April this year, GamesForChange.com announced a game design competition. The goal was to provide a game design document about a game that “will motivate teens to explore sexuality and give them a safe environment to experiment with and understand what behaviors are healthy”. Unfortunately I did not win, however, I will briefly present my concept. You can also check out the three finalists, which presented their concepts on the Games for Change Festival 2013 in New York City.
Bag it up!
In this design concept the intended learning effect is transferred via game elements on a meta-level while the core game loop relies on a proven game mechanic. The game is designed to be skill-based and casual (which is believed to be appropriate for the majority of the target audience) but provide also long-term fun through a constantly increasing progression and difficulty.
The core game loop is similar to that of the games ‘Zuma Deluxe’ or ‘Zuma Blitz’: The player shoots orbs, in this case condoms, of a certain color on other orbs or into series of orbs, in this case “people” (metaphorically – see the mockup below). The goal is to make series of at least 3 color-alike orbs to match them and make them disappear. More orbs are coming from the off-screen, trying to push the existent towards the middle of the screen. The player has to react under time pressure or else the orbs reach the middle (base) which would result in a fail. This game loop has proven to be fun and engaging and to “hook” the player. This is crucial because no matter how smart a game design might be – if it’s no fun for the player, he/she will stop playing quickly, making any intended learning effects ineffective.
Players collect points in each level, which is displayed on a highscore afterwards. The highscore is a social feature which is believed to push the virality of this game and increase engagement & retention through direct PvP competition. A progression bar is indicating the level of completion for the current level. This immediate feedback delivers a sense of control and enhances player anticipation and excitement (“I’m almost there…”). Feedback when completing a level must be really juicy to provide great psychological rewards, making the player feel good and increase the level of fun. Good Example for this kind of feedback is ‘Peggle Deluxe’. Rewarding the player also strengthens positive learning behavior as intended, which is using condoms. By not using condoms, players get punished with negative orbs, making the game more difficult (or blocking it). These special orbs are STD orbs and Baby orbs, which hinder other orbs from being matched and disappear. Additional educating information and links will be provided in-game.
This game is creating a strong association between using condoms (safe sex) and winning. Loosing on the other hand is a result of the negative consequences of not using condoms, having to face the consequences of STD’s and pregnancy. The game is intentionally designed simple because the first and most important step is to make our target audience play the game (voluntarily!) which can be only achieved when it is fun. Through the level-end-screens players will be given more information on the topic, educated bit by bit as well as forwarded to appropriate information sites.
Repetitive play through the engaging core game loop and the social features will (1) eliminate any reservations and fears of confrontation with the topic sex and sexual education, (2) establish positive associations with using healthy behaviors and (3) forward players to the appropriate information sites while they are in the right mind-set (being low-resistant to learning on this topic). A story around the game levels can be conveyed by creating game characters who inform and educate the player about sexuality and healthy behavior.