Inclusive Game Design For Education (In A Nutshell)

Well, I know I’m automatically on this ice with this topic – on account of being a middle-class middle-sized American white guy who knows next to nothing of his ancestor’s cultures. ;)

Regardless, my thinking has been heavily influenced by the likes of Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, Sheri Graner Ray, and others, including Nick Yee. You may note their influence here… and you’ll see detailed citations to their work in the longer version of this topic when I post it.

In the meantime, let me know if I’ve offended anyone, or if there are any other ways in which I’ve missed the mark here.

If any new technology is to be used in schools, it is important for the designers and the educators who are implementing it to be sure it is inclusive of all students. Video games, in particular, have a history of appealing primarily to a young or adolescent male audience. Though video games show a great deal of promise as an educational technology, it would hardly be appropriate to implement something that could potentially alienate half of the student population. Educators (and game designers) must therefore pay particularly close attention to gender inclusive game design (or game selection when choosing from existing games). Also, gender isn’t the only demographic variable that must be considered.

When it comes to gender in particular, educators and game designers need to cultivate an understanding of the historical relationships between females and machines, as well as gender differences in attitudes toward technology. Specifically, an understanding of how girls relate to (and play) video games – and a familiarity with the history of girls’ games – is important. The need to design and choose games that present strong female characters for girls to relate to is critical, as is the ability for girls to choose or create female avatars that they can identify with. There is a danger, though, in drawing too heavily on traditional girl stereotypes – or traditional male ideals of sex appeal.

Female players tend to play games differently and relate to games differently. Generally, they tend to have different conflict resolution styles. They also tend to respond to different reward systems and different types of gameplay. This is at least partly due to some fundamental differences between male and female physiology and what forms of stimulation they respond to best. It also stems from common differences in learning and communication styles. Females prefer different themes and different in-game (and out-of-game) relationships between characters (and players). Typically, female players prefer games that are more like open-ended microworlds, a preference that is not dissimilar from their stereotypical love of toys such as dolls or dollhouses. Role-playing and storytelling also tend to be even more important to female players, particularly if they can be in control of the characters and the story.

Games designed for girls (or for all students) should be designed with the benefit of the existing research on girls’ media consumption. But, markets are changing and cultures are changing. Furthermore, gender differences (such as those mentioned above) are not consistent. Individual differences between students are far more significant. It will seem natural to educators that games should therefore take advantage of various learning modalities and appeal to students with different learning styles.

Ultimately, game designers and educators should also aim to include students of all races, religions, cultures, sexual orientations, interests, language skills, and disabilities. In so doing, though, they must be careful to avoid segregation in the name of inclusion. In may be that “separate but equal” is no more appropriate in game design than it is in schooling. Luckily, established principles of inclusive software design can be applied to video game design as well.

Making an effort to create games that draw upon a greater breadth of human experience is another way designers and educators can ensure that video games are more inclusive than they have been in the past. The following section will address the importance of creating emotion in games.