BACKGROUND: Game-based learning appears to be a promising instructional method because of its engaging properties and positive effects on motivation and learning. There are numerous options to design game-based learning; however, there is little data-informed knowledge to guide the choice of the most effective game-based learning design for a given educational context. The effectiveness of game-based learning appears to be dependent on the degree to which players like the game. Hence, individual differences in game preferences should be taken into account when selecting a specific game-based learning design.
OBJECTIVE: We aimed to identify patterns in students' perceptions of play and games-player types and their most important characteristics.
METHODS: We used Q methodology to identify patterns in opinions on game preferences. We recruited undergraduate medical and dental students to participate in our study and asked participants to sort and rank 49 statements on game preferences. These statements were derived from a prior focus group study and literature on game preferences. We used by-person factor analysis and varimax rotation to identify common viewpoints. Both factors and participants' comments were used to interpret and describe patterns in game preferences.
RESULTS: From participants' (n=102) responses, we identified 5 distinct patterns in game preferences: the social achiever, the explorer, the socializer, the competitor, and the troll. These patterns revolved around 2 salient themes: sociability and achievement. The 5 patterns differed regarding cheating, playing alone, story-telling, and the complexity of winning.
CONCLUSIONS: The patterns were clearly interpretable, distinct, and showed that medical and dental students ranged widely in how they perceive play. Such patterns may suggest that it is important to take students' game preferences into account when designing game-based learning and demonstrate that not every game-based learning-strategy fits all students. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to use a scientifically sound approach to identify player types. This can help future researchers and educators select effective game-based learning game elements purposefully and in a student-centered way.