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S03 E05 – Social Impact Games

Today we talk to our guest, Adam Procter, Interim Head of the new Department Art & Media Technology at University of Southampton about social impact games, game design and more.

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Adam Procter

Books that Adam mentions

  • Teaching to Transgress by Bell Hooks
  • Deschooling Society by Ivan Ilich
  • Passion, Projects, Peers and Play by Mitch Resnick
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Monsters of Education Technology by Audrey Watters
  • Surveillance Captalism by Shoshana Zuboff
  • Nudge by Richard H. Thaler
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.

Links

Transcript

Tao of WAO S03 E05

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:22] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:33] And I’m Doug Belshaw. Did you know, Laura, that this podcast season is still unfunded and you, dear listener, can support this podcast and other We Are Open projects and products at opencollective.com/weareopen.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:47] I did know that it is still unfunded. Um, so today I’m very excited. We have a friend and all around talented person Adam Procter joining us on the podcast. Adam was recently quoted in a Guardian article about the hit puzzle game Wordle and to find out why they turned him for his opinions. We’re going to let Adam introduce himself.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:12] Yeah, Adam, you’ve just had a promotion, right?

Adam Procter: [00:01:14] Yes. Yes. That’s why they let me on The Guardian. No spaces because I reply to emails quickly when I see stuff from press. So that’s what helps all the time. So I’ve just been promoted. I am now the interim head of a new department in art and media technology at the University of Southampton, but inside Winchester School of Art. So that’s what I’m currently doing well, attempting to do with all my other jobs, which is quite exciting, just because I’m super. I’ve always been fascinated with the blend between art technology and its sort of place in the world. And so I’ve got a chance to hopefully shape a department that can think about those things from a from a good point of view, from people point of view and from a creative point of view, and not, not so much a technology centric view in that sense.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:07] And you’re soon to be Doctor Procter, potentially.

Adam Procter: [00:02:10] Yes, I’ve got a hand in a final draft in the next week, basically, which is also stressing me out something insane, and I don’t think it’s as final as I’d hoped. But then I’ve got a month to to fix it before the faculty have to have it and then.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:24] I know what the focus is, but for the benefit of everyone, what is the focus of that PhD?

Adam Procter: [00:02:31] So it’s about different ways to use technology in a art and design setting, particularly in a studio based environment. And so rather than having sort of monolithic pieces of technology that it’s better to have small contextual pieces of technology that allow students to think together. All right. So that’s that’s roughly where I’m at. But every time I say it, I come out with a different answer.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:53] Well, the interesting thing for me is that it’s a practice based PhD. So you built you built something you didn’t just, like, write about it like I did.

Adam Procter: [00:03:01] Yeah. Yeah. So I built a tool that’s basically a spatial tool so you can think of like, I don’t know, think of electronic post-it notes effectively, but in a networked environment. And so that tool has been tested with students as a tool for co-creation and co thinking. So rather than being a tool for collaboration and productivity, we’ve used it as a tool to sort of get the room’s thoughts on things together into one shared space and it has like no login. It’s all locally hosted. It’s kind of respects privacy, those kind of bits and pieces, but it’s all just about the context of being in a studio physically with your peers, but using a shared space that has the ability for you to sort of scatter ideas and then go off and do separate things. So very different to what most tools tend to do, which is focus on productivity and collaboration. And both of those things are kind of nonsense most of the time.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:55] So just to dig into that, because I think we’re going to come back to these themes. And before Laura asks you about books and things, people might be thinking, hang on a minute, haven’t tools like Miro and Mural and that kind of thing, don’t they already exist? But I remember we’ve talked lots about like privacy and ethical design and that kind of thing. That’s the difference.

