10 Things Public Media Can Learn from Gaming
I had the opportunity to attend the 9th Annual Games for Change Festival in NYC last week, where we demoed an early version of our public education alternative reality game, Ed Zed Omega. More on that project coming soon (sign up for updates via the website to be the first to know).
But for now it seems appropriate to share a few of the best takeaways from the conference, through the lens of public media. Gamers, it turns out, are leading the way in many aspects of storytelling and public engagement. Here’s what we have to learn.
1) Engage more than one part of a viewer/listener’s brain at once. Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, talked about how games are able to engage both the abstract- and concrete-loving parts of our brain at once, which he compared to driving and listening to music. As storytellers, how can we take advantage of viewers’ ability to engage on more than one level?
2) You can’t trick kids into learning. This one’s from Jesse Schell again. In his list of “7 Things Games Are Bad At,” Schell mentioned “tricking kids into learning.” As public media’s educational mission takes us into the game space, it’s important to remember that kids know when something is being stuffed down their throats. Fun is fun, and curiosity is curiosity. Neither can be manufactured, so even an educational game must be compelling on its own merit.
3) Fun consists of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Dr. Scott Rigby, a behavioral scientist and gaming entrepreneur, described the ingredients of “intrinsic motivation” as autonomy (choosing a particular behavior), competence (feeling a sense of forward motion), and relatedness (feeling like you to others), all of which are present in a successful game. In fact, Rigby says that the above needs are what underlie the experience of fun. In other words, if you want your viewers or listeners or social media followers to be having fun, the above ingredients need to be present.
4) Determine your “learning outcome” before you build your story. When Michael Gibson created the journalistic game Inside the Haiti Earthquake, he worked with the Red Cross to determine what they wanted players to take away from the game. Together they decided they wanted players to understand how in a crisis, the roles of journalist, aid worker, and survivors are interdependent. That determined how the whole game was designed, with compelling results.
5) Serendipity can be curated. In one of my favorite discoveries of the entire conference, we heard from the creators of Reality, an actual card-based game created for University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts students. The goal was to challenge the idea many freshman arrive with: that media production is a solo affair. Using beautifully designed cards that listed topics, other students, teachers, and story components (i.e. “a bicycle”), students were encouraged to seek out topics and people they might not have found otherwise. In other words, the mechanics of the game encouraged students to seek out new partnerships and ideas constantly. The result was an astounding amount of original media content created by students, and an experience that many of them referred to as the highlight of their year. Wired has a great rundown of the project here.
6) News games don’t have to take a lot of time or effort. Introducing… Game-o-matic, a Knight News Challenge funded project that allows amateurs (and particularly journalists) to create simple games on the fly. In seconds, you can create a game that demonstrates the relationship between, say, presidential candidates and Super PACs, or global warming and frequent intense storms in the Midwest. It’s still in private beta, but once launched, it’s bound to become a standby tool for journalists. And it’s really easy. Watch that talk here.
7) Games can be good for your health. Check out Jane McGonigal’s game, SuperBetter, which uses game mechanics to help motivate people towards positive health outcomes. Just in McGonigal’s keynote speech at Games for Change, she taught the audience to add 7.5 minutes to their lifetimes. So, she’s not messing around.
8) Epic wins aren’t just for game geeks. The phrase “epic win” comes from the game world–and according to Jane McGonigal, creator of SuperBetter, it refers to “something you’re not sure is possible but you’re going to go for anyway.” What would public media’s epic win look like?
9) Emergent game play is more effective than directed game play. This comes from Nick Fortugno, game designer extraordinaire. Here’s how it translates: If you’re trying to capture someone’s attention and interest, don’t tell them what to do, tell them what to want. Take the game of soccer for instance. Directed game play would mean telling a player to set the ball in the middle of the field to start. Emergent game play means telling players the goal is to get the ball in the opponent’s goal– and they can’t use their hands. What results would be “emergent game play”– in other words, the techniques those players figured out to accomplish the goal. I have a feeling that incorporating “emergent game play” into, say, television documentaries, would fundamentally change the way they are experienced.
10) A game with a message must embody that message in the play. This too comes from Nick Fortugno, who says that a social impact or educational game doesn’t need to be a literal representation of what you want to teach. It just needs to embody the message or the lesson in the play itself. Great examples are The Redistricting Game and Hustlin’ Healthcare.