Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Taylor Martin


Taylor Martin


Jürgen Symanzik


Anne R. Diekema


Adele Cutler


Sarah Brasiel


Ryan Baker


The use of educational digital games as a method of instruction for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics has increased in the past decade. While these games provide successfully implemented interactive and fun interfaces, they are not designed to respond or remedy students’ negative affect towards the game dynamics or their educational content. Therefore, this exploratory study investigated the frequent patterns of student emotional and behavioral response to educational digital games.

To unveil the sequential occurrence of these affective states, students were assigned to play the game for nine class sessions. During these sessions, their affective and behavioral response was recorded to uncover possible underlying patterns of affect (particularly confusion, frustration, and boredom) and behavior (disengagement). In addition, these affect and behavior frequency pattern data were combined with students’ gameplay data in order to identify patterns of emotions that led to a better performance in the game.

The results provide information on possible affect and behavior patterns that could be used in further research on affect and behavior detection in such open-ended digital game environments. Particularly, the findings show that students experience a considerable amount of confusion, frustration, and boredom. Another finding highlights the need for remediation via embedded help, as the students referred to peer help often during their gameplay. However, possibly because of the low quality of the received help, students seemed to become frustrated or disengaged with the environment. Finally, the findings suggest the importance of the decay rate of confusion; students’ gameplay performance was associated with the length of time students remained confused or frustrated. Overall, these findings show that there are interesting patterns related to students who experience relatively negative emotions during their gameplay.