Adam Procter: [00:04:15] Yeah, that’s the main difference. It’s very focussed, it’s not feature driven, it’s sort of capability driven. And the idea is that you there’s log in, you could have it literally running on your own. Lan All the data is stored on your device first before it’s synchronised between devices. And so again, the business, the business of model of the other products tends to be about having, you know, vast numbers of users. That’s how they either sell the product or they collect other data in particular ways. Again, based on the standard business practices that unfortunately all of all of our technology seems to sort of float around, which I fundamentally think is the wrong way to go about things, particularly if you’re using a network tool to do your thinking in and to extend your own thoughts and the thoughts of others. It needs to really respect that. So they’re all kind of interwoven things. And the tool has been a way of playing with some of those ideas. But my main thing was like, What? Why? You know what? Why don’t we have really interesting, unique networks, tools that work for groups of people to think together in the same way that we kind of just have the studio space. And another thing this is this is an aside, but another thing is that and I only came across this recently was that one of the biggest tools for sort of creative thinking is like we tend to use big bits of paper and black marker pens and that tends to be where we start loads of our workshop activity. But of course if you’ve got limited mobility, that even using that pen, that tool actually is a barrier. And one of the things we’ve extending into sort of node noggin, which the thing I’ve built is that you could that you can remove some of those things, particularly even for people with limited mobility, they have a shared space they can engage with. So that’s, that’s been quite an I’m sad that I only came across that idea recently because obviously I hadn’t realised it for a long time. A lot of the people we’re teaching how to be creative, we were limiting some people from doing that and that’s of course where we see problems in the built environment, all those kind of things. Because if those designers could never get involved because they can’t use a bit of paper and a pen, then you know, we have problems that we obviously we do have problems. So yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:23] And this is something that you started before the pandemic. It wasn’t like it was.

Adam Procter: [00:06:26] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it’s part time, which means I have, I get a little bit of time to do it, but it means it’s a longer period, which is fine. So yeah, I started. Unfortunately in like 2014 or something ridiculous. I don’t know. It’s sort of it’s like it’s six, seven years. And plus the pandemic came and that meant everyone’s research, which the PhD would be considered. Everyone’s research was just paused. It was like, we need to focus on teaching, no research. It’s all about, you know, helping the students. And so I got an extension and bits and pieces and lots of staff had to just sort of park things they were working on just because we had to focus on our core delivery, which was the education of our students.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:09] Can you talk a little bit about how your tool kind of brings out the collective thought of the room and just how that kind of works?

Adam Procter: [00:07:18] Well, it’s really it’s just very simple and it’s a bit messy. That’s the two things. And that people don’t feel afraid to put it in. But one of the key pieces is that you don’t know who’s contributing what. So like in Miro and other tools, you often have the little cursor showing who’s who. No one knows who’s contributing what in that space. So we have like maybe 20 students and it frees up like the thinking of those people, particularly students, to not worry about what they’re contributing. And so that because it’s anonymous and so obviously they could identify themselves if they want to because they’re physically in the same room, if they’re working in a smaller team using that tool just to capture their thoughts, which is another part of it. But yeah, I think it’s mainly when I’ve done similar activities with tools where you are logged in and identifiable. You can see the dynamics of the room changes because students are worried that what they put in might be judged, you know, so they feel less free. So in that sense it’s that because it’s private. An anonymous that that sort of helps to unlock that. And there’s no there’s no wrong answers. And you kind of avoid that highest paid person in the room type stuff, you know, or they think my contribution is more valid than than other peoples. And you know, again, I haven’t done any extensive testing outside of the game students I’ve been working with. But I think in talking to other staff where they have maybe a lot more vocal kind of students in their classes, that I still think that there’s going to be students there who are quiet, don’t won’t say anything, and they’re actually could contribute if they had another channel. So I think that answers your question.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:00] So of now I’m just thinking about all the problems of group dynamics and how I mean, the world is really built for extroverts, people who are more comfortable being loud or, you know, putting their name on on a contribution or otherwise interacting tend to tend to be the people that are also successful in business. And I mean, there’s lots of studies around how how the world is really built for a particular sort of contribution. So I think it’s really interesting to try to to to try to open it up for people who contribute in different ways. And there’s a lot of I mean, there’s a lot of articles around the power of introverts. I think that was a famous Ted Talk at some point. And I’ve also just seen in various group settings that the way the facilitator interacts, the way the professor interacts, the way the other students interacts, makes it a more or less creative space. So I think it’s really interesting that you’re building a tool that really highlights that and pulls it out and in a way that kind of brings equity to the creative process of everyone in the room. It’s cool.

