Impact with Games — A Fragmented Field
This is the first report in a series on game “impact types.” We begin with the problem. Our field needs a better way to talk about impact — a deeper conversation that is more fundamentally inclusive and multi-disciplinary, yet still evidence-based. This report is a first step, revealing the basic fragmentation and documenting its harm.
Not just beginners, but our best journals and public awards can inadvertently overlook full categories of impact, and disagree on what evidence looks like. Creativity is too easily and unhealthily pitted against impact design. Even the language of “double-blind trials” can ironically blind our field to certain types of impact.
Success may require new umbrella language to enable meaningful comparison and improve coherence and efficacy — especially across stakeholders. Power may need to be shared, rather than giving preference to either researchers or designers.
The primary contribution of this first report is to make five basic claims about how the field is currently fragmented, establishing a foundation for more systematic solutions. Along the way we reveal why we are talking past one another, in public and private. Our second report (forthcoming) will dive deeper into proactive solutions, as hinted in the pages that follow.
** NEW CHAPTER (4/2016) ** Based on feedback from our launch last year, chapter 2 tackles “Countering Four Risky Assumptions” (PDF, this chapter only, 1.2mb). Each assumption is sneaky, and seems to aggravate the field fragmentation. Infographic art is from the amazing Raanan Gabriel.
Preview: five manifestations of fragmentation
The report asserts we can improve the coherence of our field by recognizing and targeting fragmentation in five forms:
1. Impact is defined too narrowly: When impact is defined too narrowly, some games are dismissed for the wrong reasons and their impact is overlooked.
2. Key terms are politicized: When stakeholders use core terms (like ‘game’ and ‘assessment’) polemically, productive debate often breaks down as the community becomes polarized.
3. Evaluation methods are inflexible: When researchers have just one gold standard for evaluating games, honest inquiry into complex games is undermined and design becomes more siloed and rigid.
4. Applicants are confused by calls for funding and awards: When organizations advertise a call for proposals, new applicants are often confused about the categories and debate is harmed by a premature (and unintended) sense of consensus.
5. Typologies are deep but not connected: When experts summarize the field they must draw boundaries, but consumers of research need ways to connect various frameworks, literature reviews and typologies.
Sound bleak? Stay with us. We are pushing for diagnosis in order to get at solutions (mostly in the next report!).
The following organizations have committed to helping spread this conversation in some form, including by hosting conversations around the report, by distributing the report, and/or by providing critical guidance to help refine the report. Of course, they are not responsible for any errors or content in the report itself.
- American University Game Lab and Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI)
- ASU Center for Games and Impact
- Center for Digital Games Research at UC Santa Barbara
- The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
- Digital Media & Learning Research Hub
- E-Line Media
- Engagement Game Lab (EGL) at Emerson College
- ETC Press
- Game Innovation Lab (GIL) at the University of Southern California
- Game Innovation Lab at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering
- Games for Change and Games for Change Europe
- Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA)
- The Joan Ganz Cooney Center
- Media Impact Project at USC
- Michael Cohen Group
- Network Impact
- PETLab at Parsons, The New School for Design
- Schell Games
- Serious Games Initiative at the Wilson Center
- Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Call for Ideas
Have ideas for this report? Do you lead an organization that wants to help host this conversation?
This draft is open for comments! Impact depends on getting the story right, and giving credit to all the intense work that has come before. Please contact us.
Citation and Licensing
Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
Stokes, B., O’Shea, G., Walden, N., Nasso, F., Mariutto, G., Hill, A., & Burak, A. (2016). Impact with Games: A Fragmented Field. Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press. Retrieved from http://gameimpact.net/reports/