A study of the poverty simulator, SPENT, which resulted in players with increased negative feelings towards poor people instead of empathetic concern, illustrates the difficulties in pursuing attitudinal change among players. Entrenched within our own social beliefs and bubbles, we may not know how to best reach the other side and begin this empathetic exchange. How do we create conditions for empathy? While preaching to the choir reinforces existing beliefs, it doesn't achieve the desired social impact.
I wrote up my reasons why I felt SPENT failed to convince the "unbelievers" and have spent my PlayCrafting NYC classes on Designing Games For Impact exploring the myriad issues around persuasion, emotional connection, and TBA measurement. (The next Designing Games For Impact class will be on May 22 in NYC.) The Games For Change April 2016 report, "Impact With Games: A Fragmented Field," describes the different perspectives even in defining what exactly would be considered a game's "impact".
In my article, "The World According to Edu-Larps: The Analog Learning Games," I wrote about the difficulties of assessing play activities that cross disciplines. The desire for assessment is well-known and is often a factor in determining the value of a project. A game designer can certainly employ analytics to track a player's actions, but the full picture won't emerge without qualitative assessment. In addition, if the desired goal is a form of meta-gaming, with its intrinsic motivation, again, this benefit can't be measured with any on-board assessment tools.
However, through the use of qualitative and quantitative assessment, a game designer may be able to assess and make changes while a pilot project is happening before a complete rollout. Using the iterative process, the designer can refine the game's message. In this case, the art of survey design will be very important in order to erase biases and gain useful information.
Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.