Online Video Games in Brazilian Public Health Communication

Simão de Vasconcellos Marcelo Soares de Araújo Inesita
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

Based on an ongoing doctoral dissertation, this paper discusses online video games’ potential for public health communication in Brazil. Brazil is a continental country, with wide variance of habits and cultures, presenting great challenges for public health policies. Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS), one of the largest public health systems in the world, serves entire Brazilian population guided by the principles of universality, comprehensiveness and fairness. Brazilian government places great importance in health communication strategies, using both traditional (print, radio, television) and new media (websites, social networks). However, most of this communication is centralized, prescriptive, unidirectional, focusing dissemination of peremptory norms and behaviors, ignoring local contexts and population knowledge. This limits communications’ effectiveness and potential for change, particularly among youngsters, resistant to less interactive and dialogic media. There are already some efforts to occasional use of video games in Brazilian public health; however, we still lack a rigorous analysis of the potential of this medium as a means of public health communication. We suggest that video games can play an important role in reaching such young audiences, combining entertainment and interaction. The primary focus of our research is online video games, specifically MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), where the links created between avatar and player would allow incorporation of in-game learned notions of self-care into players’ offline lives. Such games could enable contextualizing health communication content, since the player experiences the virtual world at his/her own pace and according to individual interests and limitations. MMORPGs also encourage players to act over the environment, emphasizing notions of personal effort and responsibility in maintaining one’s own health. In addition, these games provide immediate feedback and players see clearly results of their actions, which would portray powerful links between cause and effect in everyday behavior and health consequences. Finally, these games allow the emergence of entire online communities with a rich panorama of communication flows, where each player would receive the health content presented by the game system, and also mediate, interpret and re-contextualize this content. In Brazil, this space for socializing and joint creation provided by games thrives today not only in richer homes, but also among lower classes, thanks to the proliferation of Internet cafes in low-income neighborhoods. MMORPGs could provide opportunities for mediation flows more dynamic than traditional media and their use in public health communication may represent a powerful channel for transmission of information, for contact with public and a fruitful environment to foster creativity and social participation of young people. However, appropriate conditions for the design and production of such games are essential to this outcome. In the Brazilian context, games like MMORPGs for health would originate through support of public agencies, as the Brazilian government is the largest investor in this field. This fact introduces special difficulties in the process, such as government’s typical bureaucracy and slowness, which do not match the efficient production of cultural goods required for a fast market such as the games’ one. This further widens the gap between academic thinking and development of products to the public. From this preliminary analysis, we aim to propose some production guidelines to facilitate the creation of such games mixing health content and dialogic characteristics that would enable players to learn and express themselves more freely in the interactive environment: 1) Teams should be multidisciplinary and dedicated to each project, incorporating academic researchers (who will provide data and content about public health) and also representatives from the target audience of the game; 2) tools should be open-source or free, to keep costs down, but also there should be special attention to content’s efficient distribution such as online games accessible through common browsers; 3) the primary attraction of such games should be fun, regardless of any serious content; 4) these games should incorporate features for measuring and analyzing online behavior, which, respecting players’ privacy, could provide developers with useful data for improving the game and at same time provide invaluable information for researchers assessing the effectiveness of health communication portrayed in game; 5) such games should give broad channels for players’ communication and expression, inside and outside the game, from customizing the avatar up to virtual spaces for socialization as chat channels, guilds and clans, with the virtual environment encouraging players’ creative participation through its history and visuals; 6) these games should be in constant refinement, in short production cycles, preferably with many means of communication between public and developers through abundant use of social media like Facebook, Twitter and others. We believe that game projects that incorporate these practices will have a greater chance of success and may represent a major advance in health communication for the Brazilian society.


Game Spaces Speak Volumes: Indexical Storytelling

Fernández-Vara Clara
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

In the problematic exploration of the narrative potential of videogames, one of the clearest aspects that bridge stories and games is space. This paper examines the different devices that videogames have used to incorporate stories through spatial design and what is known as environmental storytelling, focusing on the design elements that make the story directly relevant to gameplay beyond world-building and backstory exposition. These design-related elements are accounted for with the term indexical storytelling. As a refinement of the concept of environmental storytelling, indexical storytelling is a productive game design device, since reading the space of the game and learning about the events that have taken place in it are required to traverse the game successfully. Storytelling becomes a game of story-building, since the player has to piece together the story, or construct a story of her own interaction in the world by leaving a trace.


