Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (1: 3 Questions)

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

These are public postings of my writings for the first course of the Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Game Design and Research at Michigan State University.

Each week, we are also required to post three questions for the rest of the class. These are mine (yes, I did four this week).

Please note: these posts are not intended as any kind of commentary on or assessment of the course I’m taking, or its instructor, OR of Michigan State University or the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, or the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media. They are solely my thoughts and reactions that stem from the readings.

Feel free to comment, disagree, or what have you.

Week 1

These are the two readings for this week:

  1. Part 1 of: National Institutes of Health (2005). Theory at a glance: A guide for health promotion practice. Retrieved August 15, 2010 from
  2. Briggs, R. O. (2006). On theory-driven design and development of collaboration systems. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 64, 573-582.

My Questions

1. What does theory do for us that other things can’t?

In what ways does adherence to theory free one from “paint-by-numbers” approaches to program planning? In other words, what does adhering to a theory allow that following some other prescription does not?

2. Are there choices for program planning or other kinds of interventions that fall outside of the binary choice between theory and “paint-by-numbers”?

I was quite struck by the perspective adopted in the introduction to the NIH manual – the implication was that the choice was between “paint-by-numbers”, implying  presumably, an uninspired approach where solutions are developed according to some pre-defined plan, or on the other hand, the application of “theory”, which is claimed to offer more effective designs. However, how one can have confidence that a given theory will help is not explained. I’m hoping that the remainder of the text will do that, but in the mean time, I’m left wondering.

3. How can we tell a model from a theory?

In science, a theory is an explanation some phenomenon. A model is a representation of a system. It often includes variables, behaviours, and interrelationships. This doesn’t seem to be true in the social sciences so I find it difficult to know when to call something a theory and when to call something a model.

4. Going Digital

It’s notoriously difficult to come up with a precise definition for  “game”, yet most of us can recognize one when we see it. I have found it useful to restrict the definition to a particular context – especially when talking about design and analysis. so the question is: what sets digital games part from other artifacts we might label as games?

I would say that digital games are indeed distinct. not only that – I would also say that we should distinguish between “computer-mediated” games (I.e. those that have versions existing outside the computer, like solitaire, or chess) and “pure” computer games (I.e. those that have no non-digital counterpart (like Tetris, MMOs, the Mario franchise, etc.))

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