hope to trial this with both undergrads and masters students within both Coventry and Salford Universities.

Further work to be considered that I would like to follow up on with this type of experience, is to develop a few different types of puzzles that could be integrated in place of the Tangrams which could have a deeper meaning/ uncovering of additional paths.

Would you like the format that we used to develop your own?

If you would like a template of the format that we used to construct the prototype then I am happy to provide you this for free, just send me a pm/email. All I ask is that you credit myself and the Disruptive Media Learning Lab, Coventry University, if you use the template in any experiences you create yourself.

escapED: how to design interactive, live-action, game-based learning.

It’s been a while since my last post (sorry!) due to several work/life distractions. One of those distractions is what I’d like to share with you today; escapED. What is escapED I hear you cry? Well this is a new programme that we’ve been developing here at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab, to become a part of the Game Changers initiative. We’ve been working hard to get a prototype session up and running ready for next weeks; Coventry University, EEC Innovation Day for staff development.

So how does it work? Well, escapED is a programme to primarily aid the design and development of interactive, live-action, game-based learning (GBL) experiences. escapED has been adapted from traditional Escape Rooms and Live-action gaming experiences (think Crystal Maze and Knightmare and you’ve got the general idea) and has been given an educational twist. The beauty of escapED is that it can tick several boxes that other game-based learning applications cant and have struggled with before. I will say now that escapED will not be for everybody and will certainly not provide all of the answers for playful learning, however, I believe that this may be the start of a closer look at how we can bring GBL quickly and easily into higher/further educational establishments to provide more enjoyable and interactive learning experiences. Here are 11 reasons for believing this:

  1. It appeals to a wide audience (data indicates equal participation from both genders and a wide age range within traditional Escape Rooms play).
  2. It can be adapted to almost any subject through using puzzles and riddles to achieve desired learning outcomes. Want to create an interactive induction day for your students? No problem! Want to create a learning experience entered on engineering challenges? No problem! … you get the idea.
  3. It can help support Flipped and Disruptive learning techniques. Puzzles can become part of the experience of student-led learning.
  4. escapED can be designed to be multi-disciplinary and provide cross-collaboration opportunities, allowing staff and students to come together and put their skills to the test through a live-action experience.
  5. escapED can be made quickly and can be easily changed to reflect the needs of the learners. No programming necessary!
  6. Students and staff can make their own experiences to challenge their peers as part of the learning process.
  7. Players can develop their soft skills such as communication and collaboration as part of the experience.
  8. The only limit is the creativity behind the design and development of the experience. Themes, puzzles, props, actors… the list can go on depending on how low-key or detailed you want to make your experience.
  9. It doesn’t take as much time as you think! I won’t lie, there is an additional effort to creating these experiences, however, I believe the extra effort is worth the end result. Read from a powerpoint vs engaging with an object and real people to solve a problem… I know which option I would choose.
  10. People will be talking about it for ages. Did you get this puzzle? What was this about? How did you..? Seriously, in just one days worth of testing, the groups used for testing were buzzing long after the event discussing puzzles and riddles.
  11. Finally, its super fun! I mean really, REALLY fun. The DMLL is talking about visiting a traditional entertainment Escape Room in Birmingham for ‘Team Building’ and I can’t wait. Imagine engaging your students/staff so much that they “can’t wait” to take part in your next session.

Now I could go on about the benefits of adopting escapED as a paradigm for creating live-action game-based learning, but that is for you guys to determine yourselves. I shall be updating and writing about how the prototype goes after next week and will hopefully have some more concrete evidence to support escapED after the training event.

But before that, I would like to present the escapED framework that was developed to help create the prototype experience.

EscapED Framework-v2 white.jpg

escapED Framework – Samantha Clarke & Sylvester Arnab. 2016

As you can see, the framework is split into 6 main categories:

  1. Participants
  2. Objectives
  3. Theme
  4. Puzzles
  5. Equipment
  6. Evaluation

Within each section is presented some core themes that you may wish to explore/develop upon for creating your own live-action game-based learning experience. Let us break down the elements and discuss what each section means and why you should consider each sub-heading before development.

