Background Research


Background Research


General Information

Play Campus Connection


Problem Statement

Selecting a college is an important life milestone for a young person (Chapman 247). Other than being a significant period of the individual’s life and part of their holistic development, college choice helps determine personal and professional opportunities and career trajectory. The majority of college-going students have limited pre-college physical exposure and knowledge of college culture due to the type of pre-search materials readily available to students. Chapman defines pre-search materials as, “descriptive information, such as college catalogues or brochures” and information provided by others knowledgeable on colleges such as, “high school teachers, guidance counselors, family members, college alumni acquaintances” with only “some actual visits to college” occurring (247).

University of Iowa Educational Policy and Leadership Studies Professor, Michael Paulsen, examines enrollment behavior of students in groups and how environmental and institutional characteristics affect total enrollment. His studies indicate how “environmental, institutional, and student characteristics affect a student’s choice about whether or not to attend college and which college to attend,” (Paulsen 5-6). As a business, all higher education institutions have an underlying goal to attract prospective students and maintain or increase enrollment. Doing so enhances the prestige and general awareness of the institution as a result of its greater attendance. A game that simulates MSU environment and characteristics will help formulate college life at MSU for students just becoming familiar with the University, and help shape a personal opinion of confidence and institutional fit ultimately influencing the player’s college decision of whether to pursue higher education at MSU.

Paulsen’s study identifies that underlying factors that impact college choice include the cost of attending, geographic location, curriculum offering, and relationship of educational degree compared to job opportunities (29-33). Chapman, in contrast, argues these points help determine the decision to include a college on a potential list of college choices, he argues that students are most likely to apply and attend where they have an interest in going and are likely to get in (248). This suggests that possible game scenarios should include among other factors, profile information such as available colleges of study and institutional cultural pieces of information.

Because several factors influence student college choice, the game was intentionally designed to provide students with detailed information that can appeal to their practical selection requirements, while also helping students visualize themselves attending MSU because it is a place where they can grow and be successful. This playful experience has the potential to build context and a more meaningful personal connection to the University for its players in combination with their physical visit to campus.

A great deal of thought went into assessing potential engagement of players by focusing on game actions that motivate engagement. Using the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) model, developed by Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan of the consulting firm Immersyve and based on self-determination theory, we attempted to weave in the same three game play motivators that drive players’ subjective experience of Campus Connection as described in John Ferrara’s book, Playful Design (108):

•  “Competence—the feeling that you are effective at what you’re doing”
•  “Autonomy—the feeling of freedom to make your own decisions and act on them”
•  “Relatedness—the feeling of authentic connections to other people”

During development of Campus Connection, our designers conducted trial playtests and incorporated an inspired version of the PENS model to assess whether players were engaged in play, the game was easy-to-understand, gave players decision making power, and facilitated socializing and community. Post-survey feedback and general impressions of the game actions were quite positive, and thus, Campus Connection continued developing.

As the game continued to take shape, our designers realized the potential for this style of play to be best used within the context of a persuasive adver-game. Ferrara references game theorist Ian Bogost, who argues that games are especially good communication mediums because people, “activate and perceive the procedural rhetoric,” through interaction and participation (201). While Bogost strongly identifies this with computer games,  non-digital games can be persuasively effective as well. Furthermore, Bogost discusses the role of deliberation in design, and is interested in how, “games strive to alter or affect players’ opinions outside of the game, not merely to encourage them to continue playing but to motivate actions beyond the game, out in the material world,” because in many games, “the messages communicated through play are simply about the game itself, especially about what you need to do to win,” (202). Our goal with Campus Connection was not to oversell this experience as a university advertisement, but solve a problem–the overwhelming task of narrowing down college choice. Players can view and experience parts of the campus without  being overly sold a crafted experience that most promotional material aims to do. The subtle and soft approach to advertising the university in a way that is exploratory for players may be more memorable, authentic, and meaningful than what currently exists in pre-search materials. As designers, we are pleased we aren’t proliferating traditional promotional materials, and instead giving players a chance to take away campus culture that is visual and easy to digest. 

Target Audience

Michigan State University’s Office of Admission has outlined as part of its mission statement a commitment to providing, “high-quality leadership, services, and programs in order to recruit, admit, and enroll students whose experiences and talents demonstrate that they and Michigan State University will benefit by their enrollment.”  We believe this game is a fresh approach to marketing material that can be easily posted online for download and print. It can be available on the university’s admissions website, handed out or demonstrated at college fairs, distributed as a take-away after prospective student tours or campus visits, or released to high school college career counselors to share in order to engage and attract students who are seeking a college experience like the one available to them at MSU. While prospective students are the target player, Campus Connection can be enjoyed and played with by parents who are also interested in learning more about MSU, and their child’s college options.  We believe this game will be primarily enjoyed by prospective college students, grades 6 and up!

