The Social Impact of Games

In “A psychologically “embedded” approach to designing games for pro-social causes”,  Flanagan and Kaufman note that though games can “promote and instill pro-social attitudes, behaviors, and emotional responses”, the message behind games may not be heeded by players if they are directly stated. Flanagan and Kaufman hence advocate that the message behind games be obfuscated. Using the Montola reading, I shall attempt to clarify why directly communicating social good messages through games may not incur socially good behaviors from the perspective of ARG theories. I will then demonstrate why obfuscation of the message is needed, and predict ways an ARG may produce socially good consequences.

Montola, in their discussion of the Killer ARG, mentions how players are immersed in magic circles the minute they consent to play the game. Spatial, temporal, as well as thematic boundaries between the “real” and “unreal” become blurred as a result of such pervasive gaming. Players are hence induced to look at their own everyday reality in a new way and regard many factors in it as unfamiliar or problematic. This defamiliarization is what I take to be the reason of ARGs’ social impacts. They have been able to make normally boring processes (such as school) seem interesting, and to raise awareness on the many social problems players may not be previously unaware of—in that they induce players to take up new perspectives and regard these “normal” processes as unfamiliar, not normal, and open to questions.

These new perspectives are hence necessary in a game’s social impact, and players use them when the game presents an alternate reality alongside the player’s reality, where players can immerse themselves and from which, observe their own reality with a new eye. Direct messages for social good, like morals of a fable or aphorisms in philosophical texts, still address the everyday reality and speak within its rules and its paradigms. They hence run counter to the ARG’s ability to displace players from their reality, and may induce resistance if they ever show up.

The method for ARGs to advocate social good is implied: instead of communicating information pertaining to the real, one can focus on the player’s experience, take up their perspectives, note how they can immerse in the game and whether they are induced to take up new perspectives. This is supported by Fullerton’s emphasis on player experience—prompting designers to be “advocate[s] for the player”, to frequently “playtest” and try to predict aspects of player experience, their advice makes one realize how the recognition of a message or the decision to change one’s actions are all parts of the playing experiences, and that such an experience would inspire players to look at the world in a new light if it is enjoyable, immersive and defamiliarizing.

One thought on “The Social Impact of Games

  1. This is a very interesting post! I think that the way in which ARGs blur reality certainly does make them effective as a means of conveying some sort of social message. Generally, as evidenced in numerous psychological studies, people have a tendency to avoid doing things which explicitly contradict their worldview and such interactions tend to only make them more entrenched. This makes a more subtle approach more effective in changing minds and having an influence. Trying to create empathy through character-building and roleplaying certainly subverts a this direct approach, and makes games a great medium for presenting different empathetic perspectives.


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