Hi! I’m Katy and I’m a creative geek – I work as a communications strategist at a company called Naked Communications, and I’m really chuffed to be here with such a fantastic array of wonderful speakers
Confession time - despite what the programme says, this talk isn’t actually about robots. Well, ish. I did a talk at Russell Davies’ fantastic Interesting 2009 conference a few weeks ago about my favourite robots and why they were ace. The lovely Toby Barnes asked if I’d do a longer version for Playful 09, and I obviously jumped at the chance to be a part of such an awesome line up. But one maxim for Interesting is that you’re supposed to talk about something that isn’t really about your job. And I am most definitely NOT a robot expert. I’m just a geek with a passion for robots. But at Playful you’ve got a day full of people who are truly experts in their field. So I’d feel like a bit of a fraud standing up here talking for 20 mins about robots.
But actually what I do for a living involves trying to stimulate behaviour change. I’m a communications strategist, and in my job we do a lot of work with the government, trying to encourage people to change their behaviour. Like trying to encourage people have safer sex by carrying and using condoms. Or encouraging people to develop a savings habit and improve their financial knowhow. Or encouraging teens to study maths and science. Stuff like that
Actually some of my favourite robots are great examples of how something really playful can actually stimulate a change in behaviour. Which got me thinking.
Tweenbots was an art project by Kacie Kinzer at NYU which used playful robotic design to examining the random kindness of strangers. She designed these fantastic tiny smiling cardboard robots that rely on the help of pedestrians to get to their destination. The Tweenbots roll at a constant speed, in a straight line and are dependent on humans to steer them in the right direction to reach their final location (which is printed on a flag attached to the robot’s body). And the results were pretty bonkers. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, stuck against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, “You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.” Cynical urbanites were shocked out of their rushed, inward-focused, routines as they made their way through the city, by tiny smiling cardboard robots. They brought out the very best in people.
This is a giant robot from the Japanese TV series Gundam - it's 18m high and weighs 35 tonnes. The Japanese are obsessed with robots. I think Japan may well be my spiritual home. Patrick Galbraith, ethnographer at the University of Tokyo and author of The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan, says that no series is more beloved than Gundam and makes a really interesting observation: &quot;In Japan, they skipped all that negativity after the industrial revolution, and really, what they have is technology and mechanics as the hope for the future. &quot;In Gundam, you see a young man get on board a giant robot, he reads a tech manual and he says, 'I can fly this thing and save the world' - and in fact, he does. &quot;I think that hopefulness is what the Japanese see in robots.&quot; He reckons that the playful and hopeful nature of robots like the one in Gundam elicited a positivity which totally gripped the Japanese. Culturally, they became much more comfortable with innovative techology as part of their everyday lives, and much more open to the possiblities of a positive future which technological innovation would bring - creating a culture utterly obsessed with pushing the boundaries of innovation.
These weren’t specifically designed to change behaviour. They were designed to be fun and playful. So let’s think about what play actually is. Johan Huizinga was a Dutch historian, cultural theorist who wrote a pretty seminal text in 1938 called Homo Ludens or &quot;Man the Player”. He explores how essential play is to culture and society, and argues that play is absolutely fundamental to the human condition and has permeated all cultures from the beginning. We’re born to play.
Because playing is how we learn. We’re all here because of the skills and knowledge we learned through playing as small children. But learning through play doesn’t stop at childhood. So how can we use playful design and playful experiences to actively encourage behaviour change?
Henry Jenkins talks about games as a “gateway drug to learning’ – and we all know that games are absolutely brilliant at changing behaviour. The fantastic work that Alice Taylor and Matt Locke do at Channel 4 Education is absolutely testament to this.
But rather than looking at games as a structured and specific activity wholly designed around play, I’d like to think a bit more about the regular everyday stuff we do, and how we can game real life – make the everyday mundane things we do more like games, and how this can change behaviour One very obvious way is through game mechanics like scoring.