Adam Procter: [00:10:11] Yeah, well, I hope it does. I think it does. You know, and all the tests seem to suggest that so far. So, I mean, those are the kind of findings. And again, it’s just this idea at the end of the PhD is like, if we’re going to build tools that really help us to be creative and to think. And in particular, obviously a focus on art and design education, that this is sort of a methodology to have these pieces in place.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:32] And I would think that a tool like that also helps with groupthink. So, you know, because there’s no weight to any of the contributions, then the groupthink doesn’t emerge in the same way that it would if, you know, the whatever, the highest the highest level in the room. What was the framing you used about the highest executive, the highest paid person.

Adam Procter: [00:10:52] Or whatever they call it? I think. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, exactly. I think that’s the thing. It’s definitely. The and this is the other thing I was talking about recently is this just this idea of coming coming together in a space that is as messy as possible, thrashing out a few different things, and then everyone pops out of that and makes their own things a lot. Again, a lot of these tools and I’m not saying they’re doing it wrong and you could use the tools potentially in the same way if you facilitate the things the right way. Um, they just focus on this idea of collaborating where there is an end, there’s a goal, an end goal in sight. But loads of the things that we want to do as students is that we don’t want an end goal anywhere yet. We need to have the process define the product or the outcome or the kind of the technology. And so it helps. It does help to try and break those things where you kind of get, as you guys will know, you know, just get a lot of different people in the room together thinking about different things and being able to put their voice there. Do you come up with new ideas?

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:46] Yeah, it’s a bit of a difficult sell for a company like Miro, a mural to say, we don’t help solve your business problems. We just help, like have a messy space for collaboration. That’s a it’s not really something we’ll go like, Oh, insta purchase that. But as you say, people who actually do this facilitation work know how important that is. The other thing I would say is that, you know, as a former school teacher as opposed to university teacher. Having everyone anonymous sounds horrendous. Like it sounds like bullying, sensual, and like everyone drawing massive penises. Um, but I guess that’s why you have, you know, you have expectations and codes of conduct and all that kind of stuff. There’s a level of maturity that you need potentially before entering that space.

Adam Procter: [00:12:33] Yeah. I mean, you know, and it gets playful. And we’ve had students, lots of students will throw in like animated gifs and stuff like that and that can be quite, you know, gets a bit fun. Um, when we, when we did have, we had at one point where you could kind of make your names up and the students would just come up with funny names and that was kind of fun. But then, but then of course it was then trying to be clever with your name. So that also was an issue, you know. Um, so yeah, I mean, it’s. If we don’t. Yeah, I mean, how you frame it, there’s no bad. There’s nothing bad that comes out of it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:05] So far. That playfulness, though, you kind of just mentioned that as like, oh, you know, I’m passing. But actually that playfulness around identity was very much a feature of of the web back in the day. Like you just logged on to different sites with different usernames and you know, you could be whoever you wanted. And now the default is that you’re the same person everywhere kind of thing. And you have this, you know, brand management of yourself and all this stuff. Even when I’m playing with the family, like Jackbox games and stuff, which I was at the weekend, we all sign in. Obviously we’re sitting in the same room together playing stuff. We’re all signing in with crazy names just because it’s fun. Yeah, a different way of interacting with each other.

Adam Procter: [00:13:48] Yeah. No definitly.

Laura Hilliger: [00:13:50] I was just thinking that it’s. I think it’s really interesting that you talk about the studio space because, like, I went to art school and was in art classes when I was in, in primary school and everything, and I always loved art classes because it was the only class that you had in primary school, especially where the space wasn’t so structured and arranged. And it was like it looked very chaotic, not just because there was paint all over the room and paper flying around and stuff, but because the, the coursework itself or the the learning journey itself was really about exploring your own creativity or when you were working in groups of people there. Not that there was like an end project or a product that had to come out of it, But the, you know, the point of the space was the interaction with other people. Yeah. Um, and I think it’s really interesting to think about the way that creative work is made. So art is made and how very different it is from some of the things we’re used to in terms of, you know, business or like programme management or program design, which is a lot more rigid and structured. And there’s like specific theories about how to get there, whereas creativity is kind of, you know, the one thing we know about creativity is that if you practice, you know, you’ll have more output. But the way that people get ideas, it’s there’s no rhyme or reason. They come from everywhere and inspiration comes from everywhere.

