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meaningful play 2012 travel

Session Information

TitleContent in context: Abstraction vs. realism in designing games for social impact
Presenter(s)Sarah Chu, Belinda Gutierrez, Dennis Ramirez, Clem Samson-Samuel, Kurt Squire and Molly Carnes
TimeFriday, October 19, 1:00p-2:00p
LocationParlor A
DescriptionOne challenge of designing games that address social issues is in integrating educational content with engaging gameplay. In this roundtable discussion, we ask: how do designers create games for social impact without trivializing serious subject matter? This has been our challenge in developing the game Fair Play.

Fair Play is a game designed by ERIA Interactive at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, funded by the National Institutes of Health*. The goal of the game is to reduce players' implicit biases against underrepresented individuals in academic science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). Implicit biases are automatic, often unconscious, assumptions based on group stereotypes, such as the association of men with science and women with liberal arts (Nosek et al., 2007). Biases like these can negatively impact individuals who are underrepresented in STEMM (National Academy of Sciences, 2006; Peterson, Friedman, Ash, Franco, & Carr, 2004; Pololi, Cooper & Carr, 2010; Valian, 1998). Fair Play is designed to raise awareness about implicit bias among STEMM graduate students and faculty. We designed Fair Play to give players the opportunity to experience the subtle biases that an African American graduate student in STEMM may experience in daily life. We spent a great deal of effort to pinpoint the level of realism required to teach the bias content while keeping players engaged.

Games designed for learning and social impact are not merely about content delivery. Rather, they create worlds in which players engage with and make sense of the subject matter. With this in mind, we will facilitate a discussion around design approaches and strategies on folding content into gameplay in social issue games. We will look at recent games that have successfully achieved this. For example, the content in the game Spent is explicit and literal, while the content in the game Unmanned is implicit and abstracted. In both games, players take on the perspective of the main character and witness firsthand how they are affected by their decisions. Spent focuses on using specific facts to illustrate the experiences of someone living in poverty, while Unmanned abstracts the experiences of a drone pilot to give players a sense for how he is emotionally-affected by his profession. We will ask participants to discuss how they use educational content in their games. How do they make decisions about the level of abstraction to use? How do they integrate educational content while keeping engaging gameplay at the forefront?

As part of the group discussion, we will present the iterative prototyping process for Fair Play and discuss how our integration of content and gameplay has evolved. We have found numerous ways to embed the educational content and have experimented with both abstract and literal forms. For each prototype, we will highlight the design decisions that resulted in positive feedback and effect, as well those that produced minimal effect. Finally, participants will have the opportunity to benefit from our experience, by thinking alongside the presenters to generate game scenarios that encourage players' meaningful reflection on implicit bias.

* This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health through the NIH Director's Pathfinder Award to Promote Diversity in the Scientific Workforce, grant number DP4-GM096822-01.

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