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Designing for Agency in Bible Study

This talk explores the theory and practice of designing a Bible study experience so that the distinctive property of digital media–interactivity at scale–enhances rather than constrains the participant’s agency, or ability to act. We’ll discuss how people’s psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy affect their approach to and expectations of the Bible and church life, and how developers can support these needs by considering agency during the design process. We’ll also look at a specific application that HarperCollins Christian Publishing has developed to put these ideas into practice and promote agency in the context of daily Bible reading, explaining how and why we transformed a product that wasn’t a good fit for print into one that feels digitally native.

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Designing for Agency in Bible Study

  1. 1. Designing for Agency in Bible Study Stephen Smith BibleTech 2019 April 12, 2019
  2. 2. Argument Bible software supports only a small subset of the Christian life as lived but can support more if we consider agency during the design process
  3. 3. Overview • Defining “agency” • Player Experience of Need Satisfaction model: how current Bible software does and doesn’t meet the needs identified in the model • The Christian life as lived • A practical Franken-Bible application that tries to apply this model:
  4. 4. life led well life going well life feeling as it should Vision of a flourishing life
  5. 5. What is agency? • Literally, “the ability to act” • Video game theories talk about player agency in terms of making meaningful choices • Because software is interactive, it can support these choices on a wide scale • Exercising choices that lead (or not) to a flourishing life
  6. 6. Limitations of “Bible Engagement” • Often with the Bible, we measure “success” of a product or a campaign in terms of engagement—how much time and how often someone reads or hears the Bible • It’s easy to measure and is a reasonable proxy for spiritual health, but this focus leads to engagement being an end in itself rather than whether we’re actually meeting people’s needs
  7. 7. Religious orientations in sociology • Intrinsic: religion as an end in itself • Extrinsic: religion as a means (e.g., to status or power) • Quest: religion as a continual search for truth Whitley and Kite, 2010
  8. 8. Extrinsic Christianity is like an “idle game” • An idle game is one that plays itself for you as you go about your regular life • You can drop in as often as you like to affect what’s happening, mostly just accelerating what would happen anyway • Similarly, extrinsic Christianity isn’t really affecting your life or bringing about change; you just participate when you want and when it brings you some advantage
  9. 9. Self-Determination Theory • Psychological theory from the 1970s exploring intrinsic motivation (in general, not for religion) • Argues that people have three basic needs: • Competence • Relatedness • Autonomy
  10. 10. Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) • Grows out of Self-Determination Theory (competence, relatedness, autonomy), applying it specifically to games, but with implications for any software • Model developed in 2007 to provide a theory of fun and satisfaction for video games
  11. 11. Competence in PENS • Feeling of mastery and progress • Satisfied by “optimal challenge” or “flow” • Also by subsequent expression of mastery—“mastery in action” • Sense of power
  12. 12. Bible software marketing appeals to mastery
  13. 13. Extrinsic rewards undermine intrinsic feelings of competence/mastery • Naive gamification converts intrinsic feeling of competence to an extrinsic one • Games have rewards of: • Access. Unlock a previously inaccessible area/feature • Facility. Increase player effectiveness (e.g., a new skill/weapon) • Sustenance. Reduce a negative play state (e.g., an extra life) • Glory. Quantifiable but don’t affect play state (e.g., badges) • Praise. Game verbally or textually saying, “Great job!” • Sensory feedback. Temporary visual/audio/tactile feedback (e.g., fireworks) Phillips 2018, Affect play (intrinsic) Don’t affect play (extrinsic)
  14. 14. Relatedness in PENS • “Desire to connect with others in a way that feels authentic and supportive” • In multiplayer games, can happen either with real people or with non- player characters (NPCs) • In single-player games, can happen with NPCs or outside of the game through forums or livestreaming
  15. 15. Relatedness in Bible software: public 1. Forums: TTFKJVO score 2. Social sharing: YouVersion reported over one million shares per day in 2018 YouVersion’s most-shared verse from 2018
  16. 16. Relatedness: YouVersion • Share your activity with friends • Directly communicate with friends • Up to 150 friends (Dunbar’s number)
  17. 17. Facilitating deeper relationships? • Proximity. Being close together to one another encourages frequent serendipitous interactions • Similarity. Players will generally be more likely to become friends if they perceive one another to be similar • Reciprocity. Players must engage in escalating back-and-forth interactions in order to negotiate shared social norms • Disclosure. At higher levels of friendship, there needs to be an opportunity for safe, consensual, intimate sharing of weaknesses Verbatim from