Adam Procter: [00:15:15] Yeah, yeah. I mean, outside of my office, we’ve got. Yeah, the studios are very messy, you know, it’s like. But that’s how we want it, you know, You can pin stuff up, pull stuff down, you know, the space kind of morphs as the sort of time goes by. Of course, occasionally it gets too messy. We’ve got some people in helping students make some little well, showing them how they can make little documentaries about their games. And, you know, one of the first things they said was, well, we have to when we’re filming the studio, we have to sort of dress it and tidy up.

Laura Hilliger: [00:15:40] Yeah, get rid of the rats.

Adam Procter: [00:15:42] It’s a bit. Yeah, exactly. So, yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:15:45] Adam, is it is it usual for your kind of department, like a games department to be in an art school? That seems unusual.

Adam Procter: [00:15:55] It’s not. Yeah, it’s pretty unusual. Most most of them are sit within a computer science faculty. And so that does make a that makes a big difference to how we approach the things that we do in games in particular. I mean, the next thing we’re doing is we’re, we’re, we’re building a new and it will be a Bachelor of Science in either creative technology or creative computing. We haven’t quite decided on the name because we want to do some sense checking because, um, games here, for example, we have a really good diverse cohort of students, in particular a high number of female students, which is unheard of in the UK in terms of games courses. And that’s one of the things we sort of worked on and we I want and we’re going to hopefully try and do the same with the creative technology BSC and try and really encourage diverse people to come and do a Bachelor of Science. But we’re not sure about the the term computing thing at the moment and whether that might put off young women from applying just because they get turned off, sort of engineering computing from about 12, basically because of the way that things are done. And so, yeah, the other thing we’re trying to do is, you know, if you go in again in the UK, the you the art department and the science department were often in different buildings in the school environment, like, which is just ridiculous. And so, you know, we’re trying to bridge some of those gaps, particularly now with all the problems that we face with not just with technology, but with the world we want. You know, we need you need people who can really think differently. And I fundamentally believe that those people come out of art schools. Um, but we do, you know, but there’s a broader remit of what an art school can do.

Doug Belshaw: [00:17:37] And when one of the things we ask people to do on this podcast is to kind of talk about their favourite book or, you know, recommend one for other people. Now I’m looking on the etherpad that we’ve shared with you and I think I’ve counted 11 books that you put on that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:55] Oh, are those all books?

Adam Procter: [00:17:56] Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:57] Oh. Because when I looked at the etherpad, I thought that was all the things you wanted to talk about. And I was like, okay, this is a. Now I. Okay. They are all books. Yeah, that’s a lot of favourites.

Adam Procter: [00:18:08] I know I cheated. Well, basically I saw the email from Doug and had had the mild panic of like, Oh no, I need to, I need to pick a book. And I’m like, I don’t read books. What am I going to pick? But the thing is, I mean, I do, I tend to read a lot of stuff. A lot of it’s online journals and whatever. And as an academic, I have you have to sort of skim a lot of stuff just to kind of get the lay of the land, and particularly when you’re fusing lots of things together. So I went from having no idea of books and thinking I’m going to look like such an idiot to then going a bit mad and just splurging a bunch of books.

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:44] I’m going to read them out and then you can tell you can pick some that you want to mention and say, why? So we’ve got teaching to transgress, Deschooling society, passion projects, peers and play June and then Fight Club, which I guess are both novels, The Monsters of Education Technology. That’s Audrey Watters, isn’t it? Surveillance Capitalism. Shoshana Zuboff Nudge. Classic Catch 22. One of my favourite books of all time. First read it in Italy The Catcher in the Rye over it, in my opinion, and the design of everyday things.

Adam Procter: [00:19:18] Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:19:19] Can I ask, did you really like Fight Club? The book?

Adam Procter: [00:19:23] Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:19:24] Huh. Interesting. Yeah, I have all Chuck Palahniuk books. I’ve read them all. Fight Club is my least favourite.

