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Psychology is all around us, are there positive outcomes to gaming?

Following on from my last blogpost on gaming, I want to focus on how we can involve users in designing the game, use psychological techniques to influence behaviours and adapt to different learning styles.

Let's start off by breaking some assumptions. As well as young people, games are now popular too with women, families and older people. Although it has a less profound impact on disadvantaged groups, gaming tends to benefit a wider range of them. Games technology can be used with other tools and content, used as platforms and excel at involving users to refine the games themselves. Through agile techniques, developers can design games much cheaper than virtual worlds.

Now that many more groups of people use gaming and that the technology can be integrated with other tools and content, you can involve users in designing them and bring down the costs of development, not needing to rely on expensive games engines or virtual worlds.

Gaming helps teach people without them noticing they’re changing their behaviour. It also provides the flexibility to impact different learning styles – allowing players to temporarily re-organise the tasks they need to complete amongst themselves.

Involve users in designing the game

Gaming developers are very effective at involving users in refining the design of their games, from suggesting their own mission cards to designing their own characters.

Providing players with incentives and rewards through giving them higher status and the ability to customise their involvement in the game engages them to ask themselves what they can do with their points (and the wider issue the game wants to influence them on, like recycling) and what their points can do for them.

By developing a framework for people to take part, you can enable a mixture of people playing the game (i.e. solving puzzles in treasure hunt) and people helping redesign the game (i.e. curating and annotating it). For example, Perplex City crowdsourced the community of players, who were then asked to submit a story they’d written and they would get published by an independent publisher.

It can also lead to collecting social points for online transactions, similar to the way eBay gets people to collect ratings by others to improve the likelihood buyers will want to purchase from sellers or similar to the way young people get redeemable points from taking part in positive activities, otherwise known as “positive ticketing”.

The risk is that you involve users for the sake for it - like throwing “spaghetti at a wall”, just focusing on a particular way of getting users involved can exclude others.

Why not
adapt an approach to gaming similar to that tested in Swale where money vouchers are distributed by police community support officers to young people to reward good behaviour. Use this online embedded into the game.

Use psychological techniques to influence behaviours

Everyone knows they need to adapt to changes in lifestyles or ways of working, but it is difficult to actually make those changes. Since it uses techniques which get people fully immersed and provides actions for them to do continuously (see graph), gaming helps teach people without them noticing they’re changing their behaviour.

For example, geocaching brings much more feedback about country parks – not through asking for it, but at the point of people recording their caches in a logbook which in theory only requires them to tick a box, but in practice they describe their experience of the park in a much more open and honest way. Budget Simulator attracted far more residents to decide how their council tax is spent, than they would have done in a consultation, even though it got them to make difficult choices. It also taught them about the budget making process works, which many of us would never think to cover. Cyberdam3D and Delft Quest asks players similar “tough choices” by getting them to re-organise the neighbourhood after their railway station needs restructuring in a way that meets the community’s needs not just those living next to the station.

The risk here is assuming that games make these tough choices easier than in real life. They don't!

Why not
recommend your council or organisation uses gaming as a technique - amongst others - when needing staff or the public to make decisions which involve “tough choices” (such as budget consultations, planning, or even assessing candidates for jobs)?

Provide flexibility to adapt to different learning styles

The most effective gaming allows players to temporarily re-organise the tasks they need to complete amongst themselves, either when the team dynamics aren’t working so well or they’re feeling under pressure. This acknowledges that competition needs to be productive for everyone and not stunt people’s desire to play in the first place.

For example, our Libraries & Archive training use scenario-based games as part of their induction session for new staff and for customer service seminars. To design the scenarios, they work with area managers to design scenarios – this is what you do if you did it this way or that way – to make sure their staff can play these to better take responsibilities and communicate with the people. For the session itself, they are split into groups, given a sum of money and different scenarios and asked to plan how they will use the money. They then collectively vote on the best idea. As the judging panel is represented by heads of service, it is likely they will individually take the idea forward from their own funds. In any case, all the ideas are fed into the department’s “ideas boards”.

If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around simulation & gaming, see here. Contact us if you have an idea.

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