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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2015 / Winter 2016)

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...Part 2: Social Justice and “Games for Change”

(from "Book Review:  All Things Gamification")

“Games for change” are those that are designed to address issues of social justice. Researchers critically explore the power and concomitant responsibility—in putting out broadly used games—in promoting health, in broadening empathic understandings of others, in promoting security, in supporting environmentalism, and in social messaging.

Figure 1:  Free Downloadable Games and Simulations from SourceForge (a leading open-source application and software directory) 

Social responsibility in gaming. In Christopher Franzwa, Aaron Johnson, Ying Tang, and Talbot Bielefeldt’s “Balancing Fun and Learning in a Serious Game Design” (Ch. 22), a game is built around engineering design challenges in the virtual Sustain City to evoke creative applied conceptualization and design. The game enables students with varying levels of math and science skills to still engage. Research around this came resulted in three main recommendations by the authors:

“• The educational content should be woven into a narrative that exists outside of norms, including unusual settings and story;
• Player guidance is most effectively implemented by slowly stacking core concepts rather than providing all instruction at once;
• Supplemental feedback can be realized by rewarding the player with some kind of spendable virtual currency or ‘points.’” (Franzwa, Johnson, Tang, & Bielefeldt, 2015, p. 468)

If empathy with others is part of the game objectives, then there should be design considerations in terms of the cognitive load that “players with inherent limitations” must invest in gameplay in order to not draw mental resources from the work of empathy, according to Wen-Hao David Huang and Sharon Tettegah in “Cognitive Load and Empathy in Serious Games: A Conceptual Framework” (Ch. 19). Empathy itself is a multi-dimensional construct, with cognitive empathy involving the inference of others’ mental states and affective empathy as relating psychologically to others. Those who would design for empathy need to control for over-simplifications, stereotyping, and erroneous causal attributions.

Concetta Bommarito and Kathryn Dunlap, in “Dream Lucidity: Yume Nikki and Learning the Empathy Dreamscape” (Ch. 6), conduct a memorable research project based on a Japanese indie game (Yume Nikki or “dream journal”) and its reclusive game designer. Their research question: Do the players of the game, by extension of gameplay and engagement, empathize with the game creator’s alleged hikikomori (extreme reclusiveness) and mindscape (with her various appealing quirks that inform the game)?

Feminism. Several threads in this book explore the roles of girls and women in game depictions as well as their roles as employees in game design companies. Sarmista Das conducted an ethnographic study of an online feminist video game player community in “Levelling (Up) the Playing Field: How Feminist Gamers Self-Identify and Learn in Online Communities” (Ch. 69); in this work, she explored the misogyny in gaming culture and the constructive ways that people combat such hostilities. Das wrote of her own observations, ”Although it can sometimes be disheartening to see the same sexist (and one can easily add racist, ableist, heterosexist) ideas in video games and game culture, it is comforting to know that I am not alone” (2015, p. 1369). Alyson E. King and Aziz Douai provide a historiographical view of gendered games and the insidiousness of gender stereotypes in “From the ‘Damsel in Distress’ to Girls’ Games and Beyond: Gender and Children’s Gaming” (Ch. 102); they describe a social networking portal for children that offers a less gendered video game environment. People’s mental conceptualizations do spill over into the real world.

Women professionals in game development. Vachon M.C. Pugh, in “A Look inside the Current Climate of the Video Game Industry” (Ch. 99), examines the state of women’s professional roles in the gaming industry and their respective pay scales. As-yet, the root cause for the gender disparity in the field is unclear. In “Career Development among Japanese Female Game Developers: Perspective from Life Stories of Creative Professionals” (Ch. 98), Masahito Fujihara describes the career experiences of female game developers with at least five years of workplace experience in Japan based on her interviews with 21 game developers. From this work, Fujihara emphasizes the importance of mentorship for these game developers but also observed that these individuals were without defined career goals. Various works place the percentage of female game developers around the developed world in the 4% - 15% range.

Figure 2:  Avatars "Contact Sheet" on Pixabay 

Creating social identity. Gaming is also seen as a way to create and reinforce social identity. In Linda K. Kaye’s exploration of Football Manager, she found it an important tool for football players to identify as part of the team. “Football Manager as a Persuasive Game for Social Identity Formation” (Ch. 72) shows gaming as a tool to promote affiliation through indirect social-psychological means in this pilot study.

Selen Turkay and Charles K. Kinzer’s “The Effects of Avatar-Based Customization on Player Identification” (Ch. 12) reaffirms prior findings that learners relate better to their virtual avatars if they are able to customize them to look more similar to their actual physical selves. The authors write:

“The mirror hypothesis refers to the theory that viewers tend to relate favorably to on-screen characters who are either like themselves (the mirror), or ones who represent someone the viewer would like to be (the magic mirror). The magic mirror relates to another type of identification: wishful identification. In wishful identification, the observer desires to emulate the character, either in general terms as a role model for future action or identity development, or in specific terms which extend responses beyond the viewing situation or by imitating a particular behavior” (Turkay & Kinzer, 2015, p. 249).

Avatar customizations may not only increase learner empathy for the in-game characters but increase retention in the space based on their emotional connections. These authors make a strong case for studying avatar customizations as an expression of personality. Another work aligns with this general approach. Michael P. McCreery, S. Kathleen Krach, and Amanda Nolen’s “The Protagonist and their Avatar: Learner Characteristics in a Culture of Simulation” (Ch. 7) echoes the role of personality in learning. They point to the five-factor model of human personality (neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) as a useful approach in profiling gamers in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) as learning spaces (McCreery, Krach, & Nolen, 2015, p. 133).

The next section is Part 3:  Games for Human Well-being.  
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