  1. Participants
  • User Type: Consider your intended players/users (Please see User Identity for a more detailed explanation. But the basic premise of this step is that staff may have different needs/expectations than students (learning objectives). Age and backgrounds can influence your decisions in making the game. Example: Media staff and students may be put off from lots of maths based questions (this actually happened during testing this week!). Use your initiative and make sure you consider your players to create truly enjoyable experiences.
  • Time: How long do you want your experience to take? Do you want a quick session to run no longer than 15 minutes or something that is more complex that could span hours, days, weeks…. etc. Setting this straight at the beginning will allow you to judge just how many/how complex your puzzles should be. There is no point in designing the next ‘DaVinci Code’ if you are only setting aside 15 minutes for the experience.
  • Difficulty: This is where consideration of your intended users should play a part. You might want to scale the difficulty of puzzles for different levels of players such as college students, undergrads, post grads, doctorates and staff. Alternatively you could create a series of experiences and label the difficulty as easy, medium, hard and super duper extreme mode, and allow your players to pick and choose what they would like to try (Im a fan of this approach as it gives the players some control of their experience).
  • Mode: mode = how is the room/experience supposed to be …well…experienced (like a time or a competitive mode in video games). Some suggestions for this as follows:

– Cooperation based: Players work together to solve/escape the experience.

-Competitive based: Players compete to be the first to figure out the objectives.

My modes are named as follows;

  1. Mode 1 – All by Myself: A personal experience, self-directed motivation for beating the experience.
  2. Mode 2 – Stand By Me (SK anyone?): Team-based experience which can either be a co-op or competitive session (multiple teams competing for best time/against each other).
  3. Mode 3 – Flipped Out: This mode brings in flipped and disruptive learning techniques to enhance the players experience. Example: Players can be given materials to review before coming to engage in the experience. Clues and hints to solving the puzzles can be hidden in these materials.
  4. Mode 4 – Whats in the box John?! (please tell me someone gets that reference): A single box/crate/briefcase can be used instead of a full blown room for recreating escapED as a table-top exercise.

Although I’ve given a short selection of modes, you can make up as many different modes as you like to fit your needs.

  • Scale: How many people are you planning to cater for with your experience? Its best to start off small but if you are feeling confident then there is nothing stopping you from creating experiences for 60+ people. However, a consideration of intended room size and area needs to be addressed at this stage.

2. Objectives

  • Learning Objectives: Just like any other lesson plan or learning experience, escapED requires some thought concerning what are the learning objectives that you are trying to achieve with the session? These objectives can be worked into the theme, its puzzles and mode to help structure the learning plan. Creating tangible learning objectives allows you to evaluate your players learning experience, learning achievements and iteratively re-design if needed at a later date.
  • Solo/Multi-Disciplanary: Will your experience be created to solve one fields discipline or multiple fields? Personally, i love the idea of bring in University students and staff in from a range of subjects and asking them to work together to solve the room. Puzzles could be designed to appeal to a wide range of types and backgrounds.
  • Soft Skills: Interactive live-action games are by their very nature, great for helping develop those soft skills such as communication and leadership. How will you challenge your players to develop these in your experience? In our prototype session we have the players split into two rooms with their only communication being Skype. Hilarious to watch and interesting to see how they communicate their rooms and puzzles to each other.
  • Problem Solving: What types of problem solving challenges are going to make the experience interesting to your players? Remember that all learners are different and therefore will enjoy a range of different challenges.

3. Theme

  • Escape Mode: As traditional entertainment escape room theme; get out of the locked room in a set time.
  • Mystery Mode: Solve the mystery in a set time.
  • Narrative Design: Whats the story morning glory? Er.. I mean, what is your experience all about? Is it Zombies? Sherlock Holmes? Crazed Tibetan Monks turned into Ninja Monkeys? Any theme that you choose needs to have a compelling story. Good story telling = happy, engaged players who want to know more about your experience.
  • Stand alone/Nested: Is your experience a one off session or part of a larger, nested experience that can run across months or a year? Nested experiences give a great opportunity to allow people to feel like they are working towards something greater but present a few challenges like maintaining player engagement across the time planned.

