CELL LIFE: A MOBILE SERIOUS GAME FOR CELL BIOLOGY LEARNING
During the last years, tablets and smart phones have become a widespread technology commonly used by the students every day. In general, high school students are proficient users of these devices and major consumers of playful apps.
The education system has begun to explore how to transform its learning procedures to take advantage of this new trend. Tablets and digital learning materials are being introduced as regular tools in the high school classes. The drastic decrease on the prices of tablets and phones is also fostering this change. Nonetheless, the availability of learning material adapted to the new devices and to the expectations of the students remains as the major limitation.
Serious games conceptualize the idea of using different game mechanics in order to create learning content that is both didactic and engaging (Bergeran, 2006). For instance, FoldIt is a successful serious game aimed at teaching protein folding (Cooper et al., 2010). The game makes accessible this complex concept to students in an interactive and an entertaining way. A methodology to develop serious games has been proposed by Nadolski et al. (2008). It implies to firstly describe the learning objects and then to select game mechanics. Afterwards, a first prototype is implemented followed by a quality control trial. Finally, the final application is produced. The right selection of game mechanic and its integration with the learning contents are key aspects for a successful serious game (Habgood et al., 2007). However, how specifically the integration of game mechanics affects the learning processes remains as a subject of further research.
To study the role of game mechanics, we have implemented and evaluated CellLife. This serious game runs on mobile devices and aims at teaching cell biology on high school levels. For this first version, the objective of the game is to select the correct organelles to create either animal, plant or prokaryotic cells. The game includes four levels of increasing difficulty. The difficulty is regulated by the complexity of the organelles as well as by showing or hiding their names or images.
A user evaluation has been conducted across 7 high schools within the Navarra district (Spain). The evaluation involved more than 300 players aged between 15 and 16 years. The students were assigned to two different conditions of the game. The former, applies several game mechanics such as time constrains, points and bonuses. The latter, is closer to a plain application and does not apply any game mechanic.
Measures about engagement, performance and retain ratio were captured and will be compared between the two conditions. Qualitative feedback was also gathered. The results will offer insights about the effect of game mechanics on the described measures. Finally, guidelines about the integration of game mechanics will be provided.
 Bergeran B. 2006. Developing Serious Games. Thomson Delmar Learning.
 Cooper S, Khatib F, Treuille A, Barbero J, Lee J, Beenen M, Leaver-Fay A, Baker D and Popovic Z. 2010. Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Nature, 466: 756-760.
 Nadolski RJ et al. 2008. EMERGO: A methodology and toolkit for developing serious games in higher education. Simulation & Gaming 39: 338-352.
 Habgood, Matthew Peter Jacob. 2007 The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Ph. D. Diss. University of Nottingham.