Re-framing engagement for applied games

A conceptual framework

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Although games are frequently described as ‘engaging’, what this means exactly continues to be subject of debate in game literature. Engagement is often defined through related concepts like immersion and positive emotions. However, this neglects the fact that applied games aim to provide more than an entertaining experience, and that engagement with the applied purpose can exist separately from engagement with the game's systems. To make this differentiation more apparent, this article introduces the Applied Games Engagement Model (AGEM), a theoretical model that distinguishes between an applied game's systems and its non-entertainment purpose. It poses that game systems and purpose can overlap in varying amounts, both from game to game, and from moment to moment within a single game. The value of the model is in the explicit acknowledgement that the attention necessary for engaging with content is a limited resource, and that measures for engagement in applied games need to consider that not all engagement is purposeful. The article lays the conceptual foundation for the study of engagement in applied games, and provides a framework for how to design for an applied purpose. It illustrates its use in analysing applied games and their designs through three case studies.