Who Stole the Book of Kells? Description and Player Evaluation of a Cryptography Game for Primary School Students





Several studies suggest the need to develop technology skills from a young age. The development of computational thinking enhances multidisciplinary abilities, such as abstracting and decomposing a problem into smaller parts to find a solution. Among various tools, educational games can be implemented to efficiently stimulate the development of technology skills in primary school students. The current paper describes an educational game designed to motivate players to learn and reflect on cryptography, a collection of computer science techniques adopted for data protection. The Code of Kells is a mystery game that aims to support the development of computational thinking and maths abilities for primary school students. In this collaborative game, 10-12 years old players use cryptography techniques to discover who stole the Book of Kells – an ancient manuscript kept in the Trinity College Library in Ireland. To identify the criminal's identity, the players should work on teams and follow a map of Dublin city to collect encrypted clues hidden in popular locations, such as Phoenix Park and Dublin Castle. The participants should follow guidelines provided by a cipher sheet that illustrates cryptography techniques such as Caesar's Cipher, Polybius Cipher, Pigpen Cipher and the Morse Code. Each clue leads the player closer to the revelation of who stole the book of Kells. In this study, 80 primary school children (10-11 years old) evaluated The Code of Kells by sharing their experience through an adapted version of the Game Experience Questionnaire (GEQ). Nine dimensions of the questionnaire were assessed considering children’s previous mathematics and literacy scores, besides their levels of maths anxiety. Results suggest that children with higher mathematics performance positively perceived the game and found it challenging. However, results also indicate that maths high achievers students also felt tense while playing. Students with high levels of maths anxiety perceived the game as a sensory and imaginative immersive activity.