Adam Procter: [00:19:32] Yeah, that’s true. That’s fair enough. I guess it’s the. Yes, you’re probably right actually, because I’ve read most of them as well, but all sort of successive times, I guess I picked that just because I meant the author more than anything. And that’s the most known of his books, I guess.

Doug Belshaw: [00:19:46] Did you see they changed the ending in China? No. Yeah. So the end of Fight Club, which has been banned in China for quite a while, they have completely forgotten. I’ve only seen it once years ago, but apparently I’ve.

Adam Procter: [00:19:58] You’ve only seen it once.

Doug Belshaw: [00:19:59] So like, that’s.

Adam Procter: [00:20:00] Like you have.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:01] So that.

Adam Procter: [00:20:02] Like. Oh, you mean you’ve only seen the end and then the.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:04] Police investigated and arrest everyone.

Adam Procter: [00:20:06] Oh weird.

Adam Procter: [00:20:08] Have you only, have you actually only watched the film once in its entirety.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:12] Yeah.

Adam Procter: [00:20:12] You have to. That’s not the point. It’s the second watching that makes all sense. It makes it all hang together.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:18] No, Go it all the first time. It’s fine.

Laura Hilliger: [00:20:21] Doug doesn’t have time for repeat.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:24] No, I do. I watched The Dark Knight with my son at the weekend. Now he’s 15. I’m letting him watch 15. Very different childhood to me, you know, watching IT when I was like 11 and having nightmares and stuff, trying to, you know, be responsible and, you know, but watch The Dark Knight loads of times. You’re right. You do see layers of meaning. But yeah, maybe I do need to watch Fight Club again. Anyway, that’s not the point. Talk about these books. Which one. Which one’s kind of.

Adam Procter: [00:20:50] They’ve all got different things, I suppose. In that sense it was just more. Yeah, of course they have all got different things. Catch 22 is just a great story. I just love the kind of way. But again, there’s a long time ago that I read it just The Catcher in the Rye. Again, I just read that a long time ago. And I just remember thinking it was I thought it was really good at the time. So maybe I was like 15 or whatever. I don’t know. So it’s always stuck in my head as one that’s like stuck in my head is in that. I thought it was really interesting at the time. Can I think of anything that’s in it now? No, not at all. You know, um, June, I’m just rereading because the film came out and I think the film’s excellent. Um, and I’d recommend going to see that it’s, I mean, it’s, I don’t like films that are more than 90 minutes long, but that one is way more than that and it’s still a good film.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:36] The non-fiction side, yeah.

Adam Procter: [00:21:37] Yeah, let’s do those, some.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:38] Kind of education related ones, I guess design related ones.

Adam Procter: [00:21:42] So teaching to transgress is bell hooks. Black feminist writer recently died. Um, just, I mean, I hadn’t again, I hadn’t come across this until the last couple of years and it was recommended to me by someone else and I was like, Oh, that sounds interesting. And I listened to it and an audiobook and it is just everything that good teaching and education should be a lot of these things. So it’s just like and, and it’s just well written, you know, So it’s like, okay, that’s how you should infuse people and it should be about transforming society and all that kind of stuff. So I just think it’s a go to place to see what education should be like. Um, deschooling society, same difference, you know, that we’ve got like all the school systems basically turn people into robots for jobs that won’t exist and even sort of tried to flip that around a long, long time ago. Um, but still hasn’t happened. So again, that one you can dip in passions, peers projects and play. I can never remember the sequence of that. That’s about MIT sort of approach to education. I can’t remember the name of the guy who wrote that off the top of my head, but that’s again.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:53] Like Mitch Resnick in that.