Iain Tait did an awesome talk at last year’s Playful all about high scores and their importance in the world. So I don’t want to repeat what he said, mainly because he did a much better job than I could ever do. But a playful integration of high scores into everyday life, outside of specific structured game play, is still an amazing way to change how people behave, and in particular to get people to do things they don’t want to do.
Like cleaning. Doing the housework is really crap and it’s hard to get the motivation to get off your arse and do the vacuuming. There’s an immediate benefit of not living in a shithole that SHOULD motivate us to get off our arses and get stuck into the cleaning, but we’re simple creatures and there are generally lots more fun things we could be doing other than housework.
Sorry, I had to get another robot in. The Japanese (obviously) have come up with a humanoid robot to lend a hand with housework. It kicks the arse out of the roomba when it comes to robot-assisted housework. But until we’ve all got house robots to do the cleaning for us, we’ll probably have to think of another way to get us to do the cleaning.
So until then, turning cleaning into a game isn’t a bad way to go. At last year’s Gamecamp, Justin Hall bemoaned the fact that he gets rewarded in game play, but doesn’t get the satisfaction of such rewards in his everyday life. Which is exactly what Chore Wars is designed to do – you earn “experience” points for completing household chores – the more points, the more you advance in the game, hence the more housework you do, the more you’re rewarded.
Take another behaviour. Like trying to encourage people to drive more efficiently to reduce their fuel consumption.
So yes, you’ve guess it. Turning it into a game is a pretty effective way to encourage this behaviour. The Fiat Eco EcoDrive captures relevant data while you’re driving onto a USB stick which plugs directly into your car. You then upload this data to your computer and it gives you detailed information about how efficiently you’ve been driving, including the CO2 emission level for each trip, and analyses your driving style to provide tips and recommendations on how to modify how your drive to get a better score and reduce your CO2 emissions (and save money on fuel to boot) What’s pretty cool is that it encourages you to beat your own scores – you can set yourself a CO2 reduction target for a specific journey or over a set period of time. And like a Nike+ for driving, the Fiat EcoDrive website lets you compare your scores with other Fiat drivers to try and beat them to get the highest score, and become the most efficient driver – as well as visualising the collective impact of your high scores in reducing carbon emissions. Pretty nifty.
Getting diabetic kids (and indeed big kids) in the habit of regularly checking their blood sugar is quite a tricky one. Like doing the housework or driving more efficiently, you know what you’re SUPPOSED to do, it’s just actually doing it that’s the problem
Hence the Bayer Didget tries to turn blood sugar monitoring into a game. It’s all about the high scores. The Didget is a glucose meter that plugs directly into a Nintendo DS, and rewards consistent testing habits with points – which can then be used to unlock new game levels and customise your gaming experience (like purchasing extra items in a given game). You earn points through regular daily testing, and get bonus points the longer you stick with the testing regimen over time and for scoring within your target range for your blood sugar level. As Mr Forsyth said, points mean prizes. And to encourage a regular behaviour, gaming mechanics and tangible rewards do the job very nicely indeed.
But actually, despite how great game mechanics like scoring are in encouraging behaviour change, I don’t actually think it’s ALL about the scores (Sorry Iain)
Maybe it’s just about making stuff more fun in the first place
And yes this is a shameless excuse just to use a picture of a kitten with a lime on his head in a presentation.
Fun is……well, fun. Raph Koster wrote an awesome book called ‘A Theory of fun for Game Design’ which I’m sure lots of you will be very familiar with, which examines what fun actually is, what makes things fun, and why it’s important. Fun is stuff that’s enjoyable. It’s about giving you a boost and stimulating your physical pleasure receptors. And, crucially, it’s the means by which we retrain our brain to learn new patterns of behaviour. So actually, if we want to encourage behaviour change, and get people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, or even want to do, isn’t it just about designing playful and enjoyable experiences?
Trying to engage young people with politics is hard. More than ever young people feel disenfranchised, like politicians don’t care about them, don’t want to listen to them – that there’s no point trying to make yourself heard. Filling in a petition isn’t that sexy. You have to be pretty motivated in the first place to get involved with a campaigning organisation. So how do you encourage young people to engage with politics, and to have their say (and be listened to).
