My Cotton Picking Life used in phD study!

We’re honoured that Dr. Ruud Jacobs, in his phD on his study of persuasive games, chose a GameTheNews project as part of the basis for his studies. You can read his cover below, and check out the project here.

“Playing to Win Over: Validating Persuasive Games is a dissertation written by Ruud Jacobs as part of a multidisciplinary Dutch research project on the context, design, and effects of persuasive games. Defining persuasive games as any kind of game that is designed to change the opinions, beliefs, or attitudes of those who play it, Playing to Win Over describes six investigations into whether these games actually work as intended.
As research is always based on a theory, Playing to Win Over offers up the Player-Oriented Persuasive Game Elaboration model (or POPGEm). In this model, game-based persuasion is presented as a process that relies on more than ‘just’ the game itself. The player and the context in which a game is played both affect whether it can actually persuade players. The player needs to have the right kind of mind-set, and should have a certain level of knowledge about the issue at hand, while the context should allow the player to consider the message. If the game is well-designed and the player is willing, the player forms an idea of the game’s message. Next, they start thinking on its arguments (a process called elaboration), which could ultimately lead them to change their attitudes after playing. Their new outlook could also cause them to behave differently, for instance by donating to charity or changing their eating habits.

Although most persuasive games work this way, they cover a staggering variety of topics. Chapter 3 describes just some of these topics, discussing games that deal with poverty, lived experiences, and violence in different ways. This chapter also shows that every persuasive game is unique. By dividing the mechanism through which games persuade into 11 dimensions based on previous work by Teresa de la Hera and Ian Bogost, this chapter concludes that though many browser-based persuasive games have a message embedded in the way the game itself is played, they all emphasize different design elements to present this message. Game designers show great ingenuity in how they do this despite how compact and brief persuasive games usually are.

In the later chapters, the focus moves to the players of persuasive games. Taking an in-depth look at who would choose to play a game that is overtly trying to change attitudes, chapter 4 discusses so-called ‘natural players’. The game Tweet, Chat, Like & Drive, about the dangers of texting and driving, was played – and enjoyed – more by people who did not have a driver’s licence than its target audience of motorists. Chapter 5 is about the effects of the game My Cotton Picking Life (by Game The News) on its players. The game is compared to a YouTube clip about cotton picking practices in Uzbekistan. Although both types of media changed the way people think about the practice in general, the game gave players a stronger sense that the work was hard, endless, and inescapable, even though the average playing time was just two minutes.
With the evidence that games can affect their players more than other media, chapters 6 and 7 investigated if design elements could influence this impact. The non-violent games about relationship abuse that were studied in chapter 6 were selected to differ on key aspects. Power & Control embedded its message in gameplay behaviors of approaching and avoiding abusers, while Another Chance had a strong narrative driving its persuasion. Surprisingly, the games proved equally effective at changing players’ minds about how acceptable abusive behaviors are. Chapter 7 returns to My Cotton Picking Life to tease apart how it worked. By changing one small element in the gameplay – while keeping the text and presentation exactly the same – the game’s persuasive influence on how hard it is to pick cotton was halved. This proves that gameplay by itself can persuade players, which has not been studied before. Chapter 8 disproves another long-standing truism: games do not need to be ‘fun’ in the traditional sense. They can give players a sense of personal growth from learning something new, or make them feel emotions that are deeper than joy. Persuasive games should not be designed to be fun first and foremost, but to provide an interesting experience with strong and smart arguments.

Playing to Win Over is an early overview of how games persuade. More research is needed to prove which psychological processes allow games to change attitudes, and to determine how game-based persuasion differs from other ways to communicate. Chapter 9 shows how the previously discussed studies change the model proposed at the start of the dissertation, and what types of investigation are still necessary before persuasive games are validated as a unique form of persuasion.”

If you’d like to see more from Dr. Jacobs, you can follow him on Twitter @RuudXIV