Friday, February 17, 2017

"Learnification" vs. Gamification

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explains the process of "learnification," as opposed to gamification.

In my last article, I described a reversed process for connecting emotionally with an audience.  Similarly, in my research reports, "The Merging of Entertainment and GBL" and "Facing Edutainment's Dark Legacy," published on Games + Learning, I approached learning games from another point of view, namely entertainment.  Rather than gamifying learning, we would be, in the words of Kuato Studios, engaged in "learnification."

What does this mean?  As I mentioned in my chapter on serious games in the book, Writing for Video Game Genres, subject matter experts are under no obligation to make the material "fun."  Often times, an educational game developer is given a set list of learning outcomes that need to be covered.  However, creating a game straight from a lesson plan may lead to poor gameplay.  If the game's not fun, then how is it going to get kids to play?

Prioritizing education over entertainment may not be the answer, but the reverse, prioritizing entertainment over education, may be the key.

It's ironic, but true:  Like I wrote previously, "Kids would rather play an entertainment title over an educational one, even if that entertainment game makes them learn astrophysics."

Hence, "learnification" is about ensuring an enjoyable game has teachable moments.  I find that it's also important to note that one game may not be able to hit all of the listed learning outcomes.  It helps to focus in on what's the most important point to be conveyed in this game and make sure the gameplay reinforces this point.

So, while gamification may have its merits, "learnification" may get better results.  Just remember, if our intention is to have kids play learning games to learn, then first the kids have to want to play the game.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Emotion, Reverse Engineered

In this article, game designer Sande Chen looks at how storytelling is used in marketing to create emotional connection with audiences.

What does 'storytelling' mean to you?

It's curious to parse the exact meaning of words, but as we know from comparing the game industry to the tech sector, even job titles don't exactly mean the same from one company to the next.

I noticed a similar disconnect when I attended a storytelling event last year.  The first speaker was a game design professor who spoke eloquently about storytelling in games while the second speaker, a marketer, spoke about storytelling in a very different way.  A marketer is more interested in how the audience connects with a brand and it's the brand story that needs to be repeated.  But, both game designers and marketers recognize that storytelling has the power to connect with an audience through emotional means.

I think most writers strive to connect emotionally on a universal level. By that, I mean even if the nitty gritty details are about life in a slum, people can still recognize a story about perseverance, about rising above poverty and succeeding.  Marketers, though, tend to craft a message or story based on the preferences of the target audience.  A marketer asks, "What already resonates with my audience?" rather than trying to elicit emotion anew.  Then, the marketer provides the story that fits the target audience.

For example, AI software can analyze social media texts to determine personality traits like "adventuresome," "achievement striving," and "openness to change."  If the brand's story is about "achievement striving," then targeting the "achievement striving" results in 30% more engagement and sentiment.  If the target audience now associates the brand to an "achievement striving" lifestyle, that's a success.

In fact, social psychologists say that it may be hard to connect with audience members with different viewpoints from the author.  In analyzing liberals and conservatives, Professor Matt Feinberg and sociologist Robb Willer found that liberals value benevolence, nurturance, equality, and social justice whereas conservatives prize highly group loyalty, authority, and purity.  So, the thought of garbage left in a forest resonates more strongly with a conservative than the devastation on wildlife due to deforestation. By understanding these differences, a writer can reframe the message to the audience's moral values.

By writing this piece, I don't mean to suggest that we should all start writing to the audience.  After all, creative work can have different audience interpretations.  I just think it's interesting to note how a related field tackles the issue of how to create emotional connection in storytelling.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

GDSIG Mentor Ask Me Anything

IGDA Game Design Special Interest Group News!



Last weekend, we held our first GDSIG Mentor AMA (Ask Me Anything) with game designer Ian Schreiber, who currently teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  He is the co-author of 2 books,  Challenges for Game Designers and Breaking Into the Game Industry.  Ian Schreiber was also a featured speaker during our Webinar series in 2014.

You can find some of his writing here, on Game Design Aspect of the Month.
The transcript for Mentor AMA event is currently housed here, but we will be seeking a more appropriate location, most likely within our Facebook space or on the GDSIG page on the IGDA site.

I encourage all of you to visit or join the GDSIG Facebook community.  Starting this year, we have weekly game design exercises and game design discussion questions.  In the Files section of the group are game design documents from various games.  We'll be holding our yearly roundtable at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March 2017 and will be posting agenda items.  Keep up to date with current competitions, submissions, and news.

If you are interested in being a mentor, please let us know!  We will be planning the next Mentor AMA in the coming months.