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Erin Hoffman-John - Effective Games: Why We Can't Have Nice Things (Yet)

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Erin Hoffman-John, CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Sense of Wonder

This presentation was given at the 2016 Serious Play Conference, hosted by the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Rigorously effective games — games that stand up to robust pre- and post-testing of their efficacy on specific measurable outcomes, whether learning or otherwise — have yet to find meaningful commercial success. Why is that? We now know that it is possible to design games to be effective — but our existing markets do not reward companies that do so. This session breaks down the challenges surrounding the development of measurable-outcome games and postulates what would need to change in our social and economic systems to facilitate their development. Based on the three year research project called GlassLab, the session also reflects on the results of that project, its design insights, its social impact, and its predictions for the future.

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Erin Hoffman-John - Effective Games: Why We Can't Have Nice Things (Yet)

  1. 1. W H Y W E C A N ’ T H AV E N I C E T H I N G S ( Y E T ) E F F E C T I V E G A M E S : E R I N H O F F M A N , S E R I O U S P L AY 2 0 1 6
  2. 2. C H A S I N G T H E F U T U R E 0 2000 4000 6000 8000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Edtech Investment Social Game Revenue F2P US Revenue Worldwide MMO Revenue growth* text MMO f2p virtual world facebook game (“sushi war”) social-mobile edugames I was working on: *$millions it’s true because it has a chart
  3. 3. 1 9 9 8 2 0 0 3 2 0 0 5 2 0 0 6 2 0 0 8 2 0 1 0 2 0 1 2 2 0 1 3 2 0 1 4 (I was 17) (you do the math)
  4. 4. I N 2 0 1 3 , A F U N N Y T H I N G H A P P E N E D T O M E • I was taken in by scientists. • 24 scientists, to be exact, from the likes of the Stanford Research Institute, NASA, and Educational Testing Service (the folk who make the SAT). • these are nerds among nerds.
  5. 5. – S O R E N K I E R K E G A A R D , 1 8 4 8 “To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it.”
  6. 6. – S O R E N K I E R K E G A A R D , 1 8 4 8 “To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it.” “Teaching well is really freaking hard.” – E R I N H O F F M A N , 2 0 1 5
  7. 7. A S Y O U M I G H T I M A G I N E • game designers spend an awful lot of time talking about what “fun” is • the most widely-accepted definition comes from a game designer named Raph Koster (you might recognize Star Wars Galaxies, EverQuest II, Ultima Online - that’s Raph) • though now he might be more well known for his book:
  8. 8. – R A P H K O S T E R “That’s what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning.” And Raph said… • this hit the world of game design like a bomb — it was so obvious and true
  9. 9. world model space whales * worldmodel spacewhales * game design early child psych
  10. 10. But Raph was riffing off the work of a lot of smart people…
  11. 11. Leading to what I call the “depth hierarchy of nerddom” on fun: Jesse Schell - “fun isn’t important” Raph Koster - “fun is learning” James Paul Gee - “fun is the scientific method” Fred Rogers* - “play is the work of childhood” Jean Piaget - “play is assimilation without adaptation” (3 kinds of play: practice, symbolic, rules-based) Lev Vygotsky - “play is a self-actualizing tool of the mind that maximizes the zone of proximal development” (some neuroscientist, maybe Judy Willis**) ** http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/4141/the-neuroscience-joyful-education-judy-willis-md.pdf image by G. Blackney, middle school earth sciences * you could maybe stick Csikszentmihalyi*** here but I like Mr. Rogers better because it’s easier to type *** but for the record I just wanted to prove that I could spell Csikszentmihalyi
  12. 12. T H E R E V O L U T I O N A RY I D E A B E H I N D G L A S S L A B WA S • school is really, really boring. • maybe video game designers could make school less boring. • if kids are less bored, maybe they’ll learn better. • and maybe big data could enable the creation of genuine adaptive, personalized learning.
  13. 13. No problem!, we thought. If games are about fun and fun is about learning, this’ll be easy! Time to revolutionize education!
  14. 14. so we brought the brand new SimCity into classrooms… and the kids said: so this is pretty fun, but we’re not learning anything. (and SimCity historically has been used by teachers to teach all sorts of things)
  15. 15. This blew open Raph’s theory. “Fun is learning” wasn’t the conclusive epiphany we (designers) thought it was — it was just the beginning.