  18. 18. Bible software as NPC • Chatbot • Voice • AI
  19. 19. Autonomy in PENS • Not just freedom to do whatever you want, which can be overwhelming • A difficult interface can detract from autonomy because the player knows what they want to do but not how to do it • Think of autonomy as “volition,” or “wanting to do the things that you are doing”—you can willingly give up freedom in exchange for other goals, such as enjoyment Scott Rigby,
  20. 20. Autonomy in Bible software Logos Workflows YouVersion reading plans
  21. 21. Reading plans • Short form (63% a week or less, 90% a month or less) • Produced by a variety of organizations and distributed widely and freely • Often promote the sponsoring organization’s brand • In keeping with the times, almost entirely devotional, occasionally evangelistic • Short form (generally pamphlet- or booklet-sized) • Produced by a variety of organizations and distributed widely and freely • Often promote the sponsoring organization’s brand—but also often anonymous • In keeping with the times, 75% evangelistic—some devotional 1800s Gospel tracts Source: Mullen 2017
  22. 22. 2019 Bible software marketing Competence Relatedness Autonomy • Everything You Need to Study the Bible In-Depth and with Accuracy (Logos) • Better Tools (Accordance) • Faster Searches (Accordance) • Deeper Study (Accordance) • Study with the Resource Guide (Olive Tree) • Build your Bible Study Library (Olive Tree) • Make yourself at home. Your private groups, intimate fellowships, and biblical community now have a place to live online (Faithlife) • Uncover Biblical Truth for Yourself (Logos) • Customize Your Experience (Olive Tree) • Daily Reading Plans (Olive Tree)
  23. 23. Designing for agency • Means designing to support competence, relatedness, and autonomy across a wide audience • Bible software, in general, supports competence across a narrow audience: mostly male Christians in some kind of leadership role • This narrow focus limits the market for Bible software because it doesn’t support life as lived by most Christians
  24. 24. The Christian life as lived
  25. 25. Topic clustering Hierarchical Ward clustering in SciPy based on verse similarity
  26. 26. 80% of topics fall into this bucket: “human relationality;” i.e., relatedness
  27. 27. Self-worth cluster: terms • self worth • our worth to God • miscarriages • newborn baby • giving birth • God knew us before we were born • womb • being special • potential • the sanctity of life • stillborn babies • child sacrifice • when life begins • conception • being under construction • birth • bioethics
  28. 28. Ten verses consuming the most clusters 15.3% Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you 6.4 John 3:16 For God so loved the world 6.0 1Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind 5.6 Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths 3.8 Prov 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go 3.6 1Cor 7:15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so 3.4 Isa 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you 2.9 Acts 20:35 It is more blessed to give than to receive 2.5 Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good 2.3 1Cor 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit
  29. 29. Relatedness Competence Autonomy
  30. 30.
  31. 31. Print version Main text in bold 152,000 translation options at 66,000 places Some options tagged “traditional” or “literal”; or is a different view or manuscript 900,000 possible verse translations (30x regular Bible)
  32. 32. Digital version • The Expanded Bible is actually a digital-native Bible that happened to be published in print; it should be interactive rather than static • Taking cues from interactive fiction games, the digital version requires you to translate the Bible text as you read it
  33. 33. 80 Days
  34. 34. Prototype interface: “lectio machina” • Requires active engagement; you slow down and consider which of the options is best. • Make a choice before proceeding: you have to choose from the existing options. • Can make global decisions like “Always use the literal translation” or “Use gender-inclusive alternatives.”
  35. 35. Live interface Competence. As you translate, you become more familiar with the text and the decisions that translators make. You feel like you get better as you go. Relatedness. Share your translation socially and with a small group. Autonomy. You have freedom to express yourself within constraints. It’s also enjoyable.
  36. 36. “Reward” for finishing a chapter • Custom audio recording (computer-generated) • Pre-recording the Bible 30x (2,100 hours) isn’t feasible • Text-to-speech is the only economically viable way to create an audio version of your translation • But you have to be happy with not much inflection, plus Jesus and his disciples visiting “Caper-nom” rather than Capernaum • $3,000 to create all possible permutations
  37. 37. Designing for agency • Consider features in light of competence, relatedness, and autonomy • Learn and design for what your users (and non-users) need and are already doing so that you don’t unintentionally exclude part of your potential audience
  38. 38. Presentation at