There is no doubt that an abundance of factors exists that makes learning with serious games successful. Research articles reporting on these factors, however, tend to focus on select serious game elements and do not combine all salient factors for successful learning with serious games. Addressing this gap is a necessity for the success of serious games and may even alleviate long-standing debates about pedagogy over enjoyment, how much realism is enough or whether artificial intelligence is worth the cost. This article examines existing academic literature from 2000 to 2015, extracting shared serious game success factors that have had an encouraging impact on gameful learning experiences. As such, we subsequently aim to withdraw the field from a perpetual spiral of does-my-game-work research toward more worthwhile why-does-my-game-not-work research. Qualitative content analysis through the constant comparison method (CCM) analyzed a total of 63 articles from a variety of recognized electronic libraries and databases. Through this analysis, we reveal five central serious game themes: backstory and production; realism; artificial intelligence and adaptivity; interaction; and feedback and debriefing, all of which require deliberate intertwining with pedagogical content to ensure successful learning. This review unravels each of the five themes into their constituent factors and consequently presents the factors as practical guidelines that serious games producers should strive to include in their game productions. Applying these recommendations whenever serious games are considered will provide a foundation for effective gameful learning experiences.
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- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Serious games