Casual mobile gameplay – On integrated practices of research, design and play

Hajinejad Nassrin Sheptykin Iaroslav Grüter Barbara Worpenberg Annika Lochwitz Andreas Oswald David Vatterrott Heide-Rose
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

The Mobile Game Lab is a community of players, designers and researchers of Mobile Games currently initiated from the research project Landmarks of Mobile Entertainment. As researchers we find ourselves in a quite complex, frightening and yet pleasurable situation. Our research goal is to develop a dynamic system of landmarks for pedestrian navigation by means of mobile game play. To achieve our goal, we have to play and involve other players, we have to understand the various facets of game design and research, we have to deal with different partners, and integrate their diverse practices. How to focus on such a project in a manner that the different forces involved move in synchrony with mobile game play at the core? Within our paper we introduce the casual mobile game cubodo as a first empirical instance of the lab for developing our approach and spelling out what we call the mobile game play cycle. More than other games, Casual Mobile Games defy traditional definitions of gameplay and related concepts of game design and research. Casual mobile games are deeply intertwined with everyday activities. To understand, deploy and deepen this connection the integration of play, design and research is required. Accordingly we found that cubodo was well suited to form the idea of the lab.


Designing the Designer

Potanin Robin Davies Oliver
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

This paper examines the selection criteria for design roles in the videogame industry and examines the profiles of students undertaking game design studies at NHTV in the expectation of working in the industry. A total of four analyses were conducted: job advertisements for design and production roles; an industry survey; MBTI profiling of a cross-section of IGAD students; and a survey of Design and Production students. In 2010 NHTV University of Applied Sciences initiated the Design and Production (D&P) specialization within its existing International Game Architecture Design (IGAD) bachelor degree. In preparing the specialization the authors analyzed a range of job advertisements for design and production staff in the videogame development industry and profiled its first intake of students according to gender, age, personality (Myers-Brigg (MBTI), Brainhex) and play preferences. Which students were successful in their first year of game studies? How did they compare to programmers and artists? In recent years, design positions in the game industry have increased in direct correlation with the focus on producing sequel titles/levels in established franchises. These titles require more design staff, namely game designers, level designers and narrative designers. The need to critically examine the role and personality of a designer in the game industry is vital to replicating them on a scale that surpasses previous production pipelines where one game designer envisioned the game on a macro level and a handful of level designers implemented gameplay on a micro level. NHTV initiated this first stage of research to gain insight into what the videogame industry needs in terms of design and production skills and personnel and what NHTV, in terms of students and curriculum, is providing. Ultimately the authors hope their research will innovate the game design production pipeline.


Do Players Prefer Integrated User Interfaces? A Qualitative Study of Game UI Design Issues

Ciro Llanos Stein Jørgensen Kristine
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

