Abstract Details

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The Impact Of Free-form Digital Games On Primary School Students’ Narrative Skills


Since their first appearance in the early 1970s, digital games have become “the most frequently used interactive media” (Beentjes et al., 2001, p. 95). Schoolage children are increasingly spending time playing with them. The impact of digital games on children’ s everyday lives and activities “has increased discussion about their potential for language learning” (Ranalli, 2008, p. 441). The games’ ability to create realistic and attractive environments which engage students and urge them to use either their first/native or a second/foreign language in order to communicate with their classmates and their teachers and finally to learn from this process has been the subject of much discussion.

On the other hand, based on the work done by other researchers and ludologists in the past (Caillois, 2001; Frasca, 2003; Salen & Zimmerman, 2004; Mitgutsch, 2008; McGregor, 2008), as well as our previous studies (Kirginas & Gouscos, 2016a, 2016b, 2017), digital games can be considered to lie at various points on an axis between free creativity and rule-bound complexity: (a) The “formally structured” end of the axis focuses on the game-dimension of gameplay (” structured” digital games), such as a set of winning and losing rules, pre-determined and clear goals, structured designer-generated activities with linear gameplay and defined space and time which include any narrative or story elements in the game. (b) The “freeform” end of the axis focuses on the play-dimension of gameplay (“freeform ” digital games), such as no set of pre-determined rules, no pre-defined goal, no “winning plot” and nonlinear gameplay. In this sense, we speculate that freeform games elicit more positive emotions and less arousing fallings than formally structured ones.

In the light of the above, this research explores the potential impact of freeform digital games on primary school students’ narrative skills, in terms of linguistic cohesion and semantic coherence, compared to other digital media, such as formally structured digital games and film movie.

Research Method

This research was conducted in three groups of students: two experimental groups (EG1 and EG2) and one control group (CG). Initially, in all three groups, an educational intervention programme was applied based on (a) an extensive excerpt from the Daniel Defoe’ s novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, (b) the teaching of techniques for writing effective narrative discourses. At the end of this phase, each student was asked to produce a narrative discourse (pre-test) about Crusoe’s survival on the mysterious island. Subsequently, students were involved in activities with different digital material: (i) the students of the control group (CG) watched the film “Robinson Crusoe” (Hardy & Miller, 1997), (ii) the students of the first experimental group (EG1) played with the formally structured digital game Robinson Crusoe: The Game (Team Happy Shack, 2011) and (iii) the students of the second experimental group (EG2) played with the free-form digital game Minecraft (Mojang, 2011), embodying the role of Robinson Crusoe who tries to survive and build his house. Finally, each student was asked to produce a narrative discourse (post-test) which was compared to the pre-test discourse, to determine whether or not there has been an improvement in the narrative discourses produced by the students of the three groups. Students’ narrative discourses were evaluated quantitatively (a) in terms of extent and complexity (number of words, number of T-units, number of complex sentences), grammatical cohesion (reference, ellipsis, substitution, conjunction) and lexical cohesion (repetition, synonym, superordinate, general word), as well as (b) in terms of semantic coherence (according to Labov’s (2013) and Labov & Waletzky’s (1967) narrative pattern).

A total of 128 Year 6 students of Greek primary schools participated in this research. Initially, the results of this research revealed that the impact of playing with digital games, regardless if they are freeform or structured ones, on students’ narrative skills is greater than watching the film. However, the most important finding of this research is that the narrative discourses of students who played with Minecraft (freeform digital game) showed statistically significant improvements in their extent and complexity, lexical and grammatical cohesion and coherence than the narratives of the students who played with Robinson Crusoe: The Game (formally structured digital game).

The findings of this research provide indications that freeform digital games can be a useful tool (a) for students, to improve their narrative skills and (b) for teachers, to design and implement educational intervention programmes with the use of freeform digital games for enhancing their students’ narrative skills.


  • Kirginas, S., & Gouscos, D. (2016a). Exploring the Impact of Free-Form and Structured Digital Games on the Player Experience of Kindergarten and Primary School Students. In J. Russell, D. Laffey (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Gaming Trends in P-12 Education (pp. 394-420). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-4666-9629-7.ch019
  • Kirginas, S., & Gouscos, D. (2016b). Development and Validation of a Questionnaire to Measure Perceptions of Freedom of Choice in Digital Games. International Journal of Serious Games, 3(2), 29-45. https://doi.org/10.17083/ijsg.v3i2.120
  • Beentjes, W. J., Koolstra, C. M., Marseille, N. & Van der Voort, T. H. A. (2001). Children’s Use of Different Media: For How Long and Why? In S. Livingstone & M. Bovill (Eds.), Children and Their Changing Media Environment. A European Comparative Study (85-111). Mahwah, NJ & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Caillois, R. (2001). Man, Play, Game, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, IL. (Original work published 1958).
  • Frasca, G. (2003). Simulation Versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology, http://www.ludology.org/articles/VGT_final.pdf. (accessed 13.03.19).
  • Labov, W. & Waletsky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis, In J. Helm (Ed.), Essays in the Verbal and Visual Arts (12-44). Seattle: University of Seattle Press.
  • McGregor, G. (2008). Terra ludus, terra paidia, terra prefab: spatialization of play in videogames & virtual worlds, In Proceedings of the 5th Australasian Conference on Interactive Entertainment, New York, ACM.
  • Mitgutsch, K. (2008). Digital Play-Based Learning. A philosophical-pedagogical perspective on learning and playing in computer games. Journal for Information Technology Studies as Human Science 9(3), 18-36.
  • Mojang. (2011). Minecraft [PC game]. Stockholm, Sweden: Mojang.
  • Ranalli, J. (2008). Learning English with The Sims: exploiting authentic computer simulation games for L2 learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 21(5), 441-455.
  • Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Team Happy Shack. (2011) Robinson Crusoe: The Game [PC game]. United States: July Newgrounds Game Jam.

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