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Best Practice Case Study: Applied Cyberpsychology

University of the West of Scotland (UWS): use of the RUEU? game on a 4th year Applied Cyberpsychology elective module on a Scottish B. Sc. Psychology degree to examine how social issues might be incorporated into a game


The first protoype of the RU EU? Game was used with a group of 31 4th year (Honours level) psychology students at UWS studying an elective module on Applied Cyberpsychology as part of their 4th year (Honours level) in Psychology. The students select the module as an elective in the final year of their BSc in Psychology. In Scotland an Honours degree typically takes four years. At UWS psychology students take all the compulsory psychology modules required for British Psychological Society recognition in their 3rd year and have a choice of modules in their 4th year. In these elective modules students have a chance to follow up on their interests and get a chance to look at real life applications of the basic theories and research they have studied ealier. Typically 30-35 students choose the Applied Cyberpsychology module. Students on the module look at psychological aspects of games and apps, social media and artificial intelligence. The focus for this Best Praactice Case study is to help students to think about aspects of game design as well as European identity.

The students in the 2019-2020 Applied Cyberpsychology cohort accessed the game in a classroom/lab setting where each student had access to a computer and played the game individually. The students also provided feedback on their views of the prototype of the RU EU? game.

As psychology students in a School of Education and Social Sciences at UWS, the Applied Cyberpsychology students are part of the intended target group of students for the RU EU? Game, i. e. Social Science and  Business students across Europe.


The students on the Applied Cyberpsychology module look at psychological aspects of games and apps, social media and artificial intelligence. They spend five weeks looking at games and apps, where they look at the features of games that make them so engaging (Boyle et al., 2012), the features that help players to learn (Arnab et al., 2015). Models of game design (Garris et al. 2002) and theories of learning in games (Gentile & Gentile, 2008; Romero et al. 2016). Students are also encouraged to think about the relevance and validity of psychological and social theories embodied in game content.

The RU EU? game was used as an example of a serious game on the module. In thinking about the content of the RUEU? Game the issue of identity is clearly important. Students were encouraged to think about how European identity is built into the activities in the RU EU? Game, linking this to content that they had previously covered on 3rd year Developmental and Social Psychology modules that address how identity is acquired (Erikson, ) and how it is evident in groups behaviours. The design of the RU EU? game is based on Social identity theory, an established theory in social psychology, that describes how a person’s sense of who they are is based on the groups that they belong to and the positive feelings that they have about their membership in these groups (Tajfel &Turner, 1986). Social identity theory explains how strong intergroup feelings emerge via two different processes, self-categorization and social comparison. Self-categorization describes how we categorise objects and events by identifying similarities and differences between ourselves and others and feel pride in the characteristics of the groups to which we feel we belong. Social comparison is the process whereby we maintain our self-esteem in belonging to that group by comparing ourselves favourably to those in other groups.

It seemed that the differing levels of commitment to the EU experienced by European citizens provides a good example of social identity theory in action. For example the vote by the UK to leave the EU has stirred up very strong pro and anti EU feelings where differences between groups which had previously been apparently weak and implicit suddenly became strong and explicit, reflecting unexpectedly deep seated and entrenched attitudes and emotions and highlighting our poor understanding of how strong (and prejudiced) attitudes emerge and how resistant these are to change.

The proposals of social identity theory that our feelings of belonging to groups are formed through the interactions that we have with others, suggested that it would be useful to ground the game on tenets of social identity theory. In the game players would interact with individuals in the shape of non-player characters (NPCs) who express varied and contradictory views about European identity. These views were represented in the activities carried out in the game tools where players could interview non player characters, observe discussions between non player characters and evaluate Newflashes. Playing the game helps players to understand EU identity as a complex, multicomponent construct and how different components are evident in the polarised views about the EU.