Adam Procter: [00:22:54] Yeah, that’s it. Yeah, yeah. And again, just good sort of approaches to how you, how you create an environment to learn. You know in in a space to again to play. And it’s sort of this idea through connecting to others having some sort of project, you know, approach, making it exciting. And again, I think Illich talks about that kind of stuff about, you know, setting up spaces. You know, it’s not all of this stuff is just about you don’t pour knowledge into people’s heads. You get them in spaces and have experiences and do things. And now that they can learn a lot of really interesting things, it takes a while sometimes for students to realise that because they’ve been through the school system, which just destroys that kind of idea. They think there’s a route and someone is, um, someone has pointed them at a career path and said, Oh, you go from here to here. And it’s like, No you don’t. That’s not how you kind of do things. So yeah, um, what else have I got? Monster education. Technology, obviously is just about the, the nightmare that is education, technology. And Audrey can talk. Talk’s way better about it than I ever could, but it’s just the fact that it’s just, again, linking really to Susanna Zuboff stuff on surveillance and that that sort of falling into lots of education technology for all the wrong reasons. You know, this kind of Catch 22 of like, oh, if you know what your students are doing, you can support them. But then I think there was a Guardian article that sort of had this horrendous title of like, we could work out what, you know, we’d be able to work out what qualification you’d have at the end of your degree before you even started it, by surveilling you throughout school, which is just horrendous. You know. To me, I’d never be.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:28] So he’s doing his GCSEs and his Year ten and he’s being told what his predicted grades are not based on what he’s actually doing, which is very well, but based on what his key stage two results were, which were when he was like, what, 11, 10. Like it’s just the use of data is really problematic, I think, in education sometimes.

Adam Procter: [00:24:48] Yeah. So the thing I’ve been trying to do with that is try to flip that around because there is some there is some areas where it would be useful to be able to see how students are engaging with particular material, perhaps just an attendance thing in that sense. But it’s this idea of like, it shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t be surveilling that information. We say to the students, okay, these are the kind of pieces of information you could provide your tutor with. Do you want to or not? And this is the you know, here’s some of the potential reasons why it might be good for your tutor to see that you’ve attended all the, you know, all the programming classes because that might help them to see why you’re struggling with something or whatever, you know? I mean.

Doug Belshaw: [00:25:25] I remember years ago when I was at Jisc, there was just a really simple learning analytics thing which shared with students like a traffic light thing, like green is like, and it’s just really simple stuff like attendance, handing in your work and stuff like that. Green Everything’s fine. Amber Of cause for concern. Red You probably need to go and sort this out kind of thing, but that’s useful if it’s giving feedback to students. It’s when data is being used to beat students with. It’s the problem. Yeah. I did want to mention to Laura, I think I might have mentioned this in passing in other channels, Laura, but I started reading the book that Carrie Lamoy recommended. We make the road by walking with Paola Ferreira and Myles Horton.

Adam Procter: [00:26:05] Oh, nice.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:06] And it’s, it’s really interesting because I didn’t realise they actually look almost exactly like or did look almost exactly like each other. Um, and Polo comes across as an absolute legend, and Myles Horton comes across as a bit like stuck up business, to be quite honest.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:27] Anyway.

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:28] Sometimes I feel like we should do television because there’s a lot of nodding. And for listeners, just so you know, there’s a lot of nodding and head shaking going on here.

Adam Procter: [00:26:40] Yeah, because.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:40] Video podcast now, don’t they?

Adam Procter: [00:26:42] Some do. Yeah. Yeah. Yes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:46] So here so we’ve got some things we can talk about openness in the games industry, social justice and climate issues and games, technology, enhanced learning in general, learning during the pandemic Line 35 of the etherpad just says hell. Um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:02] I think that was I think that was Adam’s response to learning during the pandemic.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:07] Oh I see.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:08] Yeah. You just have to hit the tab. So it’s indented.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:12] Oh, sorry.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:13] And then human computer interaction. Adam, where do you want to go?

Adam Procter: [00:27:17] Oh, my word. I don’t know. You decide because I could talk about all of them in different ways.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:21] Well, I really. I really want to talk about social justice and games and social impact games because I’ve been involved in the gaming industry since the very beginning of my career and very light touch ways. I’m not an expert or anything, but because I’ve been working in social justice and social impact for so long, I’ve definitely come across a variety of multimedia projects that had a gaming element, and I would love to hear from you. Any thoughts you have about how social impact games can be successful mainstream, how they can get their point across? Because I’ve seen it done really well and I’ve seen it done really poorly. And so if you have any, you know, Top five tips for making a social Impact game, then you should see them and then we should transcribe them so that we can pretend like we came up with them together.