  16. 16. Over the course of the next two years and three products, I got to watch tons of breathtakingly talented teachers in action. teaches environmental science and systems thinking 2013 in collaboration with NASA and the National Writing Project, teaches argumentation 2014 in collaboration with the teachers of Epic charter school, teaches proportional reasoning 2015
  17. 17. when students were really engaged in learning, there was something going on that wasn’t “fun”. it was something deeper, something special. (real kids playing our real games)
  18. 18. W H AT G A M E S D O • create situated context (Jim Gee) • prepare for future learning (Dan Schwartz) • inspire and engage (every teacher & parent everywhere) • accommodate alternative learning modalities
  19. 19. W H AT M O S T G A M E S D O N ’ T D O • teach
  20. 20. W H AT M O S T G A M E S D O N ’ T D O • teach why? (kind of funny, isn’t it?)
  21. 21. – S O R E N K I E R K E G A A R D , 1 8 4 8 “To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it.” “Teaching well is really freaking hard.” – E R I N H O F F M A N , 2 0 1 5
  22. 22. W H AT D O E S A T E A C H I N G G A M E N E E D T O D O ? • it has to be a valid assessment • it has to be scaffolded • it has to have multiple representations
  23. 23. T H E A S S E S S M E N T M O N S T E R • most games do have assessments (that’s what a boss battle is) • but they’re rarely valid according to a learning standard • validity means correctness is inescapable and blocks progression - it means you’re measured from every angle
  24. 24. S C A F F O L D I N G • most games do have scaffolding (that’s what levels are) • most games even scaffold you toward assessment (levels prepare you for bosses) • but few learning games are properly scaffolded • * actually, arguably, few games are properly scaffolded
  25. 25. M U LT I P L E R E P R E S E N TAT I O N S • and almost no learning games have multiple representations - I think (it’s just too damn expensive) • multiple representation might be a big part of why minecraft is so effective and engaging • immersive semi-reality is the closest we’ve gotten to true multiple rep
  26. 26. how we began with design thinking and turned mars generation one into a valid assessment
  27. 27. W E B E G A N W I T H PA I N P O I N T S • Your starting point is probably your user’s pain point. • Don’t run from the pain point, and don’t assume you’ll erase it immediately; to be fulfilled, it must be embraced. • …even amplified. • In a game, pain is challenge, and challenge is good.
  28. 28. PA I N I N A R G U M E N TAT I O N • When we began Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy, we set out to identify pain in argumentation. • When you’re bad at arguing, you feel: • confused • powerless • unpopular • stupid
  29. 29. • confused • powerless • unpopular • stupid • clear • powerful • charismatic • genius so we knew we needed to bring about this emotional transition: our message was: learn to argue well, using evidence, and you’ll become convincing, popular, admired, and powerful
  30. 30. E M O T I O N A L C L U S T E R I N G • We began by digging deeper into the pain point analysis. • After many interviews with teachers, the same problems emerged between instructors and students. • These qualities created the dominant emotional reaction of confusion. VA G U E aspects of argumentation S U B J E C T I V E A B S T R A C T H A R D T O R E M E M B E R C O M P L E X
  31. 31. VA G U E S U B J E C T I V E A B S T R A C T H A R D T O R E M E M B E R C O M P L E X so we took these qualities and searched for game experiences that were the opposite P R E C I S E O B J E C T I V E C O N C R E T E M A S T E R A B L E S I M P L E
  32. 32. P R E C I S E O B J E C T I V E C O N C R E T EM E M O R A B L E S I M P L E it turns out that these are feelings that games innately convey particularly well
  33. 33. So we applied a concrete system that scaffolded into great complexity (otherwise it wouldn’t ever really feel like argumentation) but was masterable and simple. Aka…
  34. 34. G O T TA C AT C H ‘ E M A L L • Pokemon is an incredibly complex game involving constant computation, comparison, and memorization. • Kids love it anyway because it’s so concrete and memorable. • So the important thing to remove from argumentation wasn’t the complexity, but the abstractness and subjectivity.
  35. 35. Our “argubots” paralleled forms of argument, but made them visually memorable, masterable, and full of personality.
