Socially Adaptable Games

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In this paper we describe the concept of socially adaptable games, computer games that are intentionally designed to function in and adapt to changing social environments during gameplay. Principles of social adaptability are described as well as how it relates to concepts such as social weight, seamfulness and interruptability. Our ongoing design work for exploring various solutions to support social adaptability is also detailed. The motivation for the work is grounded in the observation that the full potential of mobile and pervasive computer games will not be possible until these games are possible to coexist with complex and changing social environments. Introduction of technology is usually disruptive, at least initially, and especially so in a social environment where not all people use the technology. To gain understanding about how mobile and pervasive computer games can overcome these challenges we have taken the approach of understanding how technology can augment games that are already perceived as socially adaptable without ruining that characteristic. By choosing to look at board games, which arguably are already integrated to function in social environments, we believe that we can learn requirements for using technology to support and maintain socially adaptability. This technology knowledge can then be transferred to mobile and pervasive computer games so that the category of games that can be classified as being socially adaptability can be expanded to include the types of games as well. We also choose to look upon how different social relationships affect each other, extra-game and intra-game, in order to understand how groups form and disperse in and around a game. To support design work for socially adaptable games we have developed a set of principles. Besides describing them in relation to existing concepts we also describe various forms of social adaptability a game can have. We have done so in three ways. The first way is through linking the social adaptability to how a game design can support different types of social interaction and thereby allowing transitions between different activities and different user groups. We have done this by investigating how a game design can explicitly define social roles by linking these to the traditional functional roles. Besides allowing social grouping to form, this can be used to support players who want to take different social roles each time they play the game or let players change their social roles during gameplay. By linking these two types of roles, the issue of social adaptability can be viewed as an integral part of the game design. Also, the game design can be modeled to handle both internal and external events, from a gameplay perspective, that affects the social interaction within the game. The second way is by exploring how a game design can allow for several players to share the social experience of playing a game together but at the same time giving each player an orthogonal, or at least very different, gameplay experience. The gameplay experience could differentiate in many ways, for example through changing difficulty or complexity. This opens the gaming field for players with otherwise incompatible gameplay preferences and thereby gives them a common social playing ground. In this way, the game design can bridge the age and gender gap instead of focusing on a single type of gameplay. The third way is linked to Huizinga’s model of the magic circle. In and around the magic circle we have identified seven different types of change in the social environment from the game design perspective. Through describing the different technical and game design requirements needed for each of the transitions we present a generic way to approach game design for games that are to be socially adaptable. By considering the seven different types of change, a game designer can in a structured fashion decide what aspects of changes in the social environment that the game design should be able to handle and support.
Contact: Daniel Eriksson, The Interactive Institute,
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