Authenticity, Ethicality, and Motivation: A Formal Evaluation of a 10-week Computer Security Alternate Reality Game for CS Undergraduates

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John R. Morelock, Virginia Tech; Zachary Peterson, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo


Alternate reality games (ARGs) have been shown to have desirable characteristics for computer security education and student motivation. We implemented a 10-week-long ARG in an introductory undergraduate computer science course, and formally assessed the ARG's impact on students' course experience, as well as examined students' motivation-related experiences in the course by gender. Among other conclusions, we found that the ARG enabled an authentic and motivating problem-solving environment, but also raised ethical concerns among students that could lead to constructive discussions on ethical behavior in computer security. We also found that the ARG's use of several programming languages has detrimental effects on novice students---especially women---who felt at a disadvantage compared to their peers. We discuss connections to extant literature and implications for future implementations of the ARG.

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@inproceedings {219732,
author = {John R. Morelock and Zachary Peterson},
title = {Authenticity, Ethicality, and Motivation: A Formal Evaluation of a 10-week Computer Security Alternate Reality Game for {CS} Undergraduates},
booktitle = {2018 {USENIX} Workshop on Advances in Security Education ({ASE} 18)},
year = {2018},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,