Background and Aim. Serious games are generally considered to have positive effects on many aspects of learner engagement as well as on cognitive learning gains and subject-related interest. Yet few studies have examined which combination of game elements influence engagement and learning, and how these factors are related. For this reason, an experimental study was conducted to explore these aspects with regard to digital serious games.
Method. Twelve primary school classes with 153 students from 9 to 12 years of age participated in this experimental field study using group comparisons. The students were randomly assigned to interact either with an educational simulation or a digital serious game. The results were analyzed using t-tests and hierarchical linear regressions.
Results and Conclusion. Results show that there are no group differences in tested learning gains nor in self-reported cognitive learning gains or increase in interest. Although there are also no differences regarding enjoyment, self-reported levels of deep thinking are higher when learning with a serious game. While post-test knowledge is only influenced by prior knowledge, self-reported cognitive learning gains and increases in interest are both positively correlated with deep thinking and enjoyment. These results lead to the conclusion that learning with serious games does not always lead to the expected increases in all aspects of engagement and learning outcomes. Thus, research needs to address the interplay of game elements and their impact on engagement and learning in more detail.