Well, trying to make politics cool is one way. MTV get celebs like good old Puff Daddy to support their Rock the Vote campaign to encourage young people to register to vote. It’s been going for years. That’s one way to do it. But it still doesn’t give young people the sense that they have a voice. And let’s face it, there’s no real immediate payoff.
Enter the Voicebot - a playful project created by Sidekick Studios for the youth volunteering organisation V. It’s a writing robot, connected to the internet, that seeks to deal with issues of democratic deficit and political disengagement. The brief was to create positive perceptions of young people and get their voices heard. Using The Voicebot, young people were able to say what they cared about (through a 140 character message uploaded via the V website) and these messages will be written out, word by word, in real time, inside the Houses of Parliament. Encouraging teens to believe that their voices will be heard is hard. But a playful experience helped. It's a playful ways to encourage young people to make themselves heard. It's a lot more fun than writing to your MP, that's for sure. And in doing so, it created an open, direct channel of communication between Britain’s youth and government - creating a voice for an under represented segment of the population
Obviously obesity is a huge issue and so trying to encourage people to exercise is a massive part of this. Also, be thankful I couldn’t find a high-enough-res picture of Mr Motivator for this slide. That much fluorescent spandex is too much at any time of day…..
Obviously information is important. But to be fair, for most of us, it’s not that we don’t know we ought to be eating more healthily and doing more exercise. It’s just that we’re crap at actually doing it. So advertising messages only really go so far- it’s a lot harder to get us to actually change our behaviour.
But making stuff fun goes a long way. Dance dance revolution got kids (and grown ups) who hated exercise, to start moving. Schools across the US have started to include DDR as part of their PE curriculum. In Norway it’s even been registered as an official sport.
And after making a TV ad which slagged off video games as the root of childhood obesity, the Department for Health has now agreed to partner with Nintendo to make Wii Fit a core part of their Change4Life health & fitness drive. And sometimes it’s just about making the everyday stuff fun. Like taking the stairs. This particular example I’m about to show you is from an awesome initiative called The Fun Theory, which is actually from Volkswagen, looking specifically at how making things fun can help change behaviour. I’m sure lots of you have seen this, as it’s been doing the rounds, but I thought I’d keep it in just in case any of you had missed it, and because I really really liked it. I should also point out that the actual idea in this film isn’t actually a wholly new idea, Chris O’Shea has written about lots of other similar ideas on his blog at PixelSumo.com, which I highly recommend you check out - so it’s not entirely groundbreaking. But it does show very vividly the amazing difference that making something FUN can make:
Or recycling – like exercise, we know we SHOULD be doing it, but we just aren’t so good at actually DOING it.
Obviously making it easier for people to recycle has an enormous effect. If the infrastructure is in place and it’s easy to do, that makes a huge difference, But the infrastructure has improved, we’ve got more frequent doorstep collections and bins everywhere and we’re still not recycling anywhere near enough of our household waste.
Rewarding people is one way. Companies like Recyclebank try to incentivise recycling. It’s been going in the US for a few years and recently launched in Maidenhead for its first UK trial. Recycling rates in one of the first neighborhoods that RecycleBank served rose from 7% to 90% in a matter of months. George Osborne has said he believes the carrot approach (paying people to recycle) is more effective than the stick (fining them if they don’t) and has claimed the Conservatives would look to implement this as part of their environmental policy. No doubt it’s more effective, giving people a tangible and meaningful reward – but it still costs money and effectively requires an ongoing investment. If you stop paying, will people stop recycling?
So how about making it more fun? Obviously this isn’t scalable for the mass market in its current form, but it’s an interesting idea – and it works. This is another idea from the VW Fun Theory guys – making recycling fun:
So, I hope this little wander has given you some food for thought – I know I’m preaching to the converted, you guys all recognise the power of play. If we could inject a little more fun into everyday life, the possibilities for what we could change are incredible.
Thanks very much for having me – have a terrific day!