Games as Communication: A Guest Lecture!

Featured image is Gordon, W. J. (1907). Round about the North Pole.

Max and I recently had the opportunity to talk to Barnard students in Stephanie Pfirman’s Exploring the Poles first year seminar about how games can be used as tools for effective communication.

To start things off, Max introduced Buffalo, and the students played for ten minutes. From our vantage point, it looked like there was fierce competition.

After things settled back down, we introduced Tiltfactor and how we make and study games designed to foster social change. Max explained Pox and all of the accompanying studies and lessons learned. A key takeaway for the students at this point was that the “mechanism is the message” in games. Once they were aware of what we do, we asked them to think about Buffalo, which they correctly hypothesized was designed to reduce prejudice. We took them through the Buffalo studies and how we went about making sure that Buffalo was having its intended effect.

At this point, the students had a pretty good handle on what we meant by games as communication tools, so we wanted to hear from them about their ideas. They split into three groups and each group had to develop a pitch for a game designed to increase the number of women in leadership positions. Max guided them through the game design questions they should consider in their pitch, and I guided them through the research design questions to consider.

Each group then presented not only the game but also how the game would be rigorously studied to examine whether it would produce its intended effect. The diversity of games presented was awesome to hear! One group pitched a game for 3-6 year olds about gender roles and climbing a leadership ladder. The second group proposed a game that would teach players about the importance of including individuals with diverse sets of skills in work groups. The last group described a game that would allow players to understand the impact of discrimination on potential leaders. The groups proposed a range of different types of studies from ones that examine implicit biases to ones that ask individuals to make hiring decisions to test the efficacy of the game. Overall, the ideas were exciting and interesting and we had a great time talking to the students about their pitches.

We wrapped up our time with the students by explaining what game designers and social psychologists do and answering their remaining questions about creating games for social change.

A big thanks to Stephanie and Barnard for having us!