New Design Methods for Activist Gaming

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Significant work in the IT, philosophy, and communications communities has focused on designing systems that support human values, but this work has not yet been widely applied to game design. Designers and engineers have become increasingly aware of ways in which the artifacts they create can embody political, social, and ethical values, but there are few practical methodologies for a game designer to draw from when producing games which systematically incorporate values in the design process. Not unexpectedly, many game designers struggle to find a balance between their own values, those of users and other stakeholders, and those of the surrounding culture. In this paper, we present the RAPUNSEL project as a prime example and case study of design in a values-rich context and describe our efforts toward navigating the complexities this entails. In RAPUNSEL, a three-year, NSF-funded project, a team of computer scientists, interaction designers, and social psychologists were tasked with the collaborative creation of a networked game environment to teach programming to middle-school girls. Although it is a large project with multiple interlinked components (e.g. engineering, pedagogy, interface, graphics, networking, etc.), challenging questions about values emerged in several key phases. It was therefore, essential to the quality of the project as a whole to iteratively address questions concerning values and to systematically implement our answers in the design. Drawing on a number of existing approaches and analytic frameworks we demonstrate the range of values that we considered over the project’s lifecycle. We present initial steps toward the development of a systematic methodology for discovery, analysis, and integration of values in technology design in the hope that others may both benefit from and build upon this work. Additionally we present a means for dynamically categorizing values and present specific examples of values tradeoffs we encountered in the game design process and their subsequent resolutions.
Contact: mary flanagan, hunter college nyc,
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