University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 25.3.2017 In Order to Enable Meaningful Playing: How to Support Player's Learning through Digital Game Narrative Design (Äyrämö)

Start date: Mar 25, 2017 12:00 PM

End date: Mar 25, 2017 03:00 PM

Location: Mattilanniemi, Agora, Aud. 2

M.A. Sanna-Mari Äyrämö defends her doctoral dissertation in Digital Culture ”In Order to Enable Meaningful Playing: How to Support Player's Learning through Digital Game Narrative Design”. Opponent Associate Professor Petri Lankoski (Södertörns Högskola) and custos Professor Raine Koskimaa (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in Finnish.


The main research problem of this constructive study is, how player’s learning during game playing can be supported through game narrative design. When the solutions are searched within narrative theories, modern game theories, and learning game design research, the problem turns conceptually challenging. Basically, the challenge stems from the ambiguous concept of narrative and the diversity of narrative theories. The academic conversation on learning game design has drawn approaches from various narrative theories and traditions of screenwriting and creative writing. Hence, the conversation results fragmental. Firstly, I consider what kind of narrative definition and conception should be adopted, so that it best lends itself on applying narrative learning approaches, as well as, recognizing the novel types of narrative encountered within digital game (design) context. Secondly, I consider how the player’s role in game narratives can be characterized and conceptualized. Finally, the third objective of the study is to investigate, what guidelines for digital learning game narrative design can be suggested, applying the constructed concepts and models. The results contain two models of narrative, the constitutive one, and the game design -oriented. Within the first-mentioned narrative model, four design areas of narrative are specified and characterized. In the last-mentioned model, the four design areas are set to intersect digital game rules. Besides, the concept of co storyliner is proposed in order to discuss the position of the player in a game narrative intended by the designer. When a designer determines links between the narrative design areas and the game rules, he formulates the grounds and the position from which a player as a co-storyliner will conduct meaning negotiations and pondering during game playing. Meaning negotiations and ponderings are something the player must do in order to pursue and express agency within the game. Hence, when considering player’s learning during narrative game playing, I recognize the player’s meaning negotiations and ponderings particularly essential. The study demonstrates, in general, the multidimensional design potential of game narratives, and especially, the challenging nature of digital narrative design from the learning game point of view. Several different ways of constructing learning support can be applied on the four design areas of narrative. Above all, the learning game narrative designer should piece together the narrative and game rule –related design decisions as a whole, and concern himself with how the constructed conditions of meaning negotiations can develop the player regarding the explicitly set learning objective.

Keywords: digital game, digital narrative, learning game design, narrative theory