I’m excited to share Impact with Games, a new project to get at the big picture. With this report series, we seek better ways to describe and define the impact of increasingly diverse games — for funders, designers and makers, and cause-driven organizations. We feel we could better connect designers and researchers, help introduce more transparent guidelines for some funding opportunities, and agree together on how to measure and define success.
G4C seems like an ideal place — across many networks and disciplines — to host this broad conversation. We would like to begin with our first draft report, A Fragmented Field. We’re not only reviewing existing literature and interviewing industry experts, but most importantly, we’d like to ask you for feedback that will inform our next steps and a more inclusive framework.
Who are we?
The collective “we” of the project includes G4C, an advisory board (chaired by Benjamin Stokes alongside game researchers and designers Tracy Fullerton, Constance Steinkuehler, and Debra Lieberman), with researchers at the Michael Cohen Group led by Gerad O’Shea. For more, see our full team and discussion collaborators.
We are motivated — and troubled — by a confluence of factors. There are increasing demands to “prove” that games have impact, and we predict these will only grow. Inconsistent impact claims are marginalizing some games and some game developers. Too many great developers and researchers are mistaking their own tools with being “the only tools” or mistaking the impact they measure with being “the best kind of impact.” Among the discord, some game developers have begun to reject impact claims entirely.
We fear the gulf between research and practice is growing as silos begin to deepen. We are missing a shared language of impact — many terms are unwittingly divisive, and their power elevates one kind of game while undermining another. All sides must come together: If developers refuse to model impact, or if researchers undermine the beauty and art of games, we will not succeed as a field.
In our research and interviews, we found that it’s not just beginners, but our leading journals and game awards often overlook entire categories of impact inadvertently. For example, we tend to focus on gains for individuals, rather than measuring community-level change. We often disagree on what counts as evidence — and what constitutes success.
This report makes five basic claims about fragmentation that we need to address as a field, specifically:
- Impact is defined too narrowly: When impact is defined too narrowly, some games are dismissed for the wrong reasons, and their impact is overlooked.
- Key terms are politicized: When stakeholders use core terms (like “game” and “assessment”) polemically, productive debate often breaks down as the community becomes polarized.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
At the 2015 Games for Change Festival, Impact With Games advisory board chair Benjamin Stokes introduced the report at the Optimizing for Impact and Creativity panel.
Want to help?
Following our soft launch, we want to hear from you and your colleagues in the community.
Read the full draft report here and send us your thoughts.
Not sure where to start? We’d love to hear your responses to any of these questions:
- Do you agree that our field risks defining “impact” too narrowly? What costs have you seen to this?
- Is there a “secondary impact” (see page 16 of the report) to your game from another sector?
- What sectors could learn from each other — including health, education and social movement organizing?
- Have you witnessed debates about what makes a legitimate “game” or whether all games must be “evidence-based”? If so, how has it affected you?
- Where have you seen “healthy debate” that avoids polarization, but still talks deeply about quality and impact? Any tips for the field on how to do this?
- Do you have favorite calls for funding or awards that were open-minded yet still pointed applicants to emerging research in the field? Is this even possible?
We look forward to hearing from you! Please pass this along if you know of someone who should be weighing in on the draft report.
Thanks so much,
Games for Change president,
on behalf of the Impact With Games team