Engagement via Gaming

The power of gaming to engage is something I keep running into lately. Specifically: the idea that gaming is an effective way to get people to understand issues, or to motivate them towards specific behaviors. The examples here may be lacking in their visual and interaction design sophistication, but they show the value of, and opportunity in, restructuring content to support richer interaction.

The Atlantic recently excerpted the upcoming book “Newsgames: Journalism at Play,” and give a compelling perspective on how games can be used as a sort of journalism:

“Games allow us to address systems instead of stories,” Dr. Bogost said in an interview. And, in some ways, they can offer more depth. People often search for simple answers to broad topics like the Gulf oil spill or the 2008 financial crisis, but in reality both were the result of a confluence of failures and events. Games can help to convey that complexity. “In particular, they can offer this experience of how something works rather than a description of key events and players,” Dr. Bogost says.

One example they use is the Wired article on Somali pirates. Included with the article is the game Cutthroat Capitalism — which communicates the economic incentives built into the Somali pirate business model.

Cutthroat Capitalism

They also mention a site dedicated to the idea of using games to augment journalism. But perhaps more interesting, and with a greater range of content, is Games for Change (link via @f_dust) which lists games that focus on social causes. Among the  it’s interesting to see the way in which these games can be used in educational contexts. For example, Ayiti: The Cost of Life, includes not only a game to educate players about life in Haiti, but it also includes course curriculum.

Ayiti: The Cost of Life

Another perspective on the power of gaming techniques to influence behavior comes from Seth Priebatsch via his TEDx Boston talk entitled The Game Layer on Top of the World. It’s a view that includes an understanding of how gaming has become pervasive in how organizations encourage us to behave. Creativity Unbound summarizes it as:

Game dynamics make us show up at designated times (Farmville); they encourage us to enhance our personal influence and status (fans, followers, comments); they inspire us to complete tasks (unlock rewards, earn badges); and they unite us to solve problems (Wired Magazine and the DARPA challenge.)

Much of this is still in its infancy… the games are rudimentary and they require users commit to engage. Plus, as organizations, publishers, and designers consider how to use gaming techniques, it’s important to remember that the story, or communication, is only as good as the simulation. So, if the simulation is inaccurate or simplistic, then so will the user/reader’s understanding.

For publishers the challenge is how to build timely, accurate and useful simulations to accompany stories. And for designers the challenge is to look at the bigger picture — how can gaming be used a framework for tying together the whole story: background context, related stories, and research. But,  what has been done so far is a compelling and encouraging start.