Embedding in the course / education

As part of the assessment for the Applied Cyberpsychology module the students are required to carry out a short exercise where they design a serious game of their own. The design is conceptual as the game is not actually built. Ideally the games that the students design in their assessments should have a social dimension that reflects some of the psychological issues that the students have previously addressed during their psychology degree. Students come up with a wide variety of games such as: a game to deal with stress and anxiety in first year students;  a game to support first year students in acquisition of soft skills; a game to support first year students in dealing with resources and practical issues at university; a game to help children to combat bullying, a game to help socially anxious children to cope reduce their anxiety in challenging social situations and a game to teach sign language to encourage deaf and hearing individuals to communicate.

During the module the students examine the application of psychological theories to explaining why entertainment games are so engaging, as well as how games can support learning. They examine varied aspects of how engagement in games has been studied looking at subjective experience of players, players’ motives for playing games, game usage and habits, including time spent playing games and frequency of play, the games market and loyalty to game, physiological responses and the impact of playing games on life satisfaction (Boyle et al., 2012).

The students also look at models of learning in games such as the four-dimensional framework (de Freitas & Oliver, 2006), the input-process-outcome game model (Garris et al., 2002) and the. LM-GM model (Arnab et al., 2015).

The students are also encouraged to think carefully about how to evaluate whether their game would be successful in achieving their learning outcomes. The key problem for the students is to think about whether a game supports learning (typically assessed by increased performance on an agreed measure) or whether it supports attitude or behavior change which are typically more difficult to measure. The RU EU? Game is used to illustrate that identifying the learning outcomes in a game is not always straightforward.  In developing the RU EU? Game, project partners spent a long time considering whether the learning outcome was to change attitudes about the EU, but concluded that the aim was to highlight the complexity of people’s understanding of EU identity.

To evaluate whether the RU EU? was successful in this aim of increasing the player’s understanding of EU identity, the game uses an “intern” test as a baseline measure of the players’ attitudes to the EU and European identity for later use in evaluating the impact of the game. These tests are incorporated into the game in an interview to assess the player’s suitability for the trainee journalist job. The questions in the “intern” test were derived from the Eurobarometer survey (Favell, (2010/1) which looks at different components of European identity, such as geographical belonging, whether one thinks of oneself as a citizen of Europe, both now and in the future, the balance between thinking of oneself as a citizen of one’s own country but also as a citizen of Europe. The survey also asks about emotional identification with Europe with respect to attachment to Europe, closeness to Europe and pride in Europe.

The RU EU? could be used in a similar way in game design modules run in the Computing Science school at the University, but with the focus more on game design.

(Learning) Activities and outcomes

In designing their own serious game the students are asked to answer the following questions.

  • What is the content area and topic/topics addressed in your game?
  • What is the aim of the your game?
  • What are the learning outcomes for your game?
  • What is the target audience for the RU EU?game? i. e. who is going to play the game?
  • What game genre is your game?
  • What is the Pedagogy (theory of learning) underlying your game?

To help the students answer these questions several serious games are used as exemplars and deconstructed in this way. One of these games is the RU EU? Game. The students were asked to think about the following issues:

What is the content area and topic/topics addressed in the RU EU? game?

The content area for the game is European identity. This was operationalised in the RU EU? game as a multi-component construct where 10 key components (themes) were selected to reflect the breadth and complexity of factors underlying European identity and provide an operational definition of European identity to be implemented in the game. The themes were:Social, Environment, Rights & Responsibilities, Security, Emotions, Jobs & Economy, Political, History, Culture & Geography.

What is the aim of the RU EU? game?

The aim of the RU EU? game is to increase players’ awareness of and understanding of the complex nature of European identity, emphasizing the contrasting, contradictory and frequently conflict-ridden nature of different people’s views on this. A further aim was to increase players’ awareness of the different aspects of European identity (themes) that are evident in the varied views expressed.

What are the required learning outcomes for the RU EU? game?

While many serious games are similar to Multiple Choice Questionnaires with additional gamification introduced by progress, rewards, badges, competition etc., it was thought that a game to explore European identity should utilize a more subtle, experiential game-like approach that optimizes the advantages of games based learning, providing learning that is active, situated and experiential.

