Dolly Joseph and Mable Kinzie: Boys [sic] and Girls [sic] Game Play Preferences: Survey Results

Serious Games Summit DC 2005 Dolly Joseph and Mable Kinzie: Boys [sic] and Girls [sic] Game Play Preferences: Survey Results (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

I’m hemmed into an awkward back corner, so I hope the presentation’s good, since I won’t be able to get out easily.

I didn’t catch the speaker’s name at first, but it was Dolly Joseph speaking alone, about work that she and Mabel Kinzie did at the University of Virginia. She began with the thick theoretical grounding that I find comforting in an academic presentation — though the use of “Pedagogy” in Tim Holt’s presentation as a term of insult used by a bully suggests the tension between academics and designers).

Joseph made multiple references to her dissertation… she invited the audience to interrupt with questions, working her way professionally and methodically through her slides, occasionally referring apologetically to information that she was not covering. That did spark a lot of requests for clarification from the audience. I’d like to see more of this study as it develops.

I found the very small statistical sample to be troubling — 20 students for the survey, and just four for in-depth profiles. In addition the survey was a proxy — measuring what students said about games, not actually measuring their reaction to games. For instance, rather than giving the students the chance to play four different games, and then observing how much time they spent on each game, the students were instead asked to answer a question about what kind of hypothetical games they would like.

To her credit, Joseph didn’t make any grandiose claims about her findings — she freely admitted the risks associated with making claims on such a small data set, though she did on several occasions express frustration that the data confirmed multiple stereotypes about children. If the data had challenged rather than confirmed those sterotypes, would she have presented her findings differently? (For more on gender and desing, see Utopian Entrepreneur, in which Brenda Laurel describes the flak she got from some feminists who were horrified that her company designed games for girls, and catered specifically to the friendship-related issues that are so important to girls.

What follows are my lightly-edited liveblogging notes.

She was building on her own research on the use of popular culture in education, and mentioned comic books.

Hm…. the presentation is based on comparisons between the activity of two different game camps in Charlottesville, Va., offered under the title “Got Game”.

A survey of the participants of two camps, featuring feedback gathered from a total of 21 participants. While I rather like the idea of having kids give feedback through surveys, journals, and a “video confessional,” that’s just 21 kids – not even a whole middle school class. That’s a pretty small sample to use, and the arbitrary choice of four out of these 21 students leads to problems. As long as a study doesn’t use this kind of profiling as evidence to support a statistical conclusion, I’m perfectly happy hearing what we can learn from the analysis.

The researcher chose four children to profile, with different ethnic backgrounds, learning styles, and gaming preferences.

  • One student who liked games with clear goals and good positive feedback and strong closure, and thus liked a game called Bioscopia, which the researcher presented as like Myst. “None of us understood why it was fun.”
  • Another student frequently asked “What is the point of this game?” Didn’t like educational goals embedded within the gameplay, she wanted to know what she was supposed to learn.
  • Yet another student preferred collaboration during gameplay, liked controlling social interactions and adaptable goals.
  • A fourth student gravitated towards complex, realistic problems, with an urban aesthetic, liked action and conflict. Liked to set his own goals.

All four of the profiled campers were proficient in “active play” – under the pressure of time, with rapid character birth and rebirth, starting over from the same point, and dichotomous storylines (good/evil). Educational games that included this kind of play were answered highly. Kids were not fooled by games that inserted quiz questions as barriers.

Explorative play – part of the game world is initially hidden; travel through physical space is important; discovering new areas leads to new challenges. Only one profiled camper liked this.

Problem-solving – Discreet challenges with set goals; hierarchical or parallel, multiple challenges that are generally independent. All of the four students enjoyed these. Clear challenges and readily apparent successes and failures, consequences are apparent. Some educational games are insufficiently challenging for middle-school children. Assembling puzzle-pieces or other simple tasks were not addressing the higher cognitive abilities of the advanced students.

Srategic play – long-term manipulation of resources; multiple pathways; greater complexity 2 of the 4 liked this mode; few educational games employ the open boundaries of this kind of gameplay – the complexity might be too challenging.

Social play – Intra-game, multi-player, and collaborative. Social play was not implicit in any of the games surveyed games.

Said the kids “were wild for” the idea of playing an online social game, but that element wasn’t part of any of the games tested.

Results: Design Suggestions (after looking at case studies of 4 children, from a pool of 21)

I asked the speaker to clarify – these are four suggestions for games that the researcher wishes would exist, because they contain elements that she says these fours students would like. [The ideological force behind the suggestions are at least as interesting as the gameplay suggestions themselves.]

  1. Cures of the Rainforest: Goal – find plants with potential curative properties within the rainforest. Put together a party with characters who have certain background details. Teaching flora and fauna. [But wouldn’t a game that presented the political and economic choices that must be made by the government of a third-world country that possesses rainforests. Issues related to the economic dependence on tourism, poaching, the jobs of people who might be employed by a local logging company, the agenda of a Hollywood celebrity whose presence on the team would increase publicity but displace a scientist… ]
  2. Vigilante P.I. – “Solve crimes and bring corrupt businessmen to justice.” Strategy and problem-solving, using mental powers and a bit of muscle. Forensics, chemistry, health hazards. (You would be able to shoot.) A question from the audience: Did you get backlash from suggesting shooting a person would be an appropriate element of a game?
  3. Butterfly Babies – “Collect, breed, and ‘grow’ butterflies.” “Create a pretty butterfly, but use science to do it.” Biology, genetics, lab procedures.
  4. Zoo Rescue – “Free a trapped zookeeper by traveling through a maze-like zoo.” Teaching biology and ecology, solving puzzles that lead you through passageways. Surprised to find a child who liked that kind of gameplay.

In response to a question I asked about the ideological decisions behind the game design choices, the researcher said that students who were worried about their on financial situation were more worried about saving their neighborhood; those students who had the luxury of worrying about the world did.

Analysis of a survey of the 20 children who participated in the study.

Boys more likely to play on consoles, girls more likely to play on computers.

Both genders preferred to play their own genders and ethnicities.

Girls preferred thinner female characters.

Boys preferred games in the street or sports fields, girls prefer games set in a mall to a meadow. (This result sparked a flurry of questions from the audience, that eventually established that participants were given a survey to take
home, and for this particular question were asked to say which of the following four choices would be their favorite setting for a game: streets, sports, mall, and meadow.)

I don’t know how the following was determined, but boys preferred saving adults and senior citizens, girls would rather save young children. (I’m actually just as curious to know more about this item, but since I was one of the questioners about the previous item, I kept my mouth shut so the presenter could get through the material.)