4. Puzzles

  • Puzzle Design: The challenging but fun aspect of creating your experience. Puzzles and riddles make your experience interesting and are ultimately what these experiences are about.
  • Reflect Learning Objectives: Refer to your learning objectives and theme to ensure that puzzles reflect the overall goals of the session.
  • Instructions/Manuals: Good experiences have clear, set instructions and rules. This is a good time to make a note of anything you don’t want your players to touch or to explain the nuances of your session. Integrating this with your theme can help to set the backstory of your experience. Do the players require extra instructions whilst playing? If so think about additional ‘manuals’ that can be made up to look like game props.
  • Clues/Hints: Everyone gets stuck once in a while, and good Escape Rooms are notoriously hard. Think about how you are going to give clues in the rooms (if at all) and how you would deliver hints whilst outside/away from the players. Playing a character can help so as not to break player immersion/fantasy. Hints can also be delivered directly via computer/phone to the players if needed.

5. Equipment

  • Location/Space Design: Location, location, location! It really does make an experience, especially if you are expecting to trap people together for a set about of time. Ensure there is enough space and it is comfortable to move around. It really goes without saying but i will anyway..don’t put your players anywhere, where there is a high possibility of them getting hurt and be conscious of your players well being. Other than that, make your environment as realistic as possible within your means. This will help foster player engagement and belief of your intended theme.
  • Physical Props: Puzzle props, red-herrings + general environment items, these are thing that you will need to make a compelling and workable experience. Imagine your experience is the same as a play, you’ve chosen your stage and now you need to dress it. Be wary of players who will try anything to complete your experience. (I’ve read one company had to use odd shaped screws to stop players from dismantling their game rooms!).
  • Technical Props: If you are thinking of using technology to enhance your experience then great! Computers, VR, Augmented Reality, GPS and location-based identification, can all really bring something to these experiences. The downside is that as with all technology, you run the risk of things going wrong/crashing/general not wanting to work/player unfamiliarity. Proceed with caution and ensure lots of testing with these elements, but when they work, get ready to see happy players.
  • Actors: This really is where I think cross-disciplinary works well. Imagine getting on board your University’s/College’s  drama department and letting them help create your experience. Need a zombie or a dying victim? Perhaps a hostage? Either way, having real-life actors helps concrete the experience further as believable. Actors can also be used as timer indicators or can give out hints if they see the players are getting stuck.

6. Evaluation

  • Testing: Now that you hopefully have all of your elements ready to create your game, spend some time testing with others before going live. You will most likely find (as I did) that I had created puzzles that were too hard to solve in the time that was intended. There were other puzzles that just made no sense and could only be known through testing. This gives you time to get feedback from testers and re-design what is needed before allowing the intended players to experience your session.
  • Reflection: You’ve now allowed your intended players to experience your session and it’s the moment of truth. Did they learn anything from your session? If so what? and more importantly did they have fun? What was the most interesting thing? What worked? What didn’t? How would they make it better? Talk about the learning objectives and did they feel that they achieved them? A focus group session/feedback sheet may be useful to help gather information.
  • Evaluate Learning Objectives: Here is the time to make a more formal evaluation of the learning objectives that you may have set for your experience. This can be done via your own preferred methods.
  • Adjust: Use the feedback to provide informed decisions on how to adjust your experience if so needed. This is a good opportunity to use iterative design and developing or action-led development to help refine your experiences.
  • Re-set: If you are running multiple sessions back to back, make sure you develop a re-set sheet. A re-set sheet is a list of all puzzles/riddles and intractable objectives within your experience that need to be checked over to ensure they are in the correct state before the next group. I can imagine nothing more frustrating than getting half-way through an experience to find something broken.

And there you have it, a very long and much over due post! As previously mentioned, I plan on updating next week after our first prototype session with some of the staff at Coventry Uni, ECC department.

Signing off.


Identity: The 1st step in the Needs Hierarchy of Serious Games Development.

Following my promise of breaking down each of the 7 steps of the Hierarchy of Needs for Serious Games development (Original post can be found here: A Needs Hierarchy for Creating Serious Games.), today I shall be discussing the first stage: Identity.

