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Journal Description

JMIR Serious Games (JSG, ISSN 2291-9279; Impact Factor: 3.53) is a multidisciplinary journal devoted to computer/web/virtual reality/mobile applications that incorporate elements of gaming, gamification or novel hardware platforms such as virtual reality headsets or Microsoft Kinect to solve serious problems such as health behavior change, physical exercise promotion (exergaming), medical rehabilitation, diagnosis and treatment of psychological/psychiatric disorders, medical education, health promotion, teaching and education, or social change. The journal also considers commentary and research in the fields of video games violence and video games addiction.

The journal is indexed in PubMed, PubMed Central, DOAJ, and SCIE/Web of Science, and JCR (Journal Citation Reports) where it received an official impact factor by Clarivate. In June 2020, JSG received an impact factor of 3.53.  


Recent Articles:

  • Source: Pexels; Copyright: Fauxels; URL:; License: Licensed by JMIR.

    An Immersive Multi-User Virtual Reality for Emergency Simulation Training: Usability Study


    Background: Virtual reality (VR) is increasingly used as simulation technology in emergency medicine education and training, in particular for training nontechnical skills. Experimental studies comparing teaching and learning in VR with traditional training media often demonstrate the equivalence or even superiority regarding particular variables of learning or training effectiveness. Objective: In the EPICSAVE (Enhanced Paramedic Vocational Training with Serious Games and Virtual Environments) project, a highly immersive room-scaled multi-user 3-dimensional VR simulation environment was developed. In this feasibility study, we wanted to gain initial insights into the training effectiveness and media use factors influencing learning and training in VR. Methods: The virtual emergency scenario was anaphylaxis grade III with shock, swelling of the upper and lower respiratory tract, as well as skin symptoms in a 5-year-old girl (virtual patient) visiting an indoor family amusement park with her grandfather (virtual agent). A cross-sectional, one-group pretest and posttest design was used to evaluate the training effectiveness and quality of the training execution. The sample included 18 active emergency physicians. Results: The 18 participants rated the VR simulation training positive in terms of training effectiveness and quality of the training execution. A strong, significant correlation (r=.53, P=.01) between experiencing presence and assessing training effectiveness was observed. Perceived limitations in usability and a relatively high extraneous cognitive load reduced this positive effect. Conclusions: The training within the virtual simulation environment was rated as an effective educational approach. Specific media use factors appear to modulate training effectiveness (ie, improvement through “experience of presence” or reduction through perceived limitations in usability). These factors should be specific targets in the further development of this VR simulation training.

  • Source: iStock (Stock photo ID:529407857); Copyright: Tetmc; URL:; License: Licensed by the authors.

    Mapping Behavioral Health Serious Game Interventions for Adults With Chronic Illness: Scoping Review


    Background: Serious games for health are increasingly being used to address health outcomes in patients with chronic illnesses. These studies vary in their study designs, patient populations, frameworks, outcome variables, and degree of specificity of the serious game intervention. Objective: This scoping review aims to clarify the conceptual features of the existing research related to serious games designed to improve cognitive and behavioral outcomes in adults with chronic illness. Methods: We applied the Preferred Reporting Items of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR) methodology, including an a priori research question. We searched 4 electronic databases to identify articles published through November 2019. Inclusion criteria encompassed (1) adults 18 years or older; (2) patients with a diagnosis of chronic illness; (3) a serious game intervention; and (4) defined patient outcomes that assess patients’ behavioral, cognitive, or health outcomes. Results: Of the 3305 articles identified, 38 were included in the review. We charted and analyzed the theoretical frameworks, key concepts, and outcome variables of these studies with summaries of features across articles. The majority of studies used a randomized controlled trial design (23/38, 61%), included a custom serious game intervention (22/38, 58%), and lacked a theoretical framework (25/38, 66%). Common outcome variables included quality of life (16/38, 42%), mood (15/38, 39%), cognitive function (13/38, 34%), symptoms (12/38, 32%), and physical activity (9/38, 24%). Key differences between studies included whether or not serious games aimed to train versus teach patients, be widely accessible versus tailored interventions, or replace versus complement current treatments. Conclusions: This scoping review defines the current landscape of research in serious games for health research targeting behavioral and cognitive outcomes in adults with chronic disease. Studies have addressed a variety of patient populations and diverse patient outcomes. Researchers wanting to build on the current research should integrate theoretical frameworks into the design of the intervention and trial to more clearly articulate the active ingredients and mechanisms of serious games.

