Engagement through gamification: comparing participant experiences between a serious game and an online self-help module for alcohol misuse and depression

First published: 09 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

The widespread popularly of computer games as an entertainment medium has led to their expanded use in more serious applications of training and education. The assertion being that gamification provides opportunity for greater engagement and processing of information than traditional online programs.

Aims: This paper presents findings from a think aloud verbal protocol study comparing participant experiences with a serious game and a traditional online program developed for individuals with comorbidity of depression and alcohol use disorders.

Methods: This research uses the concurrent think aloud verbal protocol technique to explore how participants respond to a serious game (Shadow) and a traditional online intervention program (SHADE). Shadow has been designed using key chapters of SHADE to support skill development and improve completion rates of participants. The game elements present in Shadow are believed to provide a repeatable and more enjoyable experience than SHADE alone. Ten participants, 5 male and 5 female, within the ages of 18-30 were recruited. Participants completed two phases of the study, an evaluation of Shadow and an evaluation of SHADE. These evaluations were carried out in two separate sessions at least a week apart. The order of evaluation was randomised. One coding frame was developed to classify all utterances.

Results and Conclusions: Evidence will be presented of what participant utterances revealed about engagement with the two alternative programs. Analysis revealed differences in levels of engagement and immersion between participants and interventions. The extent to which each program enabled participants to make sense of the material and the relevance to their own experience will be considered. Finally, the potential for serious games to be an alternative to traditional online programs for addressing alcohol misuse will be discussed.


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Dr Bridgette Bewick