  36. 36. T H E R E S U LT S • Well, ask the kids: • “BOOM!” • “wait wait wait we want to hear this!” • “that’s TOTALLY not related!” • “that [argument] wasn’t even, like, legit!” • “omg, K-O!” • “data was inconsistent, it wasn’t supporting” • “fiiiiiiight!” • “let’s go CQ!*” This approach to argumentation was: • concrete • exciting • masterable • relatable * a 6th grader referencing philosopher Stephen Toulmin
  37. 37. by taking them from one painful side of the emotional map to the other, we changed the way they thought about argumentation and reason curiosity anxiety threat stress failure tenacity surprise mastery insight abstract confused afraid can’t remember getting it got it winning
  38. 38. contrast this with the emotionally flat way argumentation is traditionally taught it’s not memorable because there’s no surprise, no discovery, no choice, no tension, no reversal
  39. 39. we took them on an emotional journey - this is how transformation happens fear surprise contempt happiness anger disgust sadness
  40. 40. but what about the competency?
  41. 41. T H AT T I M E W E T R I E D T O A S S E S S S I M C I T Y
  42. 42. I T WA S A B O U T T H E C O R E L O O P • core loop based on a deliberate competency • competency mapped to interaction mechanic • an abstract idea made mechanical
  43. 43. T U R N I N G I T U P S I D E D O W N • original IP: pokemon robots on mars • made with NASA and the national writing project • attacking argumentation competency
  44. 44. Argumentation Skill (LP level) Identify Organize Use Evaluate Match data to related argument Arrange arg with multiple pieces of data Use a critical question Evaluate opposing argument weakness Identify data as pro/com Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy Explore Equip Battle Chat with characters Click on objects Attach data fuel to claim core Launch irrelevant core attack select bot type Choose shield Launch critical attack Take/leave evidence Organize argument with multiple arg schemes a new kind of game design
  45. 45. A N D D I D I T W O R K ?
  46. 46. A N D D I D I T W O R K ? (it super did)
  47. 47. B U T W H AT A B O U T T H E R E Q S • it has to be a valid assessment = A • it has to be scaffolded = = B- • it has to have multiple representations = C-
  48. 48. T H E R E A L P R O B L E M • (I’m not sure I should tell you this) • MGO took us about 1.5 years and $2m* • (which for what it did and the ice it broke really wasn’t bad, especially in game terms) • but this kind of money isn’t in the learning game system * please don’t quote me
  49. 49. T H E R E A L P R O B L E M • (this was why Ratio Rancher was a big step forward - we built it with half the staff and in 6 months - better, stronger, faster) * please don’t quote me
  50. 50. H E R E ’ S W H Y I T ( S H O U L D B E ) T H E F U T U R E • games that actually teach may be the only way to achieve globally scalable education
  51. 51. H E R E ’ S W H Y I T ( S H O U L D B E ) T H E F U T U R E • games that actually teach may be the only way to achieve globally scalable education this was glasslab’s actual mission
  52. 52. T H A N K S F O R P L AY I N G T H A T ’ S I T erin@makingwonder.com @gryphoness
  53. 53. appendix
  54. 54. usually that emotion is pretty simple (simple emotion sell$) scary! omg fast! BAD.ASS. epic!
  55. 55. …but sometimes it’s not the regret of well-intended complicity in abusive systems the existential loneliness of being human and confronted with the other in the wake of ancient hubris-generated apocalypse (probs the greatest game ever made just fyi) (e.g., while you weren’t looking, games kinda grew up)
  56. 56. this was an emotion I’d never seen before. I became obsessed with it. remember when I said game designers are artists? and artists are painters of emotion?
  57. 57. E M O T I O N S O L E T ’ S TA L K A B O U T
  58. 58. pop quiz how many of you know who paul eckman is?
  59. 59. pop quiz how many of you have seen pixar’s Inside Out?
  60. 60. if you’ve seen Inside Out, you know Eckman • took photographs of faces around the world • asked thousands of people from dozens of cultures to identify the emotions • identified seven (at first six) universal emotions
  61. 61. (the new one) the one it drives me nuts that they cut out!