For some, user identity will seem like a fairly reasonable and obvious starting point when considering how to develop a product, especially when we talk about serious games or gamification, or any venture that involves a high degree of reliability on user preference. Many instructional systems development methodologies, the A.D.D.I.E model to name one, start with the importance of analysing your target audience, as lets face it, knowing who your audience is and why are they likely to want to engage with the product is necessary for making key design and development decisions.

Unfortunately though, this step is often overlooked as a starting point, with focus drawn onto other  development considerations such as the technology thats going to be used or the preferred genre of game of the developer. Just this Wednesday, I was having a discussion about developing games for business and corporate training. The person I was talking to was really enthusiastic about using the latest VR for corporate training because it looked shiny and expensive, and that, he explained, was what companies were looking for; something that looked expensive. Whilst I agree that VR will have its place in serious games and gamification, it made me sad that the first consideration to VR game-based learning (GBL) in this case, was how expensive the tech looked and therefore was automatically considered to be the best option for training, rather than asking what are users likely to get from using VR over other options. Anyway, I digress but hopefully you get my point that more often than not, the end user (and the various types of end users) are thought about a bit later in the development stage than they should be.

So why is it SO important when designing GBL? And how do you go about identifying your audience? Well lets address the first question, the why?

Games by their very nature are varied and complex systems and are not unlike other types of consumable media such as movies, books and theatre. There are many different genres and sub-genres and within each of those types, are cultural associations, play-styles, pre-conceptions, expectations and a whole area of research dedicated to trying to understand why players play the games they do. What motivates and engages players is a central question in understanding why and how to develop the gold star example of GBL: GBL and gamification systems that add fun and interest to learning/behaviour change policies. The key thing to remember is that every person is different with varied likes and interests. I love reading Stephen King books for the thrill, gore and the way he captures characters. You on the other hand, may find Stephen King to be distasteful and uninteresting and therefore would not only be dis-interested in reading his books but upset if I made you sit and read his books because ‘it was for your own good’. Frankly you would most likely be put off the whole idea all together.

Now lets take this a step further. Apply the same thinking to game mechanics and you will see that they often have been tacked on to various learning systems or have been made in a certain way because the mechanic/theme/genre has been previously seen to engage players (can anyone say points, badges and leaderboards?). Well yes, certain games appeal to certain demographics, this is true and part of my point,  but that doesn’t mean creating the next Resident Evil 3000 because it a, looks good b, you like it and c, is seen to appeal to the masses, is going to do the same for your product and your target demographic. The key is to assess what is out there and to apply a system to help understand your audience before trying to create something for them.

A more academic example for the purpose of explaining the importance of Identity is as follows:

A serious game to promote adherence to the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen is proposed. The demographic is middle aged to elderly women who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Within gaming research, entertainment and education, numerous studies have been conducted surrounding gender and female gamer behaviours. Current research suggests that women spend on average less time playing computer games than their male counterparts [1] and furthermore, as women age they have less free time to engage in activities such as gaming [2]. This could indicate that time will become a leading consideration on the development of a game-based intervention. A game that requires a significant amount of time to play or has a steep learning curve would not fit the needs or time requirements of the user group. Indeed the research into online casual games that require little time to play shows that the majority of their player audiences are female [3]. The recent 2015 video game usage statistics released by Big Fish indicate that 52% of gamers in the UK are women with the average gamer age of 31 [4]. Additionally, 33% of the women surveyed, listed their favourite game genres as Trivia/Word/Puzzle. Referring to current video game statistics on national and global game usage trends can help form guidance topics for the researcher that covers issues such as genre, time and technological acceptance for user consideration within the needs assessment planning stage.

From the above statement we can begin to get a good idea of the types of games that may or may not appeal to that demographic. We can also get a sense of some of the constraints/issues that they may have before they can settle into playing games, in this case: time. From this very basic search, we now know that creating a Call of Duty style game is unlikely to appeal and address the needs of the intended users.

So lets move on to the issue of how do we identify out target audience. Well the best way (in my opinion) and the one that forms part of the Hierarchy of Needs is to do a Needs Assessment. Traditionally used in the health care professions, a Needs Assessment is described as follows:

“a systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions or “wants”. The discrepancy between the current condition and wanted condition must be measured to appropriately identify the need.”