  • Source: The Authors; Copyright: The Delirium Experience; URL:; License: Licensed by the authors.

    Reasons to Engage in and Learning Experiences From Different Play Strategies in a Web-Based Serious Game on Delirium for Medical Students: Mixed Methods Design


    Background: Although many studies have recently been published on the value of serious games for medical education, little attention has been given to the role of dark play (choosing unacceptable actions in games). Objective: This study aimed to investigate potential differences in the characteristics of medical students who have the opportunity to choose normal or dark play in a serious game. This study also aimed to compare their reasons for choosing a play strategy and their perceptions of what they learned from their game play. Methods: We asked undergraduate medical students to play a serious game in which they had to take care of a patient with delirium (The Delirium Experience). After getting acquainted with the game, students could opt for normal or dark play. Student characteristics (age, gender, experience with caring for older or delirious patients, and number of completed clerkships) were collected, and the Delirium Attitude Scale and Learning Motivation and Engagement Questionnaire were administered. Reasons for choosing normal or dark play were evaluated with an open-ended question. Information on lessons they had learned from the game was collected using an open-ended question and self-reported knowledge on delirium. Results: This study had 160 participants (89 normal play, 71 dark play). Male students (26/160, 56.5%) chose dark play significantly more often than female students (45/160, 39.5%; P=.049). We did not find significant differences in student characteristics or measurement outcomes between play strategies. Participants’ main reason for choosing normal play was to learn how to provide care to delirious patients, and the main reason for dark play was to gain insight into what a delirious patient has to endure during delirious episodes. All participants learned what to do when taking care of a delirious patient and gained insight into how a patient experiences delirium. We found no differences in self-reported knowledge. Conclusions: When medical students have the opportunity to choose dark play in a serious game, half of them will probably choose this play strategy. Male students will more likely opt for dark play than female students. Choice of play strategy is not affected by any other student characteristic or measurement outcome. All students learned the same lessons from playing the game, irrespective of their learning strategy. Trial Registration: Not applicable

  • Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Results and Guidelines From a Repeated-Measures Design Experiment Comparing Standing and Seated Full-Body Gesture-Based Immersive Virtual Reality Exergames:...


    Background: Although full-body seated exercises have been studied in a wide range of settings (ie, homes, hospitals, and daycare centers), they have rarely been converted to seated exergames. In addition, there is an increasing number of studies on immersive virtual reality (iVR) full-body gesture-based standing exergames, but the suitability and usefulness of seated exergames remain largely unexplored. Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the difference between playing a full-body gesture-based iVR standing exergame and seated exergame in terms of gameplay performance, intrinsic motivation, and motion sickness. Methods: A total of 52 participants completed the experiment. The order of the game mode (standing and sitting) was counterbalanced. Gameplay performance was evaluated by action or gesture completion time and the number of missed gestures. Exertion was measured by the average heart rate (HR) percentage (AvgHR%), increased HR%, calories burned, and the Borg 6-20 questionnaire. Intrinsic motivation was assessed with the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI), whereas motion sickness was assessed via the Motion Sickness Assessment Questionnaire (MSAQ). In addition, we measured the fear of falling using a 10-point Likert scale questionnaire. Results: Players missed more gestures in the seated exergame than in the standing exergame, but the overall miss rate was low (2.3/120, 1.9%). The analysis yielded significantly higher AvgHR%, increased HR%, calories burned, and Borg 6-20 rating of perceived exertion values for the seated exergame (all P<.001). The seated exergame was rated significantly higher on peripheral sickness (P=.02) and sopite-related sickness (MSAQ) (P=.004) than the standing exergame. The score of the subscale “value/usefulness” from IMI was reported to be higher for the seated exergame than the standing exergame. There was no significant difference between the seated exergame and standing exergame in terms of intrinsic motivation (interest/enjoyment, P=.96; perceived competence, P=.26; pressure/tension, P=.42) and the fear of falling (P=.25). Conclusions: Seated iVR full-body gesture-based exergames can be valuable complements to standing exergames. Seated exergames have the potential to lead to higher exertion, provide higher value to players, and be more applicable in small spaces compared with standing exergames. However, gestures for seated exergames need to be designed carefully to minimize motion sickness, and more time should be given to users to perform gestures in seated exergames compared with standing exergames.

