However this Spring I am not getting much soil turning done. Instead seeds planted years or semesters ago are fruiting and I am busy—and not in Vermont.
Tonight I am learning from one of those seeds planted years ago! As I write I am at the preliminary session to the Games for Health conference sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. With UVM researcher Peter Bingham we are receiving a grant to collaboratively produce a rehabilitation game. Peter and I began discussing some sort of collaboration when I started the game degree program at Champlain four years ago!
The opening dinner keynote, Nicole Lazzaro, squarely approached the question I've been examining - what are the game mechanics that support social impact games or games for learning!! I've read her work before but in-person she presents in an approachable manner. Her research defined the "four fun keys" or patterns of player's emotional response to game mechanics. Mechanics drive player choice eliciting an emotional response. Her categories are: "hard fun or fiero"- produced at its most basic by mastering a difficult challenge; "easy fun or curiosity" such that it produces imagination; "serious fun or relaxation" such as rhythm, practice, learning; and finally "people fun or amusement" that she defined as having the most complex drivers.
Listening to her I was tying it all into how to use social networks to expand the outreach. In that case a social game strategy might have the most relevance to a project we have on the board. However fiero and serious fun might also be more appropriate to the intended audience. Nicole also stated that fun games often elicit 3 or more of these. A mix in the more detailed components are what she has seen lead to the most highly successfully games. She believes that the key component is matching the emotion to the mechanics. An example she gave was that if a game put one in a "fight or flight" state then attack makes sense. For instance if you are playing Halo and being shot at best strategy is to shoot back. However if it is critical thinking that you want to build then you must encourage the state of mind best suited for that. The example she gave here was of Katamari Damancy. The game mood seems relaxing...you are collecting amusing items. In reality much complex puzzle solving is taking place to enable the player to collect the objects. Now I know why I like Katamari so much—it is an example of a "serious fun or relaxing" game—much like gardening is for me!