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Games Health J. 2018 Nov 9. doi: 10.1089/g4h.2017.0178. [Epub ahead of print]

Which Game Narratives Do Adolescents of Different Gameplay and Sociodemographic Backgrounds Prefer? A Mixed-Methods Analysis.

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1 Department of Movement and Sports Sciences, Ghent University , Ghent, Belgium .
2 Research Foundation Flanders , Brussels, Belgium .
3 Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University , Utrecht, The Netherlands .
4 Department of Communication, Philosophy and Technology, Centre for Integrative Development, Wageningen University , Wageningen, The Netherlands .
5 USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center , Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.
6 Institute for Applied Health Research, School of Health and Life Science, Glasgow Caledonian University , Scotland, United Kingdom .



The aim of this study was to investigate which narrative elements of digital game narratives are preferred by the general adolescent population, and to examine associations with gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and gameplay frequency. Further, the study aims to discuss how results can be translated to serious digital games.


Adolescents were recruited through school to complete a survey on narrative preferences in digital games. The survey included questions on sociodemographic information, frequency of gameplay, and an open-ended question on what could be an appealing narrative for them. Data were analyzed in a mixed-methods approach, using thematic analysis and chi-square analyses to determine narrative preferences and the associations between game narrative elements and player characteristics (gender, SES, and frequency of gameplay).


The sample consisted of 446 adolescents (12-15 years old) who described 30 narrative subthemes. Preferences included human characters as protagonists; nonhuman characters only as antagonists; realistic settings, such as public places or cities; and a strong conflict surrounding crime, catastrophe, or war. Girls more often than boys defined characters by their age, included avatars, located the narrative in private places, developed profession-related skills, and included a positive atmosphere. Adolescents of nonacademic education more often than adolescents of academic education defined characters by criminal actions. Infrequent players more often included human characters defined by their age than frequent players. After performing a Bonferroni correction, narrative preferences for several gender differences remained.


Different narrative elements related to subgroups of adolescents by gender, SES, and frequency of gameplay. Customization of narratives in serious digital health games should be warranted for boys and girls; yet, further research is needed to specify how to address girls in particular.


Adolescents; Digital games; Health promotion; Mixed method; Narratives; Serious games


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