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This is Not a Game

It seems there's a perfect storm going on public services and to be fair this storm has been brewing for a while.

As citizens, we often make contradictory demands to the reality we live in - we're getting older and older and yet we want to do the things we could do when we were young, we're getting richer than our predecessors and yet there's greater inequality, we want our institutions to be more transparent and our own privacy to be more protected.

Of course, this is human nature, but these growing contradictory demands mixed in with the impact of the recession are more likely to disrupt the way we work than what we are used to. As public services, we know that taking good ideas through the current processes and structures we work in are less likely to create genuine change, because those systems were designed for a different era.

Rather than spell out the "game changing" vision that we need to tackle these tensions, the
Social by Social game played at Reboot Britain reminded me that maybe games themselves have a role to play. I want to continue the conversation started by various people and spread into local government about the opportunities of gaming - today, I can start off with the big question - why?

To get the ball rolling, this is what we've found so far - gaming can help you simulate real life to train people,
influence behaviours and improve self help.

Thanks to Joelle Butler for the picture of her amazing game, This Is Not A Game.

Simulating real life to train people

Training needs to be far more related to real life scenarios, so that people can anticipate and prepare for working in new ways.

However for anticipating crises, you can’t just base scenarios on real life, you need to take a leap into the future.
Either way, it’s crucial to involve people who have experienced the scenario to advise you on how design these into gaming.

In terms of preventing everyday crises, combining role playing by actors with simulation hardware may also be necessary. Videoing the simulation or game playing can provide crucial content for feeding back, debriefing and case conferencing. It puts learners on the spot in a safe environment. You can use a simulation lab as a living lab too to involve users.

It can be difficult to know the difference between a “worst case scenario” and a “crisis scenario”, especially if for the latter you may need to involve external stakeholders (like police, health, etc). If you don’t engage them, the game won’t reflect reality and if you do and it’s not a crisis, then you’ve made the game more complicated than it needs to be!

Why not mind map what constitutes a crisis in your area and if you need to develop a game specifically for that, rather or as well as a game using common scenarios?

Influencing behaviours

You need to develop games in ways that give people a better understanding of what your team does and what your customers can do to change the community and their behaviour - helping their friends and enabling them to compete against each other.

Given that gaming puts into perspective the wider choices that may not be so visible to us in our daily lives, it is important that it gets people to think the game matters to them in real life.

For example,
Akoha enables people to earn points while playing real world missions with friends, while Climate Culture gives points for people who help their friends take up greener lifestyles and challenges colleges to compete against each other in carbon reduction contests.

Adapting the technique from the game “
1 vs 1000” could be adapted so that the councillor (1) polls, asks or trusts their local constituents (100) as part of a remote council meeting. Norwich Union used gaming by giving players the option of becoming a government minister and having to decide how to divert rivers and change planning to protect neighbourhoods from flooding. The HOUSE campaign adopts social marketing concepts which use a range of activities (e.g. dance machines) interactive systems (such as the Wii) and knife-crime games.

These examples show that you need to get people to think the game matters to them in real life and think of the game as making what people may find mundane (i.e. volunteering) more fun. In fact, the process of playing not only encourages people’s creativity and confidence skills, it also puts into perspective the wider choices that may not be so visible to us in our daily lives.

It’s much easier making decisions about what you’d do you an ideal world than what you’ll actually change about your behaviour once you finish the game. So why not give people tasks in the game that ask them to make real changes both within and outside of the game?

Improving self help

By using gaming to improve support for people in need, you can help them plan, act and reconceptualise self help.

For example, Re-Mission, a game for young people with cancer and Routes to explore your genetics potentially play a similar role as Netmums does for digital engagement. World of Warcraft encourages natural mentoring between veterans and newcomers.

In this area, actors are used to either illustrate types of behaviours to gaming developers when designing the technology or to allow attendees to practice their intervention skills when using the online game in a live environment. The technology in this context would need to be customisable to changing circumstances.

Bringing in actors to work with game developers to design the behaviours can be costly and time consuming if the game needs modifying. So why not spend time working out which behaviours you really need actors to illustrate and which you can illustrate yourself to the developer?

Looking at self help for staff, such as when they require updating their knowledge with regards to the new duties they may have, you need the game to bring the perception and emotional connection between the learner and the environment they are confronted with.

Technology doesn’t easily create emotional connections with people. So why not use video embedded within the game which can show people’s emotions?

Market key messages virally

By letting different aspects of the game unfold gradually, you can make it go viral.

For example, uncovering different types of information for an event or mission gives people the incentive to want to keep playing until they can piece everything together. The power of completing a set of actions and visualising this through leaderboards is a very successful marketing tool in gaming. However, you do also need to let scenarios run instantly and interactively, not just describe the scenario.

Developing different levels for a game requires specialist skills and software – known as “level design”. So why not focus on scripting the instructions and steps of the game with the people that are going to benefit from it (either staff or the public) before commissioning a games developer?

PS. Do you use the SMOG readability test? This article has a readability of 14 so you'll only get what I'm saying if you've at least been at college or read the New York Times...apparently.

Have you used or developed games yourself? How have you used them and for why? What have I missed out?

Noel Hatch

This is Not a GameSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


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