I ran a DENS Sponsored workshop with fellow Horizon CDT researcher Dimitri Darzentas last week called “Interdisciplinary Reflections on Games and Values”. It was looking at using digital games to explore human values. Below is a summary of the event and the paper that is now live on ACM Digital Library. Thanks to everyone who came along and to Felicia Knowles for her in organising the event. The DENS coverage is here.
We ran a half day workshop at CHI Play on 4th October 2015. We had 15 researchers attending, including freelancers and many from across the DENS network (Nottingham, Bournemouth, York and Goldsmiths). In total we had six presentations that focused on issues around human values and digital games, followed by a round-table discussion of issues, questions and ideas that emerged during the session.
The first paper, from James Sprinks was titled “Citizen Scientists: The Importance of being Needed and not Wasted” and it looked at the challenges of using gamification techniques to engage citizen scientists. The effectiveness of applying Gamification techniques were highlighted but so were the corresponding challenges. An example would be the concern over th de-sensitisation of the citizen scientists to the higher goals of the research and the dilution of their role and cotnribution to it, by focusing to much on the game elements as their motivation, thus rendering them into just’players’, or even ‘mercenary scientists’. Gamification techniques applied as an afterthought can compromise the quality of the work by motivating the participants to ‘game’ the system for higher scores, for example in this case by falsely classifying images to reach the top of the leaderboard. Other concerns include the expectations of citizen scientists (i.e. are they doing it for satisfaction of contributing to science or for purely fun as a game) and responsibilities of project scientists to citizen scientists such as whether they are credited for their work in academic publications or compensated in other ways. The methods used to support crowdfunded endeavours can potentially be drawn upon for inspiration in this case.
The second paper from Philip Wilkinson, titled “Finding Meaning in Young Learner’s Digital Games Development” looked at field work conducted with kids making games about social issues in schools. This touched on issues such as challenges of doing research in schools and implementation of ideas about games, the types of games kids created, and examining how values are considered in both the process of designing a game and the game itself. Of much interest and the point of much discussion were the technical difficulties of enabling students with very little to no coding knowledge to create digital games. Approachable game creation software like YoYo Game’s Game Maker Studio were planned to be used but even these proved to be too complicated to bring to fruition the elaborate designs of the students. Thus was highlighted the practical issue of reasonable expectation management which is a very common occurrence with inexperienced game developers. Games are a fantastic platform and medium for creative and personal expression, as highlighted by this research, but making them is not an easy endeavour. Appropriate tools and curriculum need to be developed to support what is currently the world’s fasted developing medium
The third paper from Horia Maior and Pepita Stringer, titled “The Values of Games for Health and Well Being” presented a proposed healthcare platform that seeks to engage children in their own health management through contextual interactions and the application of Gamification. The presentation was followed by a short session for the attendees to contribute thoughts and ideas and then led to a discussion of the potential issues and challenges around using this approach to manage well-being by working in groups. Examples that were brought up included data privacy, issues about avatars and image reflection effects and the extensibility of the platform to other aspects of children and teenager’s lives.
The 4th paper presentation from Panayotis Koutsouras was titled “Minecraft as a Platform for Crafting Value” and focused on the creative practices that occur in Mojang’s Minecraft . Points that emerged were: the monetisation of content creations skills and creations; the distinction of content creation from the more traditional practices of modding; and the challenges of an economy emerging around these creative practices such as legality. Additionally discussed were the opportunities created by the low barrier to entry that Minecraft features and how it has evolved into a platform for creativity at self-expression that highlights individual and group creativity as a human value.
Paper 5 from Kristiyan Lukanov, titled “Important game Values in Internal Gamification” took a more technical view at the processes underpinning Gamification, especially in work, productivity and efficiency contexts. Following the presentation, discussions revovled on how game design mechanics focusing on competition and winning can be applied to the workplace, what kinds of work this may fit with (e.g. easily quantifiable work), and what kinds of social impact and effects this might have for workers (e.g. always trying to be top of the leaderboard) and the quality of work (eg being the top of the leaderboard through quantity of work but perhaps not quality of work). Ethical issues were quick to be pointed out, which brought to the fore the negative association that Gamification currently has due to it’s perceived corruption of human values as a work ethic in favour of manipulative techniques.
Paper 6 from Neha Gupta was titled “Game-playing in crowdsourced low-skill employment” and presented ethnographic work conducted with ‘turkers’, meaning the the individuals empoyed for small scale task via Mechanical Turk. Discussions explored the motivations behind turking, how repetitive tasks are often ‘gamified’ by workers to make them less mundane, how turking provides workers with skills and knowledge, and the challenges of gamifying tasks without context (i.e. they are normally part of a much bigger job but the worker does not know what this is).
Many of the discussions touched on themes such as:
- Motivations in games varying from extrinsic and intrinsic factors in how people engage with values.
- Responsibility and ethics when designing games: where does responsibility lie for game designers vs. users.
- Game values vs. player values
- Societal Perceptions of Games and how that impacts research
- The negative implications of Gamification as well as it’s increasingly negative perception by game designers and academics.
- The thin line between actual engagement with a game and manipulative Gamification. It was felt that ‘Gamified Engagement’ diluted the message and context of a game, and thus any notion of it exploring or perpetuating human values. Attempts by game designers to convey or express their thoughts about a social issue or the human condition could be rendered pointless by ‘senseless’ interaction brought upon by Gamification mechanisms. Examples included examples such as players dissociating with a game and treating it as an abstract mechanic, or being forced to play in certain ways to complete arbitrary achievements that stifled their own decisions and creativity. This relativity subtle point was deemed important as it underpins the phenomenon of games being perceived as shallow distractions instead of the powerful medium that they are.