  62. 62. (the new one) the one it drives me nuts that they cut out! but where’s ‘fun’? and where’s ‘learning’?
  63. 63. it seemed to be a little bit of all of them, each in a different order… sometimes… for 14 year olds… kind of?… definitely… actually yeah… this one too… getting closer…
  64. 64. it seemed to be a little bit of all of them, each in a different order… sometimes… for 14 year olds… kind of?… definitely… actually yeah… this one too… getting closer… fun/learning wasn’t one emotion, but a process between many.
  65. 65. I called it sophia*: fun is the cognitive mechanical process by which we convert fear into happiness through surprise * as in “philein sophia” or “philosophy” - the love (philo-) of wisdom (-soph)
  66. 66. M I C R O B E S S O L E T ’ S TA L K A B O U T
  67. 67. how many live in your body?
  68. 68. how many live in your body? let’s talk microbes! - over 100 trillion microbes (about 2-6lbs per person) - microbes outnumber human cells 10:1 - 1000 species in your gut - 200 species on the surface of your eye - tons still unidentified - scientists call it “the second genome”
  69. 69. how many live in your body? let’s talk microbes! - over 100 trillion microbes (about 2-6lbs per person) - microbes outnumber human cells 10:1 - 1000 species in your gut - 200 species on the surface of your eye - tons still unidentified - scientists call it “the second genome” how you doin'?
  70. 70. your microbiome = ~100 trillion microbes the milky way = ~100 billion stars
  71. 71. the second genome
  72. 72. the second genome
  73. 73. how many live in your body? let’s talk microbes! - over 100 trillion microbes (about 2-6lbs per person) - microbes outnumber human cells 10:1 - 1000 species in your gut - 200 species on the surface of your eye - tons still unidentified - scientists call it “the second genome” how you doin’ (now)?
  74. 74. I called it sophia*: fun is the cognitive mechanical process by which we convert fear into happiness through surprise * as in “philein sophia” or “philosophy” - the love (philo-) of wisdom (-soph)
  75. 75. the key is the arc curiosity anxiety threat stress failure tenacity surprise mastery insight
  76. 76. S T O RY T E L L E R S K N O W T H I S • without foreshadowing there is no anticipation • without anticipation there’s no tension • without reversal there’s no insight • without insight there’s no story
  77. 77. (segue) And this is why it’s so damn annoying that Inside Out left out Surprise. when it comes to Eckman universals and both storytelling and product, Surprise might be the most important emotion there is.
  78. 78. M O D E R N M E T H O D S O F M E A S U R I N G E M O T I O N I N C L U D E : • surveys • brain fMRIs that detect… “excitation” (aka something is happening and we don’t really know what) • hand-encoding videos of changes in facial expression • …surveys
  79. 79. emotional research is really this gigantic unexplored frontier now that we have the capability to process dynamic data
  80. 80. H O W W O U L D Y O U C R E AT E A N A R C , I N C L U D I N G R E V E R S A L A N D I N S I G H T, F O R T H E C O R E E M O T I O N I N Y O U R P R O D U C T ? let us pause
  81. 81. D Y N A M I C E M O T I O N S O L E T ’ S TA L K A B O U T
  82. 82. A L L E M O T I O N I S D Y N A M I C T H E T R U T H I S
  83. 83. W E ’ R E R E A L LY B A D AT M E A S U R I N G D Y N A M I C T H I N G S T H E O T H E R T R U T H I S
  84. 84. so let’s assume emotion is a landscape, not a fixed point in time; it’s a dynamic system that has things like hysteresis and momentum fear surprise contempt happiness anger disgust sadness
  85. 85. if we were to design for a specific progression, what would it look like? fear surprise contempt happiness anger disgust sadness
  86. 86. F I N A L Q U E S T I O N S • Where are your moments of surprise? • Where are you showing your user that you really understand their pain? • Where are your transition points between pain and ecstasy? • Where are your users discovering insights for themselves? • What is your unique core emotion and how are you centering your design decisions on it? • What is the emotional path for each of your user archetypes?
  87. 87. T H A N K S F O R P L AY I N G T H A T ’ S I T erin@makingwonder.com @gryphoness
  88. 88. lately, this has become the context for some genuinely awful behavior
  89. 89. and remember that emotions hybridize

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