This card game transpired as a result of MSU Media Camps pre-college programs, which are early recruitment efforts that expose students grades 6-12 to MSU’s campus and future fields of study. Part of the university’s recruitment strategy includes pre-college program activities that are “purposeful in exposing pre-college age students to potential careers and academic programs particularly available at MSU.“ The purpose of these pre-college programs are to establish a personal relationship for visiting students to MSU, which increases the likelihood visitings students remain interested in Michigan State University as a four-year college choice. Pre-college program attendees are one of the desired audiences for this gaming experience, as the game will enhance their general understanding of the campus, and supplement their overall experience visiting MSU, increasing students’ interest. Early versions of Campus Connection will be playtested by participants of MSU Media Summer Camps. An estimated 200 students will experience this game in 2014. Because the Camps are just a few days long and many students don’t have a chance to see all of campus, Campus Connection (MSU edition) incorporates campus history, iconic landmarks, and resources that players interact with through the game mechanics that they may miss as a visitor.

The game can be played on-campus, accelerating visiting students’ understanding and familiarity of Michigan State University, which may also increase their interest in returning as 4-year students. The game can also be played off-campus, and serve as a way to explore campus that is far more interesting than reading about a college online or in a brochure. Lastly, we would love for MSU alumni to play and experience this game as well! We believe Campus Connection helps commemorate their time as MSU students, and can be a tool to share their experience with others! Alumni who play can “revisit” the campus again, or to remember special places and details of the university.

Ouroboros Magic Circle

Elements of our game design that enhances the player experience and support our serious goals include:

•  the formal components of player-to-player interactions, where players are engaging in communication and cooperation through trading card actions .
•  the environmental components of placing the MSU campus cards on our institutional values board, which highlight cultural components of campus and orients players’ visual awareness of unique places at the university to university mission.
•  the during gaming context, where players get to visualize and experience part of the campus as they play, which can have the positive effect of achieving serious goals and building player awareness and interest in the university.

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Player Experience Ouroboros Magic Circle of Serious Game Design attributable to Professor Carrie Heeter, as part of course TC830, Foundations of Serious Game Design, taught at Michigan State University in spring 2014.

Content Sources

Campus Connection was thoughtfully researched to help inform its design. Several game development experts served as content sources, as well as research on higher education choice, values, objectives. Designers surveyed existing college promotional materials and conducted background research on the university. The following sources help explain why and what key things appear in the game and apart of the play experience:

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A few core values are embedded in Campus Connection game play including discovery, cooperation, and community, which are realized through the game’s actions of negotiation and trading. In order to engage in the game and possibly win, players must intentionally review, discover, and even revisit the campus cards they are attempting to collect to complete their desired sequence. Players must become successful at making sufficient trades with their other players. Players must be willing to occasionally trade more or less cards than what another player wants to trade. In doing so, players gather new cards and possibly get closer to/or win. But more importantly than what is achieved through the game play, individuals engage in cooperation and community through this negotiation mechanic. While fostering community is not the primary purpose of the game, designing a social game was important to the designers who believe Campus Connection will be most purposeful if used in conjunction with a communal activity, like MSU Media summer camps. Incorporation of game values was inspired by Values at Play.

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Fun and Engagement

Prospective students learn about college choices and  campus characteristics through a fast-paced social exchange with other players where discovery is inevitable. Rather than having to search arduously for information in digital or print versions of pre-search college materials, discovery is embedded within the game play. Students increase their real world knowledge of what they can expect to see and experience should they attend this particular setting. An interactive component of the game is players social engagement–they are building cooperation and community by negotiating trades. It can get a bit chaotic as many cards are flying across the table, but that’s half the fun!



Campus Connection looked mostly at the two theories above, “Fish Tank” and “Interactivity” for design inspiration. When trying to teach young students about the entire Michigan State University campus, we discovered that there was far too much information to attempt to cram into our game. Instead of having a majority of that information be lost on an overwhelmed student, we decided to use the “Fish Tank” approach. This meant that Campus Connection viewed and displayed MSU in a much smaller capacity, a “small fish tank” compared to an ocean of information. By breaking down the campus into small, digestible bits of information, complete with easy to read facts and clear visuals of campus, we found that students were able to understand and retain more information about Michigan State.

Keeping our core values (cooperation, action) in mind, we also wanted to focus on the engaging and fun aspects of our gameplay. To encourage our players to collect, trade, and negotiate cards with other players, we had to create an interactive experience. We want our players to be social, to get up and interact with the other players. We feel that this interactivity will help our players be more active and receptive to making new friends at the media camps, as well as enhanced engagement and participation in the camp activities.

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Theory, Values, Verb, and Action Cards are attributable to Professor Carrie Heeter, as part of course TC830, Foundations of Serious Game Design, taught at Michigan State University in spring 2014.