Serious Games as a Research Tool

Games as a Method

Serious games can contribute to scientific research in many different ways and at many different stages. Think of collecting quantitative data using a digital serious game as a research instrument, but also consider all the research opportunities that the game development process itself brings. Design-based research with smart use of game principles—what can that mean for you as a researcher? Find out on this page.


Gaming as a taboo-breaking form of action research
Game designers work with insights from psychology
The end product is a learning (research) tool
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Serious Games as a Research Tool

Why is research with gaming so effective?

How can we explain that serious games as a research tool is such an effective method? This is largely due to the methodology, psychological foundations, and subsequent data collection.

Breaking taboos through action research

The development of a serious game is a highly social process in which end-users play a crucial role. Therefore, the process of game development is highly suitable for qualitative research: how does the target audience experience this issue? Is there an underlying problem that we need to uncover first? Co-creation, design thinking, and iterative work are central to this. These methodologies are very sensitive and effective when researching experiences and attitudes, especially when dealing with a sensitive subject. ‘Creating a game together’ provides a safe context to discuss sensitive or complex topics. After all, it’s about characters, gameplay, and narratives—not about you, if you don’t want it to be as a participant. This makes it easier to address issues.

Shkorey - Discussing Sexual and Reproductive Health through a Game, 8D Games

Psychologically grounded

Game designers are skilled at using insights from psychology in game design. By choosing the right game mechanics, they simulate behaviors and interactions that are otherwise difficult to study. This provides valuable insights for your research. The beauty of game development is that it doesn’t remain theoretical—the designs and game interactions are extensively tested in practice with the target audience. If a mechanic doesn’t work as expected, it almost always yields something else: insights that refine the scope of your research, or a nuance that no one could have anticipated beforehand. Learning through design enables learning through research. 

The end product as a learning (research) tool

A digital game can collect all kinds of data about the player, providing valuable input for your research. As a technical partner, we ensure that the data can be shared securely and in compliance with GDPR guidelines with researchers and practitioners. However, generating data for research is not limited to digital games. In fact, a fully developed game is not always necessary. Prototypes and exploratory sessions that apply a serious gaming strategy also offer tremendous possibilities. Additionally, a serious game often evolves over many years based on user experiences. At every stage, researchers can learn something new about the target audience and the issue at hand.

Serious Games as a Research Tool

MCL Rehabilitation Game

How can gaming support patients in recovering after an ICU stay?

Recovery after an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) stay often takes months and sometimes even years. How can this rehabilitation process be made as pleasant and effective as possible, and what role can technology and gaming play in it? This question was central to the doctoral research of researcher Lise Beumeler. In 2023, she successfully completed her research for the Medical Center Leeuwarden and RuG Campus Fryslân, receiving national attention for the results. During the research process, 8D Games was the technical partner. Colleague Johan van der Meulen was particularly involved in the lead-up to Beumeler’s dissertation I See You: unravelling pathways of recovery after critical illness.’

Technologies such as virtual reality and sensors can relieve the burden on healthcare and increase adherence to therapy, provided they are developed from the beginning based on the needs and capabilities of the target audience. This aspect received significant attention throughout the research process. For instance, various types of hardware and games were tested together with both patients and ICU staff. Contrary to expectations, it turned out that virtual reality genuinely excited the patients and—more importantly—effectively shifted the focus from ‘rehabilitation’ to ‘playing.’

The collaboration resulted in a VR prototype with infrared sensors that support patients in the rehabilitation process. In the game, players work on a puzzle and are challenged to reach further for the missing pieces. This requires them to make the exact arm movements that are beneficial for their recovery.