  • Woman researching for high-quality serious games. Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Quality Criteria for Serious Games: Serious Part, Game Part, and Balance


    Serious games are digital games that have an additional goal beyond entertainment. Recently, many studies have explored different quality criteria for serious games, including effectiveness and attractiveness. Unfortunately, the double mission of serious games, that is, simultaneous achievement of intended effects (serious part) and entertainment (game part), is not adequately considered in these studies. This paper aims to identify essential quality criteria for serious games. The fundamental goal of our research is to identify important factors of serious games and to adapt the existing principles and requirements from game-related literature to effective and attractive serious games. In addition to the review of the relevant literature, we also include workshop results. Furthermore, we analyzed and summarized 22 state-of-the-art serious games for education and health. The selected best-practice serious games either prove their effectiveness through scientific studies or by winning game awards. For the analysis of these games, we refer to “DIN SPEC 91380 Serious Games Metadata Format.” A summarized text states quality criteria for both the serious and the game part, and especially the balance between them. We provide guidelines for high-quality serious games drawn from literature analysis and in close cooperation with domain experts.

  • A student is performing a clinical practical exam in a simulation. Source: Image created by the authors; Copyright: The Authors; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Immersive Virtual Reality for the Reduction of State Anxiety in Clinical Interview Exams: Prospective Cohort Study


    Background: Immersive virtual reality (VR) with head-mounted display was used to determine if clinical interview simulation could reduce the anxiety levels of first-year occupational therapy (OT) students as they prepared for upcoming Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs). Anxiety among health science students is a potential problem that may diminish their performance during OSCEs. This investigation aimed to fill the gap in the literature regarding the effectiveness of VR to reduce anxiety in OT students. Objective: This investigation aimed to uncover the effectiveness of immersive VR in reducing state anxiety in OT students who were preparing for OSCEs. Methods: A prospective, experimental, nonrandomized controlled trial compared levels of state anxiety, test anxiety, and academic self-efficacy in two groups of first-year OT students; these levels were measured at four different time points by self-reported psychometric scales, analyzed with a mixed factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA). Members of Phase 1 (NoVR) were not exposed to the VR simulation and acted as a control group for members of Phase 2 (YesVR), who were exposed to the VR simulation. VR simulation featured a virtual clinic and a standardized patient who students could interview in natural language. Measures of student study strategies and previous experience with VR were also recorded. Results: A total of 49 participants—29 in the NoVR group and 20 in the YesVR group—showed that state anxiety had a rise-then-fall trend, peaking at the time point just before the OSCE. At that point, the YesVR students showed significantly less state anxiety than did the NoVR students (t46.19=2.34, P=.02, Cohen d=0.65, ηp2=0.105). The mean difference was 6.78 units (95% CI 0.96-12.61). In similar trends for both groups, student test anxiety remained relatively static across the time points, while academic self-efficacy continually increased. A moderate positive correlation was found for total time spent studying and peak state anxiety (NoVR r=.46, n=28, P=.01; YesVR r=.52, n=19, P=.02). Conclusions: This investigation shows evidence of immersive VR’s capability to reduce state anxiety in OT students preparing for clinical practical exams. Immersive VR simulation, used for the reduction of anxiety in health science students, can potentially lead to a future of positive mental health change from the virtual to the real world.

  • Anthropomorphized characters in the MEDSMAR<sub>x</sub>T game. Source: Figure 2 from; Copyright: the authors; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Developing a Theory-Driven Serious Game to Promote Prescription Opioid Safety Among Adolescents: Mixed Methods Study


    Background: Adolescents in North America are severely affected by the opioid crisis, yet there are limited educational resources for educating teens about prescription opioid safety and misuse. Empirical literature lacks evidence regarding teen education about prescription opioid safety through serious games and lacks conceptual models and frameworks to guide the process of game development for this purpose. Objective: This study aims to conceptualize and design a serious game prototype to teach teens about prescription opioid safety and propose a conceptual framework for developing a serious game to educate youth about safe and responsible use of prescription opioids. Methods: The initial steps of the project comprised of the formulation of an integrated conceptual framework that included factors from health behavior models and game development models. This was followed by the formal process of serious game development, which resulted in a game prototype. The assessment of the game prototype was done through group discussions, individual interviews, and questionnaires with adolescents following gameplay. Field notes were used to keep track of the responses from the group discussions. Content and thematic analyses were used to analyze field notes and responses to the open-ended questionnaire, which were then used to refine the game prototype. Results: A total of 10 playtests with over 319 adolescents and emerging young adults (AYAs) in community settings such as middle schools, high schools, and colleges were conducted by the project team between March and June 2019. The AYAs provided feedback on the initial game prototype using questionnaires administered through Qualtrics or in-person on paper. Preliminary feedback suggested that the teens found the game objectives, outcomes, and design appealing. Overall, the game was perceived as realistic, and learning outcomes seemed achievable. Suggestions for improvement included the need for additional direction on gameplay, clearer instructions, concise dialog, and reduced technical problems in the gameplay. Conclusions: We propose a conceptual framework for developing a serious game prototype to educate youth about prescription opioid safety. The project used a theory-driven conceptual framework for the development of a serious game targeting the prevention of adolescent opioid misuse and garnered preliminary feedback on the game to improve the quality of gameplay and the prototype. Feedback through informal assessments in community settings suggests that the youth and their families are interested in a game-based approach to learn about prescription opioid safety in homes and schools. The next steps include modifications to the game prototype based on feedback from the community, integration of learning analytics to track the in-game behaviors of players, and formal testing of the final prototype.

