Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (6: 3 Responses)

Approximate Reading Time: 6 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 required to post three responses/reactions to queries posted by other members of the class in the previous week. These are mine.

I have paraphrased the queries to preserve my classmates’ privacy.

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 6

These are the readings form last week (Topics: Concepts in research papers; Theory driven game design):

  • Kato, P. M., Cole, S. W., Bradlyn, A. S., & Pollock, B. H. (2008). A video game improves behavioral outcomes in adolescents and young adults with cancer: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), E305-E317.
  • Tate, R., Haritatos, J., & Cole, S. (2009). HopeLab’s Approach to Re-Mission. International Journal of Learning and Media; 1(1): 29-35.
  • Optional: Garza, M., Chamberlin, B., Gleason, J., Muise, A., & Gallagher, R. (2012). Year-End Review of Exergaming Research. (Annotated bibliography).
  • GAME: Re-Mission

Response 1: Design in Serious Games- Appropriateness for Young Adults? [Week 6 KB dialog 1/3]

I can’t help but wonder if the avatar character with the bust line showing, and the sleek space suit, is great for young adults, or if they even notice any more. As someone working in this field, I have calmed down and let a lot go more, there is so much to argue about, without arguing about breast size and cleavage and so on. ( I have been in approval meetings, where a small bit of cleavage, near the armpit, caused a furor and a 3 week redesign)….

I have also sat with little kids, who are playing something that has some questionable artwork, and the kids don’t seem to register, yet I am silently freaking out in the background.

My question is; do serious and education games need to keep a higher standard of appropriate design and language for gaming, simply because they are serious and educational?

You raise an interesting question – and one that I think applies in a much broader context. I think the same rules apply here as apply in other forms of media. It’s really important to portray images and characteristics that do not fall into problematic stereotypes – unless of course, that is the point of the game. In most games, the villain should be villainous, unless the point of the game is to highlight grey issues. The hero should be heroic.

In the case of Re-Mission, I agree with you; it would have been nice to use a character that did not mimic the stereotypes.

Personally, I have no problem with a female character that is attractive – I’d far sooner play a good-looking character than a plain one – but I DO think we need to be sensitive to the stereotypes we are portraying, ESPECIALLY in serious games. I also think that it is very easy to go too far in trying to ‘de-sexualize’ characters, which can easily backfire.

Samus from Metroid prime is a good example of one that succeeds and manages to be cool, attractive, and imposing, without being overly sexualized. I thought it was interesting that their main character was female, and not preoccupied with romance. They say she’s 6’3 and 198 lb., so she’s not exactly typical.

I think there are many films and televisions shows from which we can take lessons, which I find especially refreshing. When I was a kid I had the “Bond Girls” – and though they were clearly portrayed as sex symbols, many of them also really kicked a$$. I also had “I Dream of Genie” and “Bewiched” – neither of which interested me. My favorite was Emma Peel (from the Avengers). These days we have Abby Sciuto (from NCIS) and Penelope Garcia (from Criminal Minds), among others. This is a good thing. There are far fewer strong juvenile characters – one that comes to mind is the little girl character (Enola) from Waterworld – she was one tough cookie.

I think it’s important to have sympathetic characters – if the message of the game is something that is not directly related to how the character looks, then the character should be one players will like. In addition to that I think we have an obligation to think carefully about every character we put into the game – they don’t all have to make a big statement, but they should never make the wrong statement.

Response 2: Serious Games and Accuracy? [Week 6 KB dialog 2/3]

The Kelly article, talked about the difficulty in ‘what to leave in, and what to leave out’.

My question is…as game designers, what responsibilities do we have to be accurate and true to the content, while at the same time trying to create a ‘good game’?

All games lie.

This is to say that all games (and simulations) do things that are not, strictly speaking, realistic. They have to. Making a truly realistic game or simulation is impossible because we will never be able to get all of the variables exactly right. There are simply too many variables in any situation for us to be able to model them with complete accuracy. Most games take liberties with various aspects of reality in order to make the game more playable. Most games play fast and loose with time, for example. One of the things I think is absolutely crucial in serious game design though is to make sure that those aspects of the game that are relevant to the message being delivered be correct and accurate.

We developed a game this winter to teach machine learning concepts to middle school kids (G5-8) and got considerable flak from the producer for some of the words we used. The game asked the player to create a pathfinding program for a robot that was going on a mission to Europa. They had serious problems with us using the word ‘abort’, as in ‘Abort the Mission’. In this case, this was the correct term for this situation, but they were uncomfortable with the word (it was a very conservative organization), and we ended up having to change it to “Go Back”. They also objected to our use of the word “error” – they thought it might discourage players by making them feel bad. The fact that it is the correct and accepted term means that changing it also means that the game is no longer true to the science it is supposed to portray.

I feel very strongly that ed games need to keep to a higher standard, and that applies to the factual information perhaps even more than the political correctness. A game about science better be correct in all the relevant scientific facts.

Response 3: Research conflict of interest? [Week 6 KB dialog 3/3]

How seriously should we take conflicts of interest in serious game research?  I noticed that the Kato research was funded by HopeLab and the Tate paper was written by HopeLab people (HopeLab being the developer of Re-Mission).  If this were a commercial product or a presidential campaign, we would be concerned by the conflict of interest from the designers of a product being the ones researching and publishing the effectiveness of the product.  Or is such self-promotion acceptable?  Thoughts?

This is something of which we should always be cognizant, whether we are studying a game or anything else. One of the considerations one should always include when looking at research findings is the source of funding. Were they really at arms’ length? Do they stand to gain by findings that lean one way or another? Just because a finding works in favor of the funder does not necessarily mean that the research is tainted, but it does deserve careful scrutiny.

The fact that the research was funded by HopeLab does (and should not) not, in and of itself, imply that the research was unsound or biased in any way, but it does give one pause. On the other hand, research is being funded more and more by private interests, and that adds a layer of complexity that shouldn’t easily be dismissed.

I think the results should still be published, but it is vitally important that they be published with full disclosure. In other words, the source of the funding as well as their connection to the research should be disclosed. This is not always the case, so I think Re-Mission does a pretty good job and is being pretty transparent. That lends some credence to the findings. It would be great though to have more studies and additional results. A single study should never be the final word.

While finding favorable results may raise some red flags if the funder is not at arm’s length, all studies should be carefully scrutinized. If someone finds results that do NOT help them it seems weightier than if it does – a study funded by a tobacco company that finds serious problems with their own product.

There was an interesting story published in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this week about a researcher who has been caught publishing bogus results. The shocking part is that this person has been doing it for about 10 years and no-one has caught up with him before now. He published nearly 200 papers! (The Chronicle requires subscription, but I found this link:

I guess the moral of that story is that we shouldn’t always believe what we read, even if it is published in a journal.

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