Meaningful Play 2008, Day 2

The day begins with Play-Doh.

The first keynote of the second day, All Play Is Meaningful, was given by Leigh Anne Cappello, a “Play Futurist” and Vice President at Hasbro (who own both Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley and, hence, have a dominant share of the US board game market). All of the tables had packages of Play-Doh, with which we were instructed to play; however, I opted out when the sound of opening containers made it harder for me to hear her. She said that their slogan is “Inspiring the Human Need to Play” (although I could find no references) and described fun well with a couple of dozen discrete words. Then the talk distilled the essence of play to being “appealing“, “healing“, and “revealing“.

What our keynote speaker (and futurist) did not say, however, is anything about the future. When asked directly, she explained that Hasbro would not allow her to comment. Having run into this litigious company in the past, I was not the least bit surprised by this. I will note that overzealous lawyers were never mentioned or included in any part of “fun”. Nevertheless, the talk was worthwhile, and it pointed me to the quote at the end of this blog entry and also alerted me to the fact that the United Nations (in Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child), have recognized “the right of the child … to engage in play and recreational activities.”

During the next period, I attended a panel entitled, Suitable for all ages: Game design for the 60+ demographic. (I am not going to name all of the 13 presenters.) The session had several rapid-fire talks about studies and provided loads of detailed numbers, including:

  • 46% of people over 50 play games daily, and 62% play at least 5 times per week;
  • seniors preferred the PC, and 90% would not change platform;
  • more than 60% of seniors prefer card games (including solitaire);
  • in general, seniors enjoy games puzzle elements of games and are loyal to their current software;
  • seniors seem to prefer mouse over keyboard, ideally using only one button.

A member of the audience pointed out that the entire panel consisted of European researchers and questioned whether or not the findings could be extended to American senior citizens. Of course, in the current global marketplace, the study participants are a good portion of our audience.

The next session I attended was Making an Impact: Serious Issues in Non-Serious Games, given by Monica Evans (University of Texas at Dallas). This talk was basically an overview of some serious games and then a discussion of how serious topics were handled in three commercial games: Ratchet and Clank, Sim City Societies, and Beyond Good and Evil. One highlight of the talk was a pointer to an experimental game, Execution, which one can only play once (without cheating) and takes very little time. Give it a shot!

After that, I participated in the only roundtable of the conference, When Will Games Grow Up?: Handling Adult Topics In Video Games, moderated by author Damon Brown. I found the topic fascinating, especially given that I was one of the oldest people in the room, and the prevailing attitude among the mostly young and single was different than mine (even though I am closer to the median player demographic). Nobody, obviously, was offended by the idea of sex in games, but some felt that it did not provide desired escapism, failing to realize that not everybody may have such opportunities in the real world. This was a good session.

The closing keynote for the second day was Serious Gaming: Assumptions and Realities, given by Ute Ritterfeld (VU University Amsterdam). The talk discussed a three-part study, the first part being about the kind of serious games that are being made, the second about what qualities make a game succeed with game reviewers, and the third an experiment with applying the assumptions to actual serious games. This talk contained lots of interesting information.

In the first part of the study, 612 serious games (every one the researchers could find in May 2007) were examined, and it was found that more than half were academic, with social change being the second largest group. The largest target age group was middle and high school students, followed by elementary level, then (combined) college/adult/senior, and finally pre-school. Again, unfortunately, more than half of all the serious games of the time were just for practicing skills.

The second part of the study looked at game reviews and categorized the positives and negatives leading toward an overall score. These game characteristics were grouped into five categories (highlighted below) and when analyzed, it was found that there were three basic thresholds. An acceptable game (threshold 1) succeeded in the areas of technical capacity and game design. A good game (threshold 2) passed threshold 1 and, additionally, succeeded with aesthetics, visual and acoustic. For a game to be great (threshold 3), it had to pass both previous thresholds and also succeed in the final two areas of social experience and storyline (“narrativity and character development” is too long). Few games reached the final threshold.

The final part of the study took a playable serious game (for learning biology/human physiology) and did controlled studies of different levels of interactivity, including the full gameplay experience, watching a video replay of the game, limited interactivity, hypertext/graphical information, and straight text. The gist of the results were that the more interactivity involved, the better the learning and retention. The one deviation from this pattern was that the learning between full gameplay and replay only (sans control) were comparable, but followup showed that the latter group, without being able to directly interact with the game, did not retain the information as well. Conclusion: Interactive education can work.

Shortly after the second keynote, a Happy Hour Gathering was held at a local brew pub (Harper’s) where pizza and beer were supplied. I had some great conversations with several local (Michigan and its neighboring Canadian province, Ontario) attendees. I talked more than I either ate or drank, but my mind was full of ideas and my spirit was overflowing when I left (though my throat was a little sore).

Finally, I attended a local book reading and signing with Damon Brown (the roundtable moderator), who is promoting his new book, Pong & Porn: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and Other Sexy Game
s Changed Our Culture
. The reading was followed by a discussion that dovetailed nicely with the earlier roundtable, and I also learned from chatting with him in both venues that he attended high school in Lansing and (although he is younger) we share some common area references. I was too tired to read beyond “Foreplay” (the forward), but I plan to post a review later.

This was a busy day from start to finish (as the length of this post attests), so I will just leave you with the promised quote:

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
— Plato

One thought on “Meaningful Play 2008, Day 2

  1. Pingback: Meaningful Play 2010, Day 3 » Gamecraft

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