We need games that are like gummy bear vitamins. Games that you would play regardless of the beneficial effects. I’ve ranted about this a few times before (e.g., here and here), but I think so many social scientists are caught up with theory-testing that they forget the affordances of the media. I’ve seen games that encourage civic participation, increase awareness of health, etc. that may be very effective if people are forced to play them, but no one (other than those highly interested in civic participation) would play them if they were given a choice (I’m not adding links as not to offend those game designers)
These games aren’t bad- they’re just the first step. The second step is to incorporate that into a game that is actually enjoyable and fun. What better way to learn trajectory and velocity than an Angry Birds-type game? What better way to raise awareness about making an environmentally-friendly home than National Geographic’s Plan It Green? Why is Just Dance better than Wii Fit if you want someone who hates exercising to exercise? Because, most likely, this individual will play Just Dance again but not Wii Fit.
In order to get someone who would otherwise not engage in behavior A to engage in behavior A, we have to divert their attention to behavior B, which is pleasurable and produces the same outcome as behavior A. This is the key argument of my Expectation Diversion Model. (It’s a very no-duh model, but all social science is very no-duh.) Why? because if we want an individual to engage in a behavior long enough before it becomes a habit, we have to take into consideration that different parts of the brain are involved in determining why people engage in a behavior. If there is no intrinsic motivation, there has to be extrinsic motivation in the form of reinforcers. From decades of research on reinforcement, we know that we either have to 1) give positive factors or 2) take away negative factors. In the case of exercising, we can’t take away negative factors, so we have to add positive factors. That can achieved by adding positive reinforcers that just change the context of how the behavior is achieved.
This is why games are such a good media to facilitate this diversion. Mary Poppins knew exactly how make Jane and Michael tidy up the nursery room; the “magic” was the diversion.
In this vein, I also responded to a post on Henry Jenkins’ website,
For me, the question is not whether serious games are effective (numerous studies have shown that they are) but how we can get people who would otherwise not play serious games to play them. One of the problems of applying self determination theory into game design is that it self-selects for the type of person who would play. Not that this is bad, but we should also be trying to design “good” games for people who would play the games not because they’re good, but because they are fun, and then getting the benefit from the good content. It’s like vitamins for kids. The ones I used to take when I was young were chewable and cherry-flavored but I hated them and had to be forced by my parents.