“While playing the games, the patients were much less aware of their complaints, so they moved more freely. Shifting the focus clearly offers opportunities. In this case, the name ‘serious gaming’ is incorrect: it makes the exercises less serious and takes the sting out of it.“

Lise Beumeler

Promovenda Rijksunversiteit Groningen (Campus Fryslân)

Serious Games as a Research Tool

“Thanks to their ‘fun’ factor, games can be a very nice way to start the dialogue in an accessible way and in this way stimulate multidisciplinary cooperation. If those games can also be played online, any logistical and organizational barriers will also be removed. For our project, that was the perfect combination.“

Dr. Nienke Beerlage-de Jong

Assistent Professor


 Insight into complex dilemmas

For the University of Twente, we were the technical partner in the research project eZoon, where we developed a serious game about complex decision-making. This involved decision-making regarding zoonoses, the specialty of university lecturer Nienke-Beerlage de Jong and Professor Lisette van Gemert.

The game makes the motivations of various actors understandable. This provides valuable data on potential solutions for this complex issue and enhances mutual understanding between fields dealing with a complex dilemma. The outcomes of the game sessions are presented visually and comprehensively for the players, giving them insight into how different interests relate to each other.

Following eZoon, we have continued to be the technical partner in various other research projects at the University of Twente, such as Tina’s Hand World.

Ice Skating Game

Balance training for the elderly

In collaboration with Professor Dr. Claudine Lamoth and PhD candidate Mike Diest, 8D Games developed ‘The Ice Skating Game’ back in 2013. This game provides balance training in a playful manner, with players’ movements being recorded via the Kinect. Based on this data, the therapist can increasingly tailor the exercises to the patient.

The research showed that the game format had an extremely positive impact on therapy adherence: patients played more frequently and for longer than expected, whereas traditional fall prevention exercises were often perceived as boring and repetitive, leading to insufficient practice at home.

Case: The Skating Game | Research project

“During our study, participants engaged with the game even more than required, showcasing its effectiveness in maintaining interest.“

Mike van Diest

Researcher Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

A key condition we included was scalability; if the prototype proves effective, it should be feasible and easy for the whole field to start using the tool as well.

Stijn Deckers

Manager of Diagnostics and Treatment

Stichting Milo

Assessing cognitive skills in children with Complex Communication Needs (CCN)

Children with complex communication needs (CCN) speak little or not at all and often have a combination of intellectual, sensory, and/or motor impairments in addition to speech and language problems. Stichting Milo and OOK! OC identified the current lack of a suitable tool to assess the cognitive skills of children with CCN. Therefore, they approached 8D Games for innovative technical research. Which (combination of) existing and affordable hardware could help orthopedagogues, psychologists, and therapists in this task? And can we design this in a game format?

We developed a functional prototype that can be played in three different situations, tailored to the child’s specific needs: ‘seeing only,’ ‘hearing only,’ and ‘feeling only.’ The prototype utilizes small vibration motors, colorful shapes, and NFT tags that connect the shapes with each other and with a laptop.

This provides the therapist with various interactive ‘puzzle pieces,’ similar to building blocks suitable for various games and tests. The vibration function also makes the puzzle pieces usable for children who cannot hear or see but can feel with their hands. This project is still under development.

DigiJuf Design-Based Research

Reading and Speaking Skills in Children

Researchers from the Centre for Language and Speech Technology at Radboud University in Nijmegen developed advanced speech technology. They then approached us with a fascinating question: what possibilities does this speech technology offer for games? Can we use it to create a game to improve children’s speaking and reading skills? Through an iterative process with end-users, we developed creative concepts and a functional game prototype of ‘DigiJuf,’ an adaptive language buddy that engages children in speaking and reading through play.

Giel Hekkert, project leader from 8D Games, designed a test methodology and conducted various tests with primary school children in Friesland. The data from these tests provided valuable input for the research group. In fact, it led to the paper Enhancing ASR-Based Educational Applications: Peer Evaluation of Non-Native Child Speech, which won the ‘Best Paper’ award at Trinity College Dublin. This is a great example of how a serious game as a research tool can provide value for scientific research.

Case: DigiJuf

“Research with the game prototype shows that children are just as reliable evaluators as adults. This means that primary school-aged children can provide feedback that complements the feedback from DigiJuf.”

Dr. Helmer Strik

Associate Professor

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