From our perspective, one of the most exciting moments of this week’s Games for Change Festival occurred during the opening keynote, delivered by scholar and game designer Jane McGonigal (of TED talk fame). She touched on a wide range of topics, ultimately asking how games can help us lead more meaningful and productive lives—her “show me the science” post features such research.
Early in her keynote, McGonigal issued a fundamental challenge: Assess the effect of games. For HI, this confirms our emphasis on studying the impact of entertainment through meaningful measurement and analysis. Still, what made the festival so compelling was not only its confirmation of our research priorities, but also in the new challenges it issued.
In Wednesday’s keynote, noted gamer and education scholar James Gee discussed the difficulty in measuring complex systems. He stressed that the best games create arenas in which players can interact or even modify the game. Adding social change components to an already complex system demands new approaches to measurement.
Gee has identified 56 potential variables in successful learning games, and acknowledges that there are probably many more yet to be identified. Within this framework (as in our complex world), a small change can have large and potentially unintended consequences. In gaming environments, single-variable experiments will never accomodate complexity, or how multiple variables interact. Gee presented steps for moving game evaluation forward, taking inspiration from the methods of physics (modeling complex systems like the solar system), and design (iteration and user experience).
While we’ve employed a multi-method research approach since our inception, Gee’s talk provided an exciting challenge, motivating us to look for new and innovative combinations of variables and methods for studying the impact of games.
Image: James Gee (PBS) and Jane McGonigal (SXSW)