Adam Procter: [00:28:12] What would. What, what, what? Oh, crumbs. I can’t speak. What did you think? Did it well?

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:19] Well I a lot of the. So the thing about social impact topics is that they are often, for me at least as a quite empathetic person, I find they’re often quite heavy and I find it tricky to create a art piece or a game or a multimedia piece that touches on the seriousness of the issue without making it so overwhelming for the user or the learner or the gamer that they can’t engage with that issue because it’s just too overwhelming. So some of the things that I’ve seen work really well and really poorly is like narrative based games. So depending on the topic, some I’ve found that some narrative based games for certain topics are really difficult for people to engage with because there are some topics that you just can’t like create a narrative and include humour. Yeah. Um, and yeah. And so I definitely think that narrative in social justice games is really important and striking a balance between that this is what the topic is about and this is what we want you to engage with around this topic. And it’s actually like you’re engaging with it in a way that is perhaps not joyful, but at least some degree of entertainment that keeps people engaged. I find that to be an amazing and tricky balance, and I’m wondering if there are any kind of if there’s like a frame there or a set of best practices that that make that easier, because I find it really challenging to strike that balance.

Adam Procter: [00:29:56] Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t want to say that I’m an expert in this, to be fair. I just think it’s a really important because of the power that games have. And so and I see students who are really interested in these kind of areas of concern and they want to see how they might be able to tell that story or produce that thing. Now I’ll try and find a link. There’s a there’s a there’s a game that is, um, I’m gonna have to look it up. I think I’m going to launch Firefox now, which will basically make my Mac take off because I’ve got. Too many tabs, even though it claims they don’t work. Let me see if I can find this. Um. I probably can’t. If I can’t, I’ll just explain it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:38] One of the games that Adam shared with me was from Mozilla contributor and someone who worked at Ravensbourne. I think at one point. Um. Matteo. Yes. And he’s been working with the person who created the board game pandemic. I didn’t realise he was working with him. I just looked it up and we pandemic. The board game was made before the pandemic that we’ve just experienced. But playing that game during a pandemic was quite a useful experience for us as a family because it enabled us to talk about stuff that we weren’t talking about before. And it’s a collaborative game as well. And I think Daybreak is trying to do the same about climate action. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:17] Um, and I think.

