Research Blog

Databox: New Researcher Developing Immersive Educational Game

May 23, 2023

SLATE's new Researcher on the DALI project, Yann Mariton, has started developing an immersive educational game for people who want to learn more about data!

New SLATE Researcher, Yann Mariton. Photo: Yann Mariton.

This semester, SLATE has welcomed a new Researcher in data literacy game design to work on the research and development game project DALI, a collaboration between universities in Norway, Germany, Spain, and England.

Yann Mariton is a study engineer trained as a social psychologist, with a Master's degree in social and environmental psychology from the University of Nîmes, France. In the past, Mariton has focused on the fields of education and professional integration through studies and data analysis. More recently, however, he has leaned towards new technologies, e-learning and gamification to train adults in the usage of these tools for their respective environments (mostly education and risk management).

Yann Mariton is currently developing an immersive educational game for the DALI project, with the temporary title Databox. The word “data” has become increasingly “mainstream”, but that does not mean that more people now have a deeper understanding of the word and its underlying concepts. It only means that data has become that much more relevant to peoples’ everyday lives. When high exposure to data is combined with only a rough understanding of data, it can easily result in misleading representations. Databox aims to rectify some of these inaccurate representations by providing a fun gaming experience for the players who are curious to learn more about data!

The Aim of the Game

Like any other educational game, Databox aims to provide knowledge in a playful and interactive way. The player is welcomed to the game by “DataBot”; a tiny robot character who has created a learning room to help anyone visiting him understand data a bit better. DataBot goes over the fundamentals of what data is, and what the life cycle of data looks like. DataBot will then give you quizzes to test what you have learned.

The Databox game will be available in Norwegian, English, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

A small, yellow robot character welcomes you to its learning room in the game Databox.
The robot character DataBot welcomes you to its learning room in the game Databox. Screenshot: Yann Mariton. Note: As the game is still in development, these visuals may be subject to change before the release.

The game is aimed at beginners, as it only covers the basics and does not go too deeply into the specifics. However, people with more experience when it comes to data might find it interesting as well.

Databox is a heavily gamified version of the first lessons any participant can find while taking the free digital course Datareisen, developed by Digital Norway and SLATE. Knowledge about data and digitalization has become necessary for our ability to participate in education and work, and to understand the modern society around us. Datareisen provides a fundamental introduction to the digital world we all face today, with a focus on teaching the course participants about data and data use.

Educational Value

Pedagogically speaking, the main priority of the Databox game is to deconstruct the harmful representation that data a) is only accessible to experts with academic backgrounds in mathematics and computer sciences, b) can be summarized as a bunch of numbers set up in a spreadsheet, or c) is essentially the same thing as information.

The truth is that anyone, regardless of the type or level of their academic background, can understand and work with data! Data can be found everywhere, and not specifically in spreadsheets. Without data, there would not be any information. In the game, the robot DataBot explains all of this in a remarkably simple way!

The game format is suitable for short lessons: It allows you to combine multiple types of media in a single playful experience that has its own identity, and in which players can immerse themselves and engage properly with the resource. Data is factual and the origin of any given information, meaning that any information regarding any topic is based on data. The nature of data makes it a tough topic to generalize and exploit in a neutral, tangible format, but it also offers a lot of freedom in the creation of games and other resources dedicated to the topic.

Image of a black screen containing quiz questions about data.
An example of quiz questions about data in the game Databox. Screenshot: Yann Mariton. Note: As the game is still in development, these visuals may be subject to change before the release.

Game Design

Databox is designed on Sphere, a type of software tool created by a French company called Speedernet. The games and resources created on this software are immersive. They are in a 360°/Virtual Reality format, meaning that the player will always have a first-person type of view. Because the player is unable to move in this game, it was quite important to exploit the full capacities of the 360° view format: Different angles provide different types of information or interaction, and even if DataBot provides the pace of the game, the player can play the game at their own speed.

“Visualizing data” usually involves tables and charts, but it is important for players to visualize every step of the data life cycle, not just the analysis part in a graphical format. It is just as important that players can interact with the data every step of the way and contribute to transforming data into information. Nowadays, when challenges related to ethics and privacy are so tied to data, it is important for the players to realize that data— especially their own personal data— is a highly sought after resource that needs to be carefully handled. A specific event in the game has been engineered to effectively teach this lesson.

Databox will be available for smartphones and tablets, but this web browser game will run best on a computer or a compatible VR headset.