Interview with Rusel DeMaria
What is the focus of the Positive Impact Games SIG?
Our primary focus is to promote and inspire games that are both commercially successful and, in various ways, beneficial to players. The player benefit can take many forms.
It can be instructional – the player actually learns something useful through their involvement in the game. For instance, learning how electrical wiring works as part of solving a puzzle or quest, or gaining basic understanding of chemistry, or learning new effective communication techniques.
It can be illuminating – the game models some kind of activity or behaviour that helps players comprehend a different view or human experience than they may have seen before. For instance, role-playing someone from another culture or in circumstances very different from ours, but with real world impact, or witnessing examples of effective problem solving in situations similar to those we encounter in real life.
It can be educational through simulation– the game can simulate an environment that helps us learn more about how the real world works. The simulation can be social, scientific, theoretical, practical, etc.
It can be inspirational – by replicating issues in the real world and allowing players to explore actions or by letting them confront prejudices and preconceptions in different ways, perhaps inspiring them to consider different actions in the real world.
Many games already fulfill these purposes successfully, so we’re not saying such impact does not already exist. In fact, there are many ways that existing games teach, model, simulate and inspire. Studies show many positive effects from game play, including a recent one from the National Research Council. However, we believe many of the games that could be thought of as positive impact games became so, in essence, by accident. We want to develop and disseminate positive impact design principles that can become part of games that did not necessarily begin with positive impact features as part of the initial game design. Think of this as working to make all food more nutritious, rather than specifically creating a separate category of “Health Food”.
The purpose of the Positive Impact Game SIG is to explore, discover and evangelize these types of impact within the context of successful game design and deployment. We recognize that the first requirement of games is fun, and when we encounter people saying, “Won’t doing these things ruin the game, make it boring or pedantic?” we categorically disagree. We have many examples of successful games that have had positive impact, so we know it’s totally possible to teach, model, simulate and inspire in games as a part of great game design. Our specific goal is to inspire and facilitate developers consciously seeking to add positive impact models to their design and development process.
What are the SIG’s current initiatives and activities? We are planning a recruitment effort with a new website presence in January2011. The goal of the website is to be a hub that lets a community of positive minded developers connect, cooperate and inspire each other. We are looking for contributions of all kinds and new members to become part of our community – to discuss and explore how to use game technology to be commercially successful and socially/individually beneficial to our players.
How was 2010 significant to the SIG? The Positive Impact Game SIG is relatively new, and 2010 was a year in which we began our efforts to create a presence and seek additional members. Creating and launching our website was one of our main efforts this year, and we expect 2011to be much more active. Our panels and roundtables at major game conferences have been standing room only, and among the industry leaders who have joined our panels are Will Wright, Bing Gordon, Peter Molyneux, Ed Fries, Lorne Lanning, Chris Taylor, Jason Della Rocca – to name a few.
How does the SIG feel about the future of games? It’s difficult for us to articulate the feelings of all of our diverse members – present and future – about the future of games, but in our membership we all have a sense that there’s great potential going forward. Games are definitely a part of the lives of many millions of people around the world. Some estimates claim that the worldwide game population will reach one billion people in the years to come, so we see great opportunity ahead to advance the individual and social good through games, while continuing to support a profitable and entertaining business model.
Any predictions for 2011? Social games will probably continue to dominate people’s attention during 2011, evolving and becoming more game-like. However, we expect many surprises from unexpected sources. The barriers to entry have not been this low in decades, and games like Angry Birds and Minecraft will continue to make us think in new ways. We will continue to spotlight breakout games that represent our values, and hopefully create new ones through our membership.
What are your hopes for the SIG in the future? We hope to increase awareness about the possibilities and the realities of games and their positive potential. This includes outreach to the general public and policymakers as well as to members of the game industry as a whole. Already we have had volunteers create localized versions of our site in French and Spanish. We also want to ask people to share their information and data on the subject of assessments and measurements of positive effects from games. Any articles, books, first-hand accounts, scientific studies… all are of interest. Part of our plan is also to develop a library of design suggestions and guidelines that can take almost any game and provide it with a positive impact layer… much in the way that Easter Eggs can be added to an existing game. We believe positive impact experiences and design elements can form a layer of design in a similar way, working in concert with the primary game design and play mechanic. Creating more ways to accomplish these ends is an ongoing challenge for us.
Is there anything the greater IGDA chapter community should know about the Positive Impact SIG? Although it sometimes seems counterintuitive, the concept of positive impact in games is supported by a great array of top professionals and designers in the game industry. Our goal is to promote both great games and a healthy society, which we believe are mutually inclusive goals.