To do this you must address some main areas concerning the problem that you are attempting to address with GBL and the intended users:

  • What is the problem that you are trying to address with GBL?
  • What is out there already? Are there any gaps that your product could attempt to solve? Why does this need to be addressed and what is the benefit to the intended users?
  • Conduct a literature review to see what the recent research has to offer, review relevant archival information concerning both the problem and the user group.
  • Learn about the target user culture and its philosophy. This can be done via literature review, interviews, focus groups, online questionnaires and many other ways. Get to grips with the target user views, concerns and suggestions are and preferably try to do some participatory design sessions in the early stages of product design.
  • Review all existing materials regarding serious games and gamification already developed for the problem and the user group. Are there things that worked or didn’t work? Can these be built upon?
  • Ascertain the best way of delivering a product via a technological assessment – Does the target user group have access to internet, tablets, smart phones. If so, how do they use them? Would it be better to do a board game, app or PC based solution etc?
  • Do the users require additional resources alongside the product you are developing such as user manuals or links to other sources of help?
  • Determine who are your end users. Remember that if your product is being used by a facilitator to teach students, then the facilitator becomes an end user as well (this is often forgotten in the design).

Now I know that the above seems a bit long winded and some people may find that they they just don’t have time to conduct a Needs Assessment at the pre-production stage. But believe me, taking some time out to address the above considerations will mean a better overall understanding of what you are trying to achieve and the users that need to use your product. It will also mean that you are less likely to develop a product that is completely flawed in terms of addressing the end users needs and wants and in turn create a product that is unfit for purpose. For more information regarding the Needs Assessment stage please refer to the Trans-disciplinary model for creating game-based interventions – Trans-disciplinary Model. Next time, I will look at the second stage of the Hierarchy of Needs for Serious Games Development – Pedagogy, and how we go about implementing this successfully into GBL and gamification.

Happy Gaming x

[1] ESA. Entertainment Software Association. (2006a). Top 10 industry facts. Facts and Research.

[2] Apt, N. A., & Grieco, M. (1998). Managing the time: Gender participation in education and the benefits of distance education information technologies. The Change Page: Participative Approaches to Development Management. Ghaclad Conference on Computer Literacy and Distance Education. Accra, Ghana.

[3] IGDA. International Game Developers Association. (2005). 2005 Casual games white paper. IGDA Casual Games SIG.

[14] – Accessed 18th November 2015


A Needs Hierarchy for Creating Serious Games.

Playing and creating games has always been a passion of mine and I often drive my poor partner spare with these familiar lines; what do you think of this mechanic? how about this theme? It’s going to be a mix of a +b +z…Yes there are many ideas rattling on up there in the old noggin and many of them are games with a higher purpose or ‘serious games’.

Whilst many of my ideas never really get realised because I work full time and have a small child (i have a hard time just keeping him from gumming on our current games), I am fortunate enough to be able to create such games and gamification solutions through my work (Designer at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab). Ive been developing serious games for around 7 years and one thing Ive noted in all that time is just HOW multi-disciplinary you have to be when considering the development of game-based learning. Education, health, business, design and technology are just a few of the fields that serious games can cover and within those fields again are a multitude of areas. It can honestly be quite overwhelming for anyone who is new (and maybe not so new) to the world of serious games and gamification design and development.

To address this, myself and a colleague: Dr. Sylvester Arnab, explored how to bring together what we considered to be the main elements of creating game-based interventions and created a development guideline called the Trans-disciplinary Model (TDM). We used a design case study approach in the TDM’s development which documented  the development approach of the serious game PRE:PARe. The results of this study and the TDM was published at the beginning of the year in the British Journal of Education and Technology and can be accessed here for free: BJET TDM Paper The paper documents several key areas that we suggest are critical for consideration before designing a game-based intervention and leads through the pre-development, development and post-development phases in an easy to follow guideline.

I believe that the TDM is a great model that can really help in the development of serious games, however, the paper itself is quite academic and if you’re not that way inclined or can’t be bothered (most of the time like me!) to read through the masses of research behind the TDM, I have decided to create a more user friendly version which brings together all of the key elements discussed into the visual representation: the Hierarchy of Serious Games Needs.