  • Untitled. Source: Freepik; Copyright: freepik; URL:; License: Licensed by JMIR.

    Effectiveness of Exergaming in Improving Cognitive and Physical Function in People With Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia: Systematic Review


    Background: Individuals with mild cognitive impairment and dementia have impaired physical and cognitive functions, leading to a reduced quality of life compared with those without such impairment. Exergaming, which is defined as a combination of exercise and gaming, is an innovative, fun, and relatively safe way to exercise in a virtual reality or gaming environment. Therefore, exergaming may help people living with mild cognitive impairment or dementia to overcome obstacles that they may experience regarding regular exercise and activities. Objective: The aim of this systematic review was to review studies on exergaming interventions administered to elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment and dementia, and to summarize the results related to physical and cognitive functions such as balance, gait, executive function, and episodic memory. Methods: We searched Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, Amed, and Nursing Database for articles published from the inception of the respective databases to January 2019. We included all clinical trials of exergaming interventions in individuals with mild cognitive impairment and dementia for review. The risk of bias was independently evaluated by two reviewers using the Cochrane Collaboration and Risk of Bias in Non-randomized Studies of Interventions tools. Results: Ten studies involving 702 participants were included for review. There was consistent evidence from 7 studies with a low risk of bias showing statistically significant effects of exergaming on cognitive functioning in people with mild cognitive impairment and dementia. With respect to physical function, 3 of 5 full-scale studies found positive results, and the intensity of most games was classified as moderate. Conclusions: Overall, exergaming is an innovative tool for improving physical and cognitive function in people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia, although there is high heterogeneity among studies in terms of the duration, frequency, and gaming platform used. The quality of the included articles was moderate to high. More high-quality studies with more accurate outcome indicators are needed for further exploration and validation of the benefits of exergaming for this population.

  • Source: Pexels; Copyright: Jaroslav Nymburský; URL:; License: Licensed by the authors.

    Controlling for Placebo Effects in Computerized Cognitive Training Studies With Healthy Older Adults From 2016-2018: Systematic Review

    Authors List:


    Background: Computerized cognitive training has been proposed as a potential solution to age-related cognitive decline. However, published findings from evaluation studies of cognitive training games, including metastudies and systematic reviews, provide evidence both for and against transferability from trained tasks to untrained cognitive ability. There continues to be no consensus on this issue from the scientific community. Some researchers have proposed that the number of results supporting the efficacy of cognitive training may be inflated due to placebo effects. It has been suggested that placebo effects need to be better controlled by using an active control and measuring participant expectations for improvement in outcome measures. Objective: This review examined placebo control methodology for recent evaluation studies of computerized cognitive training programs with older adult subjects, specifically looking for the use of an active control and measurement of expectations. Methods: Data were extracted from PubMed. Evaluation studies of computerized cognitive training with older adult subjects (age ≥50 years) published between 2016 and 2018 were included. Methods sections of studies were searched for (1) control type (active or passive) and subtype (active: active-ingredient or similar-form; passive: no-contact or passive-task); (2) if expectations were measured, how were they measured, and whether they were used in analysis; and (3) whether researchers acknowledged a lack of active control and lack of expectation measurement as limitations (where appropriate). Results: Of the 19 eligible studies, 4 (21%) measured expectations, and 9 (47%) included an active control condition, all of which were of the similar-form type. The majority of the studies (10/19, 53%) used only a passive control. Of the 9 studies that found results supporting the efficacy of cognitive training, 5 were for far transfer effects. Regarding the limitations, due to practical considerations, the search was limited to one source (PubMed) and to search results only. The search terms may have been too restrictive. Recruitment methods were not analyzed, although this aspect of research may play a critical role in systematically forming groups with different expectations for improvement. The population was limited to healthy older adults, while evaluation studies include other populations and cognitive training types, which may exhibit better or worse placebo control than the studies examined in this review. Conclusions: Poor placebo control was present in 47% (9/19) of the reviewed studies; however, the studies still published results supporting the effectiveness of cognitive training programs. Of these positive results, 5 were for far transfer effects, which form the basis for broad claims by cognitive training game makers about the scientific validity of their product. For a minimum level of placebo control, future evaluation studies should use a similar-form active control and administer a questionnaire to participants at the end of the training period about their own perceptions of improvement. Researchers are encouraged to think of more methods for the valid measure of expectations at other time points in the training.

