Personally, I was particularly intrigued by the study from this week’s reading: “A Psychologically ‘Embedded’ Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes”(Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan). The study claims that certain techniques such as “1) Intermixing: Combining on-topic and off-topic game content to make the focal message or theme less obvious and more accessible” and “2) Obfuscating: Using game genres or framing devices that direct players’ attention or expectations away from the game’s true aims” make it more effective to influence players of a game about a certain topic when it is not overtly obvious what the game’s intentions are to manipulate a player’s opinion.
I want to first question the notion of conducting studies on how a game influences players. We mentioned the idea of playtesting in class, how players play games to break them, and how Beta testing is important to determine how players will actually react to a game. This is quite on the contrary to the games played in this study, where students were meticulously picked by researchers to play games where, essentially, cards with stereotypes on them were given to players, and a “Universal Orientation Score” which measures “general non-prejudice” are assigned to how players essentially put cards down to refute stereotypes. First, by coining game’s name as “Awkward Moment” (which already frames the game as one which one needs to identify situations outside perceived social norms) or adding in cards with blatant stereotypes, I do not believe that the focus of the game is as “intermixed” or as “obfuscated” as the researchers believe, as the researchers believe. Second, as the players know that they are in a study, they will be influenced to play according to what the researchers may want. In a real playtesting environment where players do not know that they are being watched, I have suspicions that players might play to reinforce stereotypes because they might think it is humorous or to “break” the game. If the researchers wanted to truly see how players would react to the game, they would release the game to the public to gauge how players respond, or at least release the game in a way where the players do not know that they are explicitly being watched. Think about Cards Against Humanity–how would gamers play if knew they were being watched by researchers?
Is it even possible to successfully obfuscate messages into a game? I think that it is extremely difficult to; the games in the study are already, in my opinion, painfully obvious as to what they are trying to convey when players are responding to painfully cheesy cards that say “While shopping at the mall, you notice a store that sells T-Shirts for girls that say ‘Math is hard’.” I feel that a successful game in doing so in implementing these kinds of pro-social messages cannot signal to the player at all any kind of intention, for example, being able to signal some message into a game like Apples to Apples, which is framed as a game where players are supposed to “Play the funniest card,” as opposed to aforementioned scenario where one “Does the right thing to avoid an awkward scenario.”
Last, I want to question the ethical implications of being able to codify or obfuscate messages into a game, if that even is possible. I feel that this can be an extremely dangerous concept; in this fairly tame scenario, where kids are supposed to learn how to refute stereotypes, it is easy to say that there is an inherent good in disseminating this game to players. However, there are many points of contention and issues in today’s post-truth society where people argue for both sides and there seems to be no objective truth. Thus, the role of a gamemaker becomes one of high stakes, and I worry about the possibility of being able to implement “subtle means of designing games to shift players’ psychological responses” through these seemingly innocuous games. It does not seem difficult for impressionable players to be radicalized through subtle messages fed through these kinds of games.
If you’d like to comment about my post, I guess I really have three main questions I’d like to focus on (though feel free to comment about whatever you’d like): 1) What is the best way to accurately glean results of how players will play a game without bias while still being in a controlled scientific environment, 2) Do you think it is possible to successfully intermix or obfuscate messages into a game, and if so, what would that kind of game look like? 3) What are the implications of being able to obfuscate messages into a game, if it is possible?