Adam Procter: [00:31:20] With a lot of these things, it is about, you know, being, being passionate about the area that you’re interested in. Explain being effectively. A lot of it’s about explaining something and of course, yeah, bashing someone over the head with this information often doesn’t work. So sometimes when I’m talking to students, it’s about finding an idea of something they’re interested in, but then looking at ways that you can express that sometimes a bit more abstractly so that it comes through in the environment itself. And the story is, is there, but it’s less in your face, you know? And so as an example, um, the one of the projects that I always kind of go to in terms of student projects and I try and find this poem one, there’s a Canadian artist that did a poetry based interactive game, which was really nice about how the how sort of we’re all connected and there’s biospheres and all that kind of stuff. But you go around collecting things and you build up a generative poem. It’s really nice, but it doesn’t kind of bash you in the face that it’s about the fact that we need to care for our for the various species that live on the planet. I will find that. But the one example I go to is that a student made a long time ago was it was a puzzle. The game was a puzzle platformer basically in the end, and you just had to solve puzzles as you as you went through the level and in the game, you start on your you start with a companion character that helps you to solve those puzzles. And some of your interactions with other non-player characters. Npcs are quite generally quite positive interactions. The game is about 15 minutes total gameplay, but at the end of the first sort of pass of it, you lose your companion character, but you find yourself back at the beginning of the game world and you then try and solve the same puzzles but without the companion. So the puzzles are a bit harder because you don’t have a companion and the NPCs are just not they’re not as nice at this point. There seems to be a a weird sort of change in their behaviour just because you don’t have this companion character. Um, and this was, this was all borne out of a student coming in and seeing lots of homeless people. Well as he was coming into university and didn’t like that there seemed to be a rise in homeless people and wondered why that was. Well, the game doesn’t say anything about homelessness in that sense. The environment is built out of cardboard and those kinds of things. So you actually built all the characters out of cardboard and scanned them in. It got a bit too much of an Egyptian vibe. In the end, it didn’t feel like a cop. But of course you know the aesthetics. But the idea was really when he did a lot of research into homelessness, was that the same interactions that we have become so doubly hard when you have no fixed abode. And so this idea of losing the companion and suddenly you find yourself in the same situation, but things are much, much harder comes across now when people played that at the very end of the game, you could choose to. Another companion appears and you could choose another character appears and you could choose to take your companion and shelter. And again, the companion characters, the shape of the legs look like house silhouettes and stuff like that. So when you when it stood over on top of one of the character, you look like you were maybe in a house, but you wouldn’t necessarily pick those subtleties up and you could decide at the end of the game if you wanted to shelter this character that you find at the very end with your companions. So you give your your home, effectively your space to that companion, that’s what triggers the end game. And you just get kind of a nice fade to black or whatever. If you don’t, you can decide not to shelter the character and if you do that, you end up in an infinite loop. The game will continue to to get you to go to play it. And then so when everyone, when everyone that played it came away from that game, if you asked them about what their experience was, was that they said they understood that it was about a sense of loss and having something or someone with you during your journey that was a positive. And if you lose that thing or place that you can be, you can instantly be really negatively affected by it. And everyone came out of that situation and the funniest thing that I always say about this game was that when we took it to London because we have like a pop up arcade that we take all of our games in arcade cabinets to London for games industry to come and play was that this guy was playing the game all the way through. And me, myself and Aaron, who made the game, were watching him play and his guest girlfriend was there watching him play at the end of the sequence when he when he was asked to shelter the character. I’d not seen anyone not shelter, which was also I thought was really good in terms of the game, was pushing people to the right sort of choice in a really nice way. But this person, he decided not to shelter the character and his girlfriend. I’ve never seen someone hit someone so hard, like whacked him, whacked him in the arm and basically made him play the whole thing through again, just to make sure that he sheltered the companion. She realised and she realised at that point that it was they were stuck in this loop and so she made him play it again, which is amazing because she wasn’t even playing the game. She was just watching. Wow. So that’s a long story to basically say that. I don’t think there’s a I don’t think there’s an easy way to do it. And the trick is also that. Well, you know, at some point all mass media has been like, oh, this, this can educate the world and we can change people, we can behavioural change, which is why I kind of put that nudge in because, you know, nudge the only place that we’ve seen behavioural change working is unfortunately on the web in a really, really bad way. You know, and it’s kind of funny that we haven’t like managed to unlock that in good ways, in real good ways. So, you know, the other thing that people do and this is and then you can follow up with anything is that um, I’ve seen like play Mob who do a bunch of stuff where they take the UN’s principles or whatever they’re called, and they use those as sort of kind of guides to, to the games they want to produce. And this year with the.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:29] Sustainable development.

Adam Procter: [00:37:29] Yeah, yeah. Yes. So we did that a lot with the students this year. I said, look at the Sustainable Development Goals, see if there’s any way that this might influence your design in terms of even if it’s just very light touch, you know, it doesn’t need but just to have those kind of things in mind because they care about those things. They want to make games. So let’s, you know, let’s not just entertain. There is a place for that, of course. But, you know, and we’re in a university, it’s, you know, Russell group, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, um, but they the interesting thing with play mob and dude was really interesting she they did a thing around Pokemon go like where you use Pokemon go to do beach cleanup. Which is super interesting. But also, I was in a meeting the other day talking about some space in Bournemouth where they have their beach and actually the whole piece there is that there shouldn’t be any litter to be cleaned up actually, and that actually the clean up process, although that’s a good thing, is kind of at the wrong end of the stick. So they’re thinking about how they create their space and their cafe to have zero waste. So there isn’t the potential for some idiot to litter drop, you know. So I thought that was interesting. But, you know, so the play mod thing was interesting because they’re like, oh, we, we, we gathered 1.2 tonnes of plastic from the beaches or whatever, but of course, so that was a different sort of approach using