Consequently we set up the RUEU? game to include activities that require players to encounter differing views about European identity and to engage in tasks requiring higher order thinking skills such as classification, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and judgement in making choices, evaluations and decisions about these differing opinions. In terms of learning mechanics described by Arnab et al., it seemed that useful activities would include “explore”, “identify”, “generalisation/discrimination”, “participation” and “feedback”.

What is the target audience for the RU EU? game? i. e. who is going to play the game?

The RU EU? game was targeted primarily at social science and business students in Higher Education. These students are studying courses looking at European politics and business and an understanding of national and European identity and values would be relevant. Erasmus students who are studying abroad would also benefit from understanding about European identity possibly at University induction sessions.

What game genre is the RU EU? game?

In thinking about how to implement the proposed learning activities into a game, a role-playing game where players have the opportunity to explore varied views about European identity seemed to be an appropriate genre for the game. Given our view that the nature of knowledge about European identity is typically implicit rather than explicit, it seemed useful to consider an experiential way of doing this. Underlying this is the idea that identity, one’s feeling of who one is, impacts on attitudes, knowledge and behaviour.

Importantly the learning in the RU EU? game would be similar to how identity is acquired and developed in real life situations as described in social identity theory, via interactions with individuals with varied views about a topic. Given the potentially contested and conflicted nature of the issues surrounding European identity, an early idea proposed for the game narrative was that the player should take on the role of a negotiator trying to mediate discussions concerning EU issues, where non player characters (NPCs) would present different points of view and the player would mediate, negotiating to find a solution. While this idea was attractive, it was felt that, given the deep-rooted feelings about this issue it may be difficult to find a negotiated solution. This early view that it was a not good idea to develop a game where a “solution” to European identity was negotiated by opposing parties has been vindicated by the huge difficulties relating to Brexit!

The next suggestion for the game metaphor, and the one that was finally adopted, was that the player would take on the role of a journalist collecting and collating material about European identity that he would edit into an article and then “publish”. This allowed the player the potential to collect, sort, evaluate and present information in an even handed way, representing conflicting views rather than deciding between them.

What is the Pedagogy (theory of learning) underlying the RU EU? game?

The theory underlying the RU EU? Game is constructivism, which proposes that learning is most effective when it is active, situated, collaborative and involves meatacognition and self regulation (de Corte, 2011)  and located in interactions with other people. An important aspect of constructivism for the game is Gentile and Gentile’s (2007) claim that  one of the principles of learning that makes games effective is that they support a model of learning where: “knowledge or skills learned and practiced in multiple ways on several problems, or in a variety of contexts, are more likely to transfer than when practiced in only one way on a single kind of problem, or in the same context.” The reason for this is that looking at problems from a number of perspectives “helps students to abstract the relevant features of concepts and develop a more flexible representation of knowledge” (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) p. 66,  in Gentile and Gentile (2007). The tools in  the RU EU? game allow players to do that by presenting different tasks involving selection, comparison, choice and evalaution of varied expressed opinions.


Arnab, S., Lim, T., Carvalho, M. B., Bellotti, F., Freitas, S., Louchart, S., Berta, R., & De Gloria, A. (2015). Mapping learning and game mechanics for SG analysis. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(2), 391-411.

Boyle, E. A., Connolly, T. M., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). Engagement in digital entertainment games: A systematic review. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(3), 771–780.

de Corte, E. (2011). Constructive, Self-Regulated, Situated, and Collaborative Learning: An Approach for the Acquisition of Adaptive Competence. Journal of Education, 1 9 2(2 / 3), 33-48.

De Freitas, S., & Oliver, M. (2006). How can exploratory learning with games and simulations within the curriculum be most effectively evaluated? Computers & Education46(3), 249-264.


Favell, A. (2010/1). European identity and European citizenship in three “Eurocities”: a sociological approach to the European Union, Politique Européenne 30, pp.187-224.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model. Simulation & Gaming, 33(4), 441-467.

Gentile, D. A., & Gentile, J. R. (2008). Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(2), 127-141.

Romero, M., Usart, M., & Ott, M. (2015). Can serious games contribute to developing and sustaining 21st century skills? Games and Culture10(2), 148-177.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin (eds.). Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall. pp. 7–24.