Hierarchy of serious games - black.jpg

Hierarchy of Serious Games Needs – Samantha Clarke & Sylvester Arnab, 2016.


The Hierarchy of Serious Games Needs comments on 7 major Needs which we believe are vital for developing serious games:

  1. Identity
  2. Pedagogy
  3. Tools
  4. Creativity
  5. Development
  6. Quality
  7. Evaluation

Each of these Needs require a great amount of multi-disciplinary thinking and consideration to ensure that the finalised product is able to meet standards and meet overall game objectives that have been set (usually increase in learning or behaviour change). In future posts I shall explore each of these Needs and discuss previous research conducted on the TDM as to the hows and whys of each of the Needs listed. I aim to provide some thoughts on practical solutions and advice how you can follow the TDM/Hierarchy of Serious Games Needs, and provide anyone who is interested in creating great and well made serious games/simulations/gamification/e-learning/serious games.. whatever you may want to call it, easy to follow advice.



Age Appropriate?

So a question that has been on my mind today after reading Kotaku’s article concerning video games and their age ratings is; do we have an obligation to make sure our games are labelled for our audiences even if they are educational? You can read the Kotaku article in full here:

As I read the article I found myself thinking back to the games I used to play as a child (80’s/90’s); Mario, Donkey Kong, Streets of Rage, Street Fighter, Tekkan, and realised that there has always been an amount (in somewhat varying degrees) of violence and sex in the games I have played. When you think about it, Super Mario and all additional versions, is what we all have come to know and love as the classic children’s game, developed by Nintendo and marketed as family friendly fun. Never mind then that Mario the main character has to go through each level decimating each ‘enemy’ by essentially squashing them to death. Whilst I realise that this game displays a negligible amount of violence in relation to games such as GTA and Hitman, it is important to raise the question of what constitutes as violence in video games. Is it graphics, content/theme, delivery or packaging? (Mario is PEGI rated age 3 + btw). Of course its not just violence that is called into question here, its sex, adult themes and language that all contribute to the discussion on age rating of games and their appropriate audience. Of course this doesn’t help when 18 rated games are marketed towards younger audiences (see article reference to 18+ games that have children’s toys). Where do you draw the line and just how do you know what is appropriate for your child?

Whilst I could ramble about the problems of appropriate age ratings in the entertainment games world, what is more interesting to me is that serious game developers are sometimes faced with a similar dilemma. Sometimes we are asked to develop games that contain sensitive themes such as violence and sex that are developed specifically for children. Does this then mean that if its educational then its ok for children to be exposed to these adult themes? If that’s the case, then GTA could stick in a warning about sexual violence and call the game educational… far fetched I know but hopefully you get my point.

I recently had to deal with this problem when I was asked to develop a game that was targeted to 12-16 year olds with the theme of promoting healthy relationships and sex education. The main theme of the game was to tackle the problem of sexual coercion and pressure. The games educational content that was developed by trained sexual health specialists and psychologists contained material that ranged from in my opinion mild (issues such as kissing) to graphic (Oral sex). It also skirted with the idea that if consent was not given it was rape. As you can see, some quite adult themes that were aimed to be delivered to young people of various ages.

Now I fully believe that education is the best prevention and that exposure to these themes are beneficial for young people to understand issues such as consent and pressure when entering into relationships and sexual intimacy. What worried me whilst developing this game though, was that whilst some material may have been suitable for a 15 year old, possibly 12 year olds didn’t really need to know about oral sex just yet! As I raised my concerns with the other members of the project, it became obvious that this was a unknown area. Did we have to concern ourselves with the PEGI rating process since it was only a research project? How to go about this minefield as I certainly didn’t want to be the recipient of angry words from angry parents.

Eventually my solution was to split the content of the game up into sections that could be chosen by a class facilitator. A facilitator manual was developed to help guide the facilitators on the content of each section. An informed choice on appropriate content vs age could then be made. Additionally I put a warning on the beginning of the game to indicate that the game contained sensitive material.

Despite my own concerns about age appropriate material in educational games, it is something that I believe serious games designers/developers ect need to be more aware of and consider, especially if there is no requirement for age rating on educational games created from research projects.

Recent mention of Prepare (Sexual health and coercion game study) Coventry University:

Prepare Papers: