A Framework for Research in Gamified Mobile Guide Applications using Embodied Conversational Agents (ECAs)
Mobile Guides are mobile applications that provide players with local and location-based services (LBS), such as navigation assistance, where and when they need them most. Advances in mobile technologies in recent years have enabled the gamification of these applications, opening up new opportunities to transfer education and culture through game play. However, adding traditional game elements such as PBLs (points, badges, and leaderboards) alone cannot ensure that the intended learning outcomes will be met, as the player’s cognitive resources are shared between the application and the surrounding environment. This distribution of resources prevents players from easily immersing themselves into the educational scenario. Adding artificial conversational characters (ECAs) that simulate the social norms found in real-life human-to-human guide scenarios has the potential to address this problem and improve the player’s experience and learning of cultural narratives . Although significant progress has been made towards creating game-like mobile guides with ECAs (, ), there is still a lack of a unified framework that enables researchers and practitioners to investigate the potential effects of such applications to players and how to approach the concepts of player experience, cognitive accessibility and usability in this context. This paper presents a theoretically-well supported research framework consisted of four key components: differences in players, different features of the gamified task, aspects of how the ECA looks, sound or behaves and different mobile environments. Furthermore, it provides based on this framework a working definition of what player experience, cognitive accessibility and usability are in the context of game-like mobile guide applications. Finally, a synthesis of the results of six empirical studies conducted within this research framework is discussed and a series of design guidelines for the effective gamification of mobile guide applications using ECAs are presented. Results show that an ECA can positively affect the quality of the player’s experience, but it did not elicit better player retention of cultural narratives and navigation of routes.
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