Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Jaime Banks

Committee Co-Chair

Elizabeth L Cohen

Committee Member

Matthew M Martin


Despite evidence that game-based instruction is effective, and suggestive evidence that they are specifically effective for teaching systems thinking---the ability to think about complex systems---the mechanisms behind this learning are not well understood. One promising perspective on game-based learning is rooted in the development of mental models of game systems. Mental models are cognitive representations of the perceived entities and relationships between entities in a system. This study explores the entities and entity relationships in novice players' mental models of an analog game. Grounded, interpretive analysis of mental models externalized through cognitive mapping identified five categories of entities: formal game entities, player actions, sociality, learning processes, and subjective experience. Content analysis of the relationships among these entities revealed that complex relationships were rarely identified, as players primarily described simple relationships. The implications of these findings for a) understandings of the nature of games and gameplay and b) effective game-based instruction are discussed.