JoSeES – Serious Games in Higher Education: Impacts, Experiences and Potential


Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Portuguese funding agency for science and technology)


Project reference




CIIE/Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences of the University Porto


Principal Investigator (PI)

Pedro D. Ferreira


Research team

Isabel Menezes
Tiago Neves
Sofia Marques da Silva
Hugo Monteiro (IPP)
Sofia Castanheira Pais
Carla Malafaia
Marta Pinto
Lucinda Saldanha
Hugo Santos (research assistant)



36 months
Start date 20-6-2016 | End date 19-06-2019



This project focuses on understanding how Higher Education students and lecturers relate to video games and serious games, particularly in educational contexts; on constructing instruments (a comprehensive framework) and on furthering methodologies that can support better uses of these games as educational tools while addressing a commonly identified gap in the literature: verifying their educational impacts (in this case, the impacts of serious games on dimensions relevant to citizenship education and the political development).

There is currently a visible investment in educational technologies and serious games are part of this trend. Not only the number of serious games has grown rapidly in recent years but their educational uses have multiplied (Young et al., 2012), and this includes tertiary education (Lean et al., 2006). The use of video games by Portuguese students and in Portuguese educational contexts is severely understudied and the first objective of this project deals exactly that: building an understanding of the habits, attitudes and experiences, of students and lecturers, with video games. Given our interest in civic and political engagement and in socio-political development, we will also explore the relationship between gaming and social experiences at the civic/political level. Data collected from a survey of students, lecturers and researchers from the two biggest public higher education institutions in Porto region will be instrumental to achieve this. Another identified gap in the literature, in this case even internationally (e.g. Girard, Ecalle & Magnan, 2013; Sitzmann, 2011; Young et al., 2012), has to do with empirical verification of the impacts of using serious games. We chose to address this issue by setting up a longitudinal qualitative study and following the experience of a group of students and lecturers, who will play a set of serious games on social issues (environmental issues, issues of racism and discrimination, gender issues etc.) while observing changes and transformations over time. A qualitative methodology will allow us to go beyond impact verification and to explore the features of games and experience that make a difference, how game features and experience elements concur to producing impacts.

To further grasp the educational and civic possibilities offered by the use of video games one needs to understand not only how students and lecturers relate to them but also which features of the game and elements of the educational situation are seen as particularly valuable and productive. Therefore, while dialoguing with previously proposed frameworks (e.g. Echeverría et al., 2011; Mitgutsch & Alvarado, 2012; Raphael et al., 2009) the project will engage students and lecturers in a participatory process aiming at the construction of a new framework centered in an educational perspective, incorporating the visions and expectations of potential users of serious games. Such a framework can be of great use to educators and game developers in better differentiating the potentials of existing serious games and to enhance the educational situations in which they can be used. In line with our understanding of transformative, emancipatory and empowering education, we agree with those who see participation in the game  development process as holding a special promise (e.g. Whitton, 2010). The task dedicated to the participatory development of a serious game serves not only to contribute to the development of a relatively new and underexplored methodology but also to again densify the link between serious games and sociopolitical development by generating the opportunity for participants to be empowered to challenge and recreate the practice of citizenship into something that makes sense for them, that communicates with their lives and experiences (Evans & Prilleltensky, 2007).

The project is therefore innovative not only in terms of the questions it chose to tackle but also in the ways of doing so. It will generate new knowledge, new instruments and methodologies which can advance the field nationally and internationally.