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  • Writer's pictureDaniel J. King

Dissertation Blog #20

First Citation of the Day

Sandbrook, Chris, William M. Adams, and Bruno Monteferri. “Digital Games and Biodiversity Conservation.” Conservation Letters 8, no. 2 (2014), 118-124.

This article proposes that "conservation games" have the potential to promote behavior change, fundraising, and research in the area of biodiversity conservation. The authors note there is a danger that games could merely distract gamers from real-world problems or oversimplify conservation issues, and they point out that for conservation games to be effective, the games must be

  • Professionally produced: Game creation requires specific expertise, so conservation organizations should collaborate with commercial game designers to produce conservation games.

  • Tightly focused on one realistic design goal: It is unrealistic to try to design a single game to inform about a conservation problem, motivate behavior change, provide advanced knowledge, and lobby for a policy change all at once.

  • Targeted to a specific audience: A conservation game must be designed according to the intended outcome for conservation, the audience's relevance to achieving the outcome, and the audience's gaming preferences.

  • Fun to play: Conservation narratives are often depressing, complex, earnest, or boring, but game dynamics could make conservation more engaging and open up opportunities to create positive narratives about conservation.

Second Citation of the Day

Weizman, Ayelet. “Designing Casual Serious Games in Science: The Case of ‘Couch Potatoes Defense’” EAI Endorsed Transactions on Serious Games 1, no. 3 (2014).

This article defines "casual-serious game" as an educational game which has a goal besides entertainment, such as education, while being simple and easy to learn and requiring a shorter playing time and a smaller budget to develop. The author points out that if a designer's aim is to integrate digital games in school learning, it is more realistic to develop casual-serious games that will be easy for teachers to adopt and use within a single lesson time-frame.

The article summarizes the design and testing of a casual-serious game called "Couch Potatoes Defense." The author found that when the game parameters were calibrated to improve the flow experience for primary school students, the playtesters' survey responses also showed more evidence of learning and attitude change.

Design and Mechanics

Biodiversity conservation is one of the central issues at the heart of Field of Cures, so I am paying close attention to Sandbrook, Adams, and Monteferri's guidelines for designing conservation games. I believe that integrating design principles from casual game design will help ensure Field of Cures has fun gameplay and a positive framing. For the purpose of my dissertation, the design goal is to persuade players about the importance of research ethics and biodiversity conservation, and the target audience is college students who enjoy casual games. As for professional production... Field of Cures will be as well produced as a dissertation project can be!

I agree with Ayelet Weizman that serious game design and casual game design can be a productive combination. Weizman was drawn to the aspects of casual games that can make them easy to use in the classroom, while I was drawn to the potential of freemium monetization mechanics for fundraising. Up to now I've been using the term "serious-casual game" rather than Weizman's construction "casual-serious game." I have to give Weizman credit for publishing on the concept first, but I still prefer my version of the term, because it positions the serious aspect of the game first.

Current Events

My pre-proposal is approved, and I have tentative dates set for my candidacy exams. The plan is rolling forward. Here is the most up-to-date version of my pre-proposal:

Problem: Scholars such as Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum have defined best practices for conscientious game design, and others including Jesper Juul and Gregory Trefry have defined principles for designing casual games that appeal to a wide audience. However, less research has been done on how to integrate these two design approaches.

Research Question: How can the best practices for serious game design be integrated with the principles of casual game design to produce an activist framework for casual game design?

Data: I will examine published design principles for serious games and casual games, integrate them in my original game concept, and then examine playtester feedback to reflect upon and revise my framework.

Method for Collecting Data: I will use the published design principles to inform the design and development of my game Field of Cures. Then I will conduct interviews with playtesters using questions modeled after Konstantin Mitgutsch and Narda Alvarado’s Serious Game Design Assessment (SGDA) Framework to evaluate whether the combination of serious and casual design elements is cohesive.

Method for Analyzing Data: I will look for common themes in the playtesters’ qualitative feedback about what is effective in the game design and what should be revised. From the experience of designing and testing Field of Cures, I will synthesize a set of recommendations for integrating serious-casual game design to comprise my activist framework for casual game design.

Categories to Cover in Literature Review: My literature review will cover best practices and ethical considerations in serious game design and casual game design.

Reasons the Study Is Significant: Serious games can be crafted to help players understand complex connections between phenomena as well as ethical issues that arise from those interconnections. If a serious game is not intrinsically appealing to play, however, it’s audience — and therefore its impact — will be limited. Activist game designers usually have fewer development resources, which often explains the gap in appeal between serious games and commercial games. Integrating casual game design principles could enable activist designers to increase the appeal of serious games more efficiently.

Outline of the Chapters

  1. Introduction

  2. Serious Game Design Principles in Field of Cures

  3. Casual Game Design Principles in Field of Cures

  4. Playtester Interviews

  5. An Activist Framework for Casual Game Design

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