Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (11: 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 11

These are the readings we had last week (Topics: Games for social change; Theories of persuasion; Culture):

  • Oinas-Kukkonen, H., & Harjumaa, M. (2008). A systematic framework for designing and evaluating persuasive systems. Paper presented at the The 3rd International Conference on Persuasive Technology (Persuasive ’08), Oulu, Finland.
  • Atkin, C.K. (1994). Designing persuasive health messages. In L. Sechrest, T.E. Backer, E.M. Rodgers, T.F. Campbell, & M.L. Grady (Eds.), Effective Dissemination of Clinical and Health Information. Rockville, MD: U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. (AHCPR Pub. No. 95-0015).
  • Abraham, C., & Michie, S. (2008). A taxonomy of behavior change techniques used in interventions. Health Psychology, 27, 379-387.
  • Bogost, I. (2011). Persuasive Games: Exploitationware. Gamasutra, May 3.
  • Optional: Khaled, R., Barr, R., Biddle, R., Fischer, R., & Noble, J. (2009). Game design strategies for collectivist persuasion. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2009 ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Video Games (Sandbox ’09), New Orleans, LA.
  • Game: Dr. Transplant
  • Game: Sweatshop
  • Game: Harpooned
  • Dr. Transplant Sweatshop

Response 1:[Week 11 KB dialog 1/3]  Other uses of “gamification”


In his 2011 Gamasutra article, Bogost rails against the term “gamification” and its common uses as “exploitationware” in commercial marketing. I wonder what he thinks of Lee Sheldon’s course-gamification approach, which incorporates more fundamental game mechanics (not just points & superficial rewards) ? Would he recommend that Sheldon use a different term, to avoid lending respectability to the more insidious forms of “gamification”? Can you think of a better term for Sheldon’s approach?

I suspect that this is the term that’s going to stick, like it or not. The terminology battles will probably continue for many years to come. We still have debates that break out regularly on the serious games lists about whether or not Serious Games is the right term. Here too, like it or not, this is the term that the corporate world and those in performance improvement recognize and use. At some point it no longer matters whether or not you like the term, or even if you think the term is appropriate.

It was only a few years ago that engineering associations were suing computer science departments for their use of the term ‘Software Engineering’ (SENG). Engineers were of the opinion that they were the only ones who should be allowed to use the word ‘engineer’ and that anyone who was not a ring-bearing engineer should not be allowed to use the term (or teach it I suppose). For my part, I have very little respect for most of the people who call themselves software engineers (the academics anyways), and software engineering isn’t really about engineering OR software, for that matter. (Computer Science isn’t a science either, just in case you were wondering). However, at some point we should just acknowledge that this is what this thing is called.

I think many of the things we are now classifying as gamification aren’t really new at all. I got gold stars on my stuff in grade 1, and we had Bristol boards with all our names on it posted in the classroom where everyone could see who did stuff (and who didn’t). That’s the same as badges and leaderboards.

Depending on how you use them, points (by whatever name) can be the same as ‘regular’ grades. Unless you do more than exchange percent for points, you’re not doing anything except skinning. In a course I taught this summer you needed 200 points for a full score, but it was possible to earn over 400 because there were a bunch of different things they could do. Extra ‘spilled’ over in to the non-gamified parts of the course, so much like in a game, the more you did, the better your score.


Response 2:[Week 11 KB dialog 2/3] Is there a fundamental difference between digital games and other games?

I’ve heard something similar to this question come up in a few dialogues throughout the semester, and it has stuck in the back of my mind.  Now, coming off the NASAGA conference where people are using all sorts of games for serious purposes (digital, mobile, board, card, alternate reality, simulation, geo-caching), I come back to this question.

What is lost in turning a non-digital game into a digital one?  Is there a fundamental divide that cannot be crossed?

I think that there actually is a fundamental difference. I make a distinction though between computer-mediated games and ‘pure’ digital games. Computer mediated games are those that have previous real life (analog) versions – like solitaire or chess. Computerizing these games does not change them in any fundamental way. Computer Solitaire is still solitaire. It is, however, much harder to cheat in the digital version than in the analog version. There are other difference too, but they mostly have to do with housekeeping. I can play computer solitaire for hours, but I have no interest in playing with real cards. I am interested in the ‘essence’ of solitaire if you will, and have no interest in trying to keep piles tidy, or shuffling, or even keeping score.

When we look at ‘pure’ computer games, the difference is profound. These are games that have no analog counterpart, and it includes everything from games like Tetris to MMOs.  Many of these do have origins in analog games, but WoW is not just a digitized version of something like Warhammer. They are quite different.

This is from my book, and outlines some of the ways that things change when you go digital:


Table 3-1: Digital vs Non-Digital Simulations and Games
  Digital Analog
  Digital Simulations and Games (ALL) Board & Card Games Analog Simulation Games Analog Role-Playing Games Live Action Role-Play (including cosplay)
Model of Original System Painstakingly and precisely defined Many details taken for granted and never made explicit
Rule Enforcement hard-coded uses ‘honor system’ on the fly
Rule Structures Pre-determined Negotiable
Roles accurate placement into context Imagined, personally mediated Determined by game rules Imagined, personally mediated
Environment Dynamic – same for all players Static – unchanging Combined static physical artifacts (boards & pieces) AND imagined Imagined:
Environment Resolution dynamic static
relatively static relatively static Individually mediated
Game Objects can be autonomous either inert or mechanical imagined ( can include props)
Game Interaction (what people can do with / to the game) consistent across all instantiations of the game consistent only if the rules are followed each instantiation can be different
Participants there need only be one human participant All participants are human


Response 3: [Week 11 KB dialog 3/3] Repeats

Dr. Transplant reminds me of several games I have played. Particularly an iOS game called Restaurant Story. The premise is to make food, sell it to people and collect money. Then you can upgrade your restaurant so more people can eat at it, you can cook more food and serve different types. This style of game has been duplicated again and again. I wonder, and since we can not play it yet, does Dr. Transplant teach us anything or is it something to take our minds off whatever we do in live. The information on the website talks about finding your local organ donate registry and etc. but is any of the included or conveyed in game? Will playing puzzles and upgrading your hospital make you any more likely to achieve any serious games goals?

I think you’ve hit on an important point. This basic scenario also sounds like Diner Dash and a host of other simplistic resource management games. I wonder why people make these kinds of games. Is it because they are easy to design, or do they really not understand what it is about a game that makes it a valuable learning experience? Is it games they don’t understand, or instructional design? Both?

There are still a lot of classroom teachers who think ‘Jeopardy’ qualifies as a game in the same way as Black and White or Rollercoaster Typhoon. Jeopardy may be a fun way to skin a drill exercise, but I would not call it a game in the same sense as the other two. I think Jeopardy has a place, as do Bingo games and others. Some things need to be memorized, and if wrapping them in a game makes them a little more fun, then that might not be a bad thing.

However, the idea that you can create 3 or 4 templates (like make stuff, sell it to customers, collect money, and buy more supplies to make more stuff) passes for actual game design is misguided. Personally, I’d like to see these kinds of games placed in their own category. If the content in the game can easily be converted to a worksheet, then I’d say it is not a game in the same way as a game where the learning goals are actually integral to the game itself. These are much harder to make, but I think they have the potential to deliver a much more powerful message.

Be the first to like.

Leave a Reply