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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Baldoni

Level Up Your Social Good Strategy

Originally published on on June 26, 2018.


It’s no secret that the gaming industry is one of the most pervasive players in the media today. Video games constitute a $100 billion industry, and two-thirds of American households regularly play video games on a console, smartphone, or computer. Obviously, games wield a lot of power, and it’s easy to see why—by nature, they’re engaging, fun, and easy to understand.

This week, the Ad Council invited four panelists from the game design industry with diverse backgrounds to come in and talk about the power that game design has, and gain some insight into how we can harness that power for social good. The panel was filled with fantastic learnings, and we’ve condensed them for you into five key takeaways. 1. Avoid chocolate covered broccoli In the educational game design world, there’s a phrase that gets tossed around - “chocolate covered broccoli.” As the name suggests, it refers to the practice of manipulating people into engaging with unpleasant things by not-so-subtly hiding them beneath a layer of something good. In game design, this phrase is used when you need to teach a tough topic like math by sneaking it into something, like a misleadingly named quiz. This tactic is transparent to everyone, and fun for no one. Avoid this by taking your message and embedding it well—don’t try to force it into a format that just doesn’t fit. Panelist Marguerite Dibble, founder and CEO of Game Theory phrased it best, “Using games to solve problems isn’t a way to manipulate people into doing things they don’t want to do, it’s a way to frame learning in a way that makes it enjoyable.” 2. Keep and foster an empathetic perspective

For Marguerite, the most important person in the game design process is the user, because they’re the ones who will be living with the experience. She knows the game is for their needs rather than hers, and it needs to be something they’re comfortable with. When designing content for other people, it is not enough for you and your team to be satisfied with the result. No matter what you create, it is essential that you take the perspective of your audience, rather than the perspective of a marketing professional. You may be able to create a sleek, stunning design—but if your user can’t use it, it hasn’t done its job. You should also encourage your users to approach your content from an empathetic perspective. In the game world, this means utilizing role-playing strategies, or new tech like VR to fully immerse users in a new perspective. No matter what format your content is in, give your users a chance to step into someone else’s shoes. 3. Design for Different Voices You probably have a target audience in mind when you’re creating something—but no matter how much you’ve narrowed it down, there’s still going to be diversity in the way people perceive and use your content. People within your target audience are coming from different backgrounds and ability levels, so spend some time making sure your concept is accessible for a variety of people. When designing her card game 'The Ultimate Clapback', panelist Mary Martha Ford-Dieng realized that her audience—comprised of people 18 and up who love to throw shade—was split into two camps. There was a sizable group who insisted there shouldn’t be swear words in the game, while a just as vocal opposition felt that the game just wouldn’t be complete without them. The solution? Keep the original game cuss-free, and add an expansion pack for those with fouler mouths. Adding some additional measures to make your design more approachable to different facets of your audience doesn’t take much—just a little innovation.

4. Don't try to be everything to everyone That being said, no one can design something that satisfies every voice out there. In social good marketing especially, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting one project to help everyone under the sun—but that obviously isn’t possible. Make sure your goal is very clear, and that your experience reflects it. Panelist Greg Trefry, co-founder of studio Gigantic Mechanic discussed his experience in creating an interactive game for the MoMA—millions of people visit the museum each year, and there was no way he could make one game to cater to everyone’s tastes. Instead, he designed a game around a clear set of goals and tangible personas. Targeting people of a specific, narrowed down demographic might reach a smaller audience, but it will result in greater impact.  5. Prototype fast, fail hard Our panelists were no strangers to failure. Before they could even put out a single gaming experience, each of them made dozens upon dozens of prototypes, attempting to create games that people would actually play. Game designer and NYU professor Matt Parker knows that journey as well as anyone. He said once you get started on your design journey, “You have no idea how many things you’re going to be wrong about.” His advice? Don’t get too stuck on the planning phases. “You can survey as many people as possible and do as much research as you want, but there is no substitute for playtesting and constantly iterating.”

Pro tip—your prototypes don’t need to be fancy. At all. When Mary Martha first came up with her idea for The Ultimate Clapback, the first few versions were made of printer paper and trading card protectors. Don’t be afraid of keeping it simple, and don’t be afraid of failing. We at the Ad Council love video games—we even have a TV dedicated to console gaming on the eighth floor of our New York office. And we’re no strangers to using games in our campaigns, but we know that the power of video games can be used even outside of the digital realm. The next time you’re working on a project, don’t be afraid to get creative—and game on!    

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