There has been a trend in recent game user interface design to move system information from windows, icons and overlays into the game-world itself. Along with this trend, the question of whether players prefer interfaces that are integral to the game-world or superimposed onto the screen has become the subject of heated debate in the developer community (Breda 2008, Fagerholt & Lorentzon 2009, Wilson 2006). Those who advocate traditional or superimposed interfaces stress the importance of making the system information explicit and readily visible to the player. The most obvious examples of such interfaces are found in information-heavy genres such as real-time strategy and massively multiplayer online games. The interfaces in these genres focus on functionality, with large portions of screen real-estate devoted to clickable buttons, instrument panels or head-up-displays (HUDs) that are clearly separate from the fictional universe. Proponents of integrated interfaces, on the other hand, express concern that any information channel that is not integrated into the fictional world is a threat to player immersion. These designers strive to convey all system information through features that are part of the game-world, such as character dialogue, animations or particle effects. This trend is most pronounced in games sporting a first-person view. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is an example of a game that takes this philosophy to the extreme. Here animation and dialog replaces even the traditional ammo counter and life bar. Games like Crysis, Metroid Prime: Corruption and Assassin’s Creed take a different approach by grounding the HUD in the fiction by making it a part of the avatar’s high-tech equipment. However, Fagerholt & Lorentzon (2009) present a middle ground philosophy. Whenever possible, they say, system information should be integrated as native to the game-world because it allows the player to reason and make in-game choices based on their knowledge of how things work in the physical world. When this approach is not able to present the appropriate information, however, they emphasize that functionality, clarity and consistency are more important than transparency and world integration. With this approach in mind, this paper investigates how the presentation of system information affects the players’ involvement in the game as system and fictional world. With point of departure in a qualitative study where research interviews with players was carried out, we will present different player attitudes concerning user interface elements. There will be a particular focus on how these elements influence the players’ relationship to the game as fictional world and as a set of game mechanics, and how the players navigate between these two perspectives. We will argue that there is no necessary connection between a transparent interface and involvement, and that in many cases, overlays are preferred due to the clear information they present. The qualitative data material is discussed using Hunicke, Le Blanc & Zubek’s Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics model (2004), as well as Jørgensen’s understanding of gameworlds as different constructs than fictional worlds as they are system-oriented environments (2010, forthcoming). Within this framework we investigate how an understanding of a game’s dynamics and feedback systems relate to the players’ ability to make meaningful choices. We then evaluate how the resulting sense of control affects the player’s engagement with the fictional world. This framework also enables us to discuss user interface design as a balancing act between aesthetics and mechanics, as the choice between transparent or superimposed interface features is a way to represent system information within the game context.


Understanding Player Experience using Sequential Analysis

Soppitt Michael Mcallister Graham
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

Video game user researchers use many methods to help understand the player experience. Most of these methods involve asking the player to describe how they felt either during gameplay (causing interruption), or after the session (biased by self-report). Such methods are not ideal as they required the player to (1) have been aware of the experience, (2) recall it accurately, and (3) communicate these feelings to the moderator. This paper presents a new method which aims to better understand the player experience by using Sequential Analysis. The advantages of using this technique are that it uses unconscious natural behaviour (player’s facial state) as an indicator of internal player experience, and importantly, it shows how the player’s state changes over time.


“He could be a bunny rabbit for all I care!”: Identification with video game characters and arguments for diversity in representation

Shaw Adrienne
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

Little empirical research has investigated how players identify with video game characters. In this paper, I use data from interviews with video game players who are members of marginalized groups, to interrogate the links made between how players identify with video game characters and the importance of representation. I discuss how games’ ludic, bodily and socially interactive aspects result in players’ being self-reflexive rather than identifying with the game characters/avatars; whereas narrative aspects of games help players identify with characters. Different types of games, moreover, shape the types of relationships players have with the onscreen characters. This paper looks at the links between how players identify with different kinds of video game characters, and concludes with the implications this has for arguments about the importance of the representation of marginalized groups in video games.


What Keeps Designers and Players Apart? Thinking How an Online Game World is Shared.

Zabban Vinciane
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

Considering both play and design as world building activities, this paper offers to think the question of the distribution of authority on online game worlds through a sociotechnical perspective, and investigate the paradoxical relationship between designers and players of an online roleplaying game universe. The analysis is grounded on longterm investigations led on the project of an online multiplayer role playing game universe. This material allows to describe and question the complex agencement of mediations which keep apart design and play activities in the building of the game world.


Subversive Game Design for Recursive Learning

Mitgutsch Konstantin Weise Matthew
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

How are players' expectations challenged through subverting common design patterns in digital games? The following paper outlines a game design experiment that combines state of the art learning research with game design. The goal of the game project is to explore how subversive design patterns can be created that force the players to rethink their expectations and interpretations. In the developed game Afterland various paradigm shifts subvert common gameplay patterns in order to encourage players to modify their anticipations. This is designed to provoke a corresponding paradigm shift in the players, forcing them to reassess certain expectations and to adopt new mental models, strategies, and goals other than those commonly found in games of this genre. The paper introduces recursive learning as a theoretical foundation for the game design process and offers constructive insight derived from this particular research-based game design project conducted at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.


The End of the Rainbow: In search of crossing points between organizations and play

Van Bree Jeroen
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

This research report covers an ongoing project that explores the crossing points between organization & management theory and the study of games & playfulness.