Games that Bind: Community Through Games

9 11 2010

We’ve often heard that games give us a reason to socialize, but is there more to it than that?  As society gains more in complexity, are we also dealing with shifts in our cultural dynamics that have us looking for social contact in alternate ways?

Andrew Hiscock from Bitmob wrote an interesting post from a Anthropological, Sociological and Psychological perspective on possible reasons why we game today:

The problem is that…society has a staggering complexity. We have evolutionary defined social circles existing in a society that may not allow for the full expression of cultural needs to be expressed within the “close” group and the “regional” group. There is poor organization, no set hierarchy, and no loosely defined roles. Sure, these are taken care of in society at large, but not in the people we can call part of our sphere. This has set up a sociological conundrum in which modern man find themself.

Comparing the social circles of today and the social circles of early man, we can find a variety of differences:

1. There is a lack of shared group problem solving that leads to solutions to direct and clearly defined problems.

2. There are no clearly defined roles within a set hierarchy.

3. Any member can adopt any role they wish, without clear benefit to the group at large.

4.  Boundaries of intergroup activity are not clearly defined

We can see these points articulated in modern video games: the rise of social (either online or communal) gaming; the development of role-based games (World of Warcraft, Battlefield, and MAG all come to mind); specific scoring systems associated with roles within a video game; and video game fans’ self-identifiers (hardcore vs. casual, Sony vs. Microsoft).

(Source: Why we Game? Bitmob)

In past Agrarian societies, where agriculture and farming were the primary means of support, our strongest social circles had to be family and local communities.  Our roles in these communities were clearly defined.  The roles helped focus our abilities, were guided by necessities for survival, and also set an expectation to a person’s contribution in their community.  However, our modern societies have gifted us with an increased independence, and today’s communication with extended family is often reduced to exchanging Christmas cards or visits at the occasional birthday parties. Without these past requirements for interaction, are we looking for reasons to communicate with our extended social circles and can games fulfill these needs?

Many game-based events have been used in the past as reasons to focus and converge community spirit.  For example, the town of Tarragona , in Spain’s Catalonia region has hosted a traditional game of Human Pyramid building since the 18th century.  Teams comprised of families and friends converge every 2 years to compete in this popular contest called the Concurs de castells, to build the tallest human pyramids.  The games encourage participation from everyone: the more people who take part, the stronger and more complex the pyramids.  It is an interesting event that builds a strong community spirit.  Interdependence is key in the design of the game, as every participant relies on the other to fulfill his/her role, or the pyramid collapses.  Most importantly, what drives people to this event is not just winning the contest, but rather the experience of everyone working together in order to succeed: a common goal.

This short video (approx 4 min) shows the Concurs de castells, interviews players and talks about roles people play in the game:

Another popular game in other social circles is the game of Mahjong.   Rich with memories and family traditions, Mahjong is a 4 player game that originated in China around 1870 consisting of small, marked tiles.  I stumbled upon an interesting video interviewing people and their thoughts about the game.  From social game providing a reasons to gather, to deep meaningful memories of family bonding, Mahjong has been a part of many lives.

This brief video (approx. 3 min) interviews people and their memories of growing up with the game of Mahjong:

Perhaps these social needs are subtle driving factors in the potential application of gamification into so many areas.  I think we will find that tomorrow’s “games that bind” may not be Mahjong, but a game like World of Warcraft or FarmVille.

More on Roles, Multiplayer Relationships, Interdependence, and Synergy in Gamification Design

Video links of other cultural games of interest:

Polynesian Stick Song game:


Scotland – the Highland Games:

Soccer a game bridging cultural divide:


Gamification in the Most Unlikely Places

9 10 2010

Successful game-based designs are everywhere – we just have to know where to look.  And they often appear in the most unlikely places. In this ongoing series, we’ll look at interesting implementations of game mechanics in places you wouldn’t suspect.  Today’s subject, for example, is found in the bathroom.

A popular “trade secret” of parents with toddlers is the wondrous multipurpose utility in Cheerios.  Parents are known to creatively present learning opportunities as games to their children.  In potty training, Cheerios become the perfect targets.  Simply throw a few Cheerios in the toilet and the children, especially boys, start target practice.  And it works.   Some parents even build upon the game, awarding stars for successful hits, leveling up targets with colored Fruit Loops, shaving cream or colored ice cubes.

One innovative company has even designed color-changing targets.

Are you finding your toddler isn’t interested or motivated by the target practice game mechanic?  Not to worry, there are many game mechanics available that align with different motivations and personality types.  Another option could address nurturing personalities.  For example, one parent shares this game variant that worked for their child:

“Every house has a toilet or two. Our toilet’s name is Mr Toilet, and his job is to eat up all the poo, so that people don’t get sore tummies. That’s what all toilets do. Mr Toilet is very hungry and very sad because you won’t feed him by going to sit on him to do No.2’s. Do you think you could help him to not feel sad anymore?”

“Imagine my surprise and elation”, said the parent, “when she looked at me for only a second before giving me a nod and a big smile, and then running off to “feed” Mr Toilet!”

Although this is not a common topic in most design-oriented Gamification blogs (Seth Godin’s Purple Cow?), I wanted to share an extension of this game mechanic used today by adults.

In Amsterdam’s airport, the men’s room porcelain urinals have an image of a single fly etched close to the urinal drains, as an experiment in human behavior.

The New York Times reported that “spillage” on the men’s-room floor fell by a remarkable 80 percent with the introduction of the etchings.  Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, a pioneer in the increasingly influential field of behavioral economics, called this a “Nudge” or the subtle introduction of an engineered mechanic that manages to attract people’s attention and alter their behavior in a positive way. Best of all, a nudge does not actually require anyone to do anything to enforce it; it’s a part of human behavior.  Thaler suggests the flies are fun as “Men evidently like to aim at targets.”

Cheerios apparently works at any age!