CHI 2007: A Game Design Methodology to incorporate Activist Themes

A Game Design Methodology to incorporate Activist Themes
Mary Flanagan, Helen Nissenbaum

“The contribution our project makes to the next decade of game design is a rigorous, systematic means to take human values into consideration in design at many levels.”

Goal: Produce a methodology.

Everyone understands the importance of games as an entertainment form and its role in education, healthcare systems, etc… How do we embed principles that society values into software systems like games?

General questions: How can we design for multiple learners and playstyles? Can you help the underrepresented. How do you design for both cooperation and comeptition?

Mary showed a number of games with an activist angle. One example is a 3 person chess game. Player 1 controls all the pawns (black and white). Player 2 controls all the rest of the black units. Player 3 controls all the rest of the white. Player 2 and 3 are trying to destroy each other. Player 1’s goal is to stop the war by enforcing space between p2 and p3.

Here is her methodology:
1. Discover the values relevant to the project.
2. Translate the value into the architecture and the features
3. Verify that the values outcomes have been realized in the game.
These are to be embedded alongside traditional iterative design modesl for games.

They tested this out in the design of a system called: the Rapunzel project. The engaged in participatory design with kids. And found the kids (as players) wanted human actors rather than abstract characters. Some of the kids wanted the ability to kill (yup.). Furthermore, the kids wanted to use characters that were more sexualized than Mary wanted to promote. Mary showed character designs that the kids rejected and showed completed designs that were more of a compromise for the activist designers and the players. She talked about how she embedded values such as cooperation and equity in other aspects of the gameplay.

She also shared a tool to challenge game designers and to help design games. I think these were used in the Rapunzel project. They were notecards with game names (pacman, tetris, etc…) and notecards with values (healing, colonialism, etc…). The challenge is to randomly draw notecards and to design a game that is <X> and reflects the value <Y>. E.g. Design a pacman game about colonialism.

Note, her lab is making proof of concepts for many different models, producing many different games to expand the direction of game design.

In this participipatory design process. Is this a chance for the participants to find their own values?
– Yes. In a participatory design activity, the players fill out notecards themselves as well. It is a chance for these concepts to get surfaced.

Do you design games to be played with a facilitator?
– Standalone games are preferable when we design. It depends on the project.

Do you ever worry that the values you are trying to impart are too heavy-handed?
– “We can’t be so goody-goody that people don’t want to play our stuff.” “We produce games that are complex. This complexity keeps the game interesting” (paraphrased…maybe poorly)

Rule design is fundamental to game design (a board game designer asked this question). Do you have a methodology for generating game rules?
– Mary didn’t have a quick answer for this, and, it seems she acknowledged that this is an important question. One related design-practice she mentioned was to make only incremental changes to game rules and paradigms. (Presumably, this was to make it easier for users to be exposed to something new. Doubly presumably, because her activist games are often unexpected kinds of games with unfamiliar game mechanics.)

Final opinion: I am curious about an evaluation of this games and this methodology. That’s all — 


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Filed under CHI, CHI2007, Design, Games, HCI, Methodology

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