Serious Games and Game-Based Learning

Theme 4 was conceived from the simple, yet critical, understanding that games are more than just entertainment. Increasingly, game structures are being adopted to advance learning outcomes in a wide variety of contexts. Gamification techniques have been applied for the developments of smart cities, training for medical procedures, and even in the development of inclusive technologies. Research in this theme takes a deep dive into the possible applications of gamification: to outfit our lives with convenient solutions, improve physical health, and even preserve historical events.

How can we better use game technologies to improve the transfer and retention of knowledge?

Dr. Bill Kapralos, an Associate professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, was the theme leader for Serious Games and Game-Based Learning. Dr. Kapralos is currently a Canada Research Chair nominee in the area of serious games and is interested in developing and testing games for health care professional training. Topics he’s studying include the application of gamification for emergency response training, for historical recreation and understanding, and as an agent for the transfer and retention of knowledge.

A book written by Dr. Kapralos and other researchers,Recent Advances in the Technology of Inclusive Wellbeing: Wearables, Virtual Interactive Spaces (VIS)/Virtual Reality, Emotional Robots, Authoring tools, and Games (Serious/Gamification),” explores theme 4 topics in detail. It is divided into five parts, with chapters dedicated to application of games within the realms of physical therapy, touch and wearables, special needs, ethics and accessibility, as well as an overview of the current literature and taxonomy of the subject. Kapralos’ text provides a review of the technologies existing in the current landscape alongside their implications for the future (Brooks, Brahnam, Kapralos, & Jain).







IMMERSe researchers produced a series of health related fitness games, which encapsulates theme 4’s direction towards understanding games for well-being. Exergames, or games to motivate healthy movement, are often used to facilitate rehabilitative and accessible exercise. An example is Rapid Recovery, an exergame developed by Bill Kapralos that is intended to facilitate shoulder rehabilitation and fitness. In the game, players follow the motions of a virtual instructor or paddle the kayak of their avatar using a baton as the game controller (Shewaga, Rojas, Kapralos, & Brennan). Another notable example comes from IMMERSe researcher Jen Boger: she developed and tested Virtual Reality (VR) exergames for people living with dementia. The project was a resounding success and highlighted the promising potential of using VR games to create opportunities for populations of people otherwise left out of exercise and play (Boger 528-532).

Educational games have also been created with younger audiences in mind. Through IMMERSe, researchers at Ontario Tech University piloted BodyZone, a games application that focuses primarily on improving physical activity and literacy. The project involved the development of two elementary school curriculum-based applications: Foodbot Factory, a game based upon the grade 4 healthy eating curriculum, and Act It Out, a movement-based game to encourage physical activity.

As the technology of serious games improves, educators are becoming increasingly interested in the possible application of games in the classroom. These games can be used to build an understanding of culture, literature, performance, even, academics contend, an understanding of the bard himself.


Dr. Gina Bloom, IMMERSe researcher and Professor of English at the University of California Davis first became involved in the realm of serious games when Neil Randall, Principal Investigator of the IMMERSe Network, mentioned a new partnership with the Stratford Festival Theatre. ModLab quickly took up the task, bringing together students, resources, and faculty for the development of the game (Bloom).

The result was Play the Knave, a successful game that has been at the center of attention for literary scholars, performers, and educators. In Play the Knave, players perform a Shakespeare scene karaoke-style while creating the actions of their virtual avatar through motion-graphic software. The experience is one of embodied theatricality as the player experiences both the sensation of being in their body and also watching it on the screen (Bloom). This embodied experience is explored in more detail in Dr. Bloom’s book “Gaming the Stage.”

Although Play the Knave was not designed with research as the goal, research has since emerged from the game. For instance, the creators of Play the Knave have been making observations in how audiences of the game engage in a form of vicarious play. Research relating to embodiment and pedagogy has also emerged and been used in classrooms at the university level. Researchers at ModLab and UC Davis are looking to document their findings in a collaborative book on the topic of game design, pedagogy, and digital culture (Bloom).

An examination of IMMERSe quickly affirms the ability of serious games to disseminate knowledge and important lessons accessible to wider audiences. In the case of Shakespeare, and Play the Knave in particular, a gamification system was able to break down the seriousness and intimidation associated with learning Shakespeare. The social connection and shared embodiment that the game offered up were able to challenge the player’s pre-established ideas of Shakespeare as irredeemably “high art” and open up their understanding in vast and profound ways.

Bloom, Gina. Personal Interview. 10 July 2019.

Boger, Jen. Virtual Reality Exergames for People Living with Dementia Based on Exercise Therapy Best Practices. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, Oct. 1-5, 2018. University of Waterloo, Schlegel Villages.

Brooks, Anthony, et al. Recent Advances in the Technology of Inclusive Wellbeing: From Worn to Off-body Sensing, Virtual Worlds, and Games for Serious Applications. Springer International Publishing, 2017.

Shwega Robert, et al. “Alpha Testing of the Rapid Recovery Kayaking- Based Exergame.”  IEEE Games Entertainment Media Conference (GEM), Toronto, Oct. 14-16, 2015 Ontario Tech University, University of Toronto, Spincore Inc. Dunchurch.