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Title: Which game narratives do adolescents of different gameplay and sociodemographic backgrounds prefer? A mixed-methods analysis

item SCHWARZ, AYLA - Ghent University
item MERTENS, LIEZE - Ghent University
item SIMONS, MONIQUE - Utrecht University
item SPOOK, JORINDE - Wageningen University
item Thompson, Deborah - Debbe
item CARDON, GREET - Ghent University
item DE BOURDEAUDHUIJ, ILSE - Ghent University
item CHASTIN, SEBASTIEN - Ghent University
item DESMET, ANN - Ghent University

Submitted to: The Games for Health Journal: Research, Development, and Clinical Applications
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/4/2018
Publication Date: 11/9/2018
Publication URL:
Citation: Schwarz, A., Mertens, L., Simons, M., Spook, J.E., Thompson, D.J., Cardon, G., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., Chastin, S.F., Desmet, A. 2018. Which game narratives do adolescents of different gameplay and sociodemographic backgrounds prefer? A mixed-methods analysis. The Games for Health Journal: Research, Development, and Clinical Applications.

Interpretive Summary: Interventions tailored to one's preferences are more likely to attract and hold attention. Greater attention to intervention content increases exposure, thus the likelihood of behavior change. Emerging evidence suggests that digital videogames may help adolescents engage in healthy behaviors. Little is known, however, regarding their narrative preferences in digital games. This research identified adolescents’ preferred narrative elements in digital videogames. Differences were observed by sex, socio-economic status, and gameplay-frequency. Understanding adolescents' preferred narrative elements may lead to the development of more appealing, and therefore effective, digital games for behavior change.

Technical Abstract: The aim of this study was to investigate which narrative elements of digital game narratives are preferred by the general adolescent population, and to examine associations with gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and gameplay frequency. Further, the study aims to discuss how results can be translated to serious digital games. Adolescents were recruited through school to complete a survey on narrative preferences in digital games. The survey included questions on sociodemographic information, frequency of gameplay, and an open-ended question on what could be an appealing narrative for them. Data were analyzed in a mixed-methods approach, using thematic analysis and chi-square analyses to determine narrative preferences and the associations between game narrative elements and player characteristics (gender, SES, and frequency of gameplay). The sample consisted of 446 adolescents (12-15 years old) who described 30 narrative subthemes. Preferences included human characters as protagonists; nonhuman characters only as antagonists; realistic settings, such as public places or cities; and a strong conflict surrounding crime, catastrophe, or war. Girls more often than boys defined characters by their age, included avatars, located the narrative in private places, developed profession-related skills, and included a positive atmosphere. Adolescents of nonacademic education more often than adolescents of academic education defined characters by criminal actions. Infrequent players more often included human characters defined by their age than frequent players. After performing a Bonferroni correction, narrative preferences for several gender differences remained. Different narrative elements related to subgroups of adolescents by gender, SES, and frequency of gameplay. Customization of narratives in serious digital health games should be warranted for boys and girls; yet, further research is needed to specify how to address girls in particular.