  • Source: FlickR; Copyright: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; URL:; License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY).

    Virtual Reality Games and the Role of Body Involvement in Enhancing Positive Emotions and Decreasing Anxiety: Within-Subjects Pilot Study


    Background: In the last few years, the introduction of immersive technologies, especially virtual reality, into the gaming market has dramatically altered the traditional concept of video games. Given the unique features of virtual reality in terms of interaction and its ability to completely immerse the individual into the game, this technology should increase the propensity for video games to effectively elicit positive emotions and decrease negative emotions and anxiety in the players. However, to date, few studies have investigated the ability of virtual reality games to induce positive emotions, and the possible effect of this new type of video game in diminishing negative emotions and anxiety has not yet been tested. Furthermore, given the critical role of body movement in individuals’ well-being and in emotional responses to video games, it seems critical to investigate how body involvement can be exploited to modulate the psychological benefits of virtual reality games in terms of enhancing players’ positive emotions and decreasing negative emotions and anxiety. Objective: This within-subjects study aimed to explore the ability of commercial virtual reality games to induce positive emotions and diminish negative emotions and state anxiety of the players, investigating the effects of the level of body involvement requested by the game (ie, high vs low). Methods: A total of 36 young adults played a low body-involvement (ie, Fruit Ninja VR) and a high body-involvement (ie, Audioshield) video game in virtual reality. The Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Form-Y1 (STAI-Y1) were used to assess positive and negative emotions and state anxiety. Results: Results of the generalized linear model (GLM) for repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) revealed a statistically significant increase in the intensity of happiness (P<.001) and surprise (P=.003) and, in parallel, a significant decrease in fear (P=.01) and sadness (P<.001) reported by the users. Regarding the ability to improve anxiety in the players, the results showed a significant decrease in perceived state anxiety after game play, assessed with both the STAI-Y1 (P=.003) and the VAS-anxiety (P=.002). Finally, the results of the GLM MANOVA showed a greater efficacy of the high body-involvement game (ie, Audioshield) compared to the low body-involvement game (ie, Fruit Ninja VR), both for eliciting positive emotions (happiness, P<.001; and surprise, P=.01) and in reducing negative emotions (fear, P=.05; and sadness, P=.05) and state anxiety, as measured by the STAI-Y1 (P=.05). Conclusions: The two main principal findings of this study are as follows: (1) virtual reality video games appear to be effective tools to elicit positive emotions and to decrease negative emotions and state anxiety in individuals and (2) the level of body involvement of the virtual video game has an important effect in determining the ability of the game to improve positive emotions and decrease negative emotions and state anxiety of the players.

  • Source: Freepik; Copyright: freepik; URL:; License: Licensed by JMIR.

    Development and Validation of the Reasons to Exergame (RTEX) Scale in Young Adults: Exploratory Factors Analysis


    Background: Exergaming is associated with positive health benefits; however, little is known about what motivates young people to exergame. Objective: This study aimed to develop a new Reasons to Exergame (RTEX) scale and describe its psychometric properties (Study 1) including test-retest reliability (Study 2). We also examined the test-retest reliability of self-report exergaming behavior measures (Study 2). Methods: We identified scale items in consultation with experts. In Study 1, we conducted an Exploratory Factor Analysis of RTEX and examined how the factors identified relate to exergaming frequency and intensity in a population-based sample of 272 young adults. In Study 2, we examined the test-retest reliability of RTEX factors and self-report measures of past-week exergaming frequency and intensity among 147 college students. Results: We identified four factors in RTEX: exergaming for fitness, exergaming for enjoyment, preferring exergaming over other gaming options, and choosing exergaming over competing interests (eg, sports). Test-retest reliability of RTEX factors (ICC 0.7-0.8) and self-report exergaming frequency (ICC 0.4-0.9) was adequate. Exergaming for fitness and enjoyment were positively associated with the frequency of exergaming with friends and family, and with exergaming intensity. Preferring exergaming over other gaming options and choosing exergaming over competing interests (eg, sports) were not related to exergaming behavior. Conclusions: RTEX is a psychometrically sound scale with four factors that measure reasons to exergame. Replication of these findings is needed in larger, more diverse samples.

  • Source: freepik; Copyright: wavebreakmedia; URL:; License: Licensed by JMIR.

    Effect of Pokémon Go on Self-Harm Using Population-Based Interrupted Time-Series Analysis: Quasi-Experimental Study


    Background: Pokémon Go is a very popular location-based augmented reality game with widespread influences over the world. An emerging body of research demonstrates that playing Pokémon Go can lead to improvements in physical activity and psychosocial well-being; however, whether Pokémon Go reduces self-harm incidence at the population-level is still questionable. Objective: This study aimed to quantify how the launch of Pokémon Go in Hong Kong affected the incidence of self-harm using a quasi-experimental design. Methods: An interrupted time-series design with Poisson segmented regression adjusted for time and seasonality trends was used on data from 2012 to 2018 to detect any changes in the number of accident and emergency attendances due to self-harm, after Pokémon Go was launched. The findings were validated using a baseline control period and using other intentional injuries and minor noninjuries as control outcomes. We also assessed intervention effects by age group. Results: From January 1, 2012 to July 31, 2018, there were 13,463 accident and emergency attendances due to self-harm in Hong Kong. During the period after launching Pokémon Go, self-harm attendances dropped by 34% (adjusted incidence rate ratio: 0.66, 95% CI 0.61-0.73). When analyzed by age group, a reduction in self-harm incidence was only apparent in adults (18 to 24 years of age: adjusted incidence rate ratio: 0.78, P=.02; 25 to 39 years of age: adjusted incidence rate ratio: 0.75, P<.001; 40 years of age and older: adjusted incidence rate ratio: 0.57, P<.001). Conclusions: Self-harm incidence in the population, particularly in adults, showed a significant decline in the period after Pokémon Go was launched. Augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go show great promise as a tool to enhance psychosocial well-being and improve mental health.

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  • Game and Pupillometry Data for Cognitive Load Measurement: Classifying Cognitive Load of Educational Video Game Levels

    Date Submitted: Jun 19, 2020

    Open Peer Review Period: Jun 19, 2020 - Aug 14, 2020

    Background: Besides the current challenge, the perceived difficulty level of a learning task depends on the student's previous knowledge and skills. When a learning task is recurrently perceived as ea...

    Background: Besides the current challenge, the perceived difficulty level of a learning task depends on the student's previous knowledge and skills. When a learning task is recurrently perceived as easy (or hard), it may cause poor learning results. Gamer data such as errors, attempts, or time to finish a challenge are widely used to estimate the perceived difficulty level. In other contexts, pupillometry is widely used to measure the cognitive load (mental effort); hence, this may describe the perceived task difficulty. Objective: Objective: This study aimed to assess the use of pupillary data as a cognitive load measure for describing the difficulty levels in a video game. Also, it proposes an image filter to better estimate the baseline pupil size and to reduce the screen luminescence effect. Methods: We conducted an experiment that compares the baseline estimated from our filter against that estimated from common approaches. Different pupil features were used to classify the difficulty of a dataset containing information from students playing a video game for practicing math fractions. Results: Results: Results showed that the proposed filter allows to better estimate a baseline, Mauchly’s Test of Sphericity indicated that the assumption of sphericity had been violated, χ2(14) =0.045389, p = .001; and therefore, a Greenhouse-Geisser correction was used, ε = 0.47, there was a significant difference against Mean Pupil Diameter Change (MPDC) estimated from different baseline images with the scramble filter, F(2.35) = 30.965, p < .001. Moreover, according to the Wilcoxon signed-rank test, pupillary features that better describe the difficulty level were MPDC (Z = -2.15, p <0.05) and Peak Dilation (Z = -3.58, p<0.00); a random forest classifier for easy- and hard-level of difficult showed an accuracy of 75% when the gamer data is used, but the accuracy increases to 87.5 % by including pupillary measurements. Conclusions: The screen luminescent effect on pupil size was reduced with a scrambled filter on the background video game image. Finally, pupillary data can improve the classifier accuracy of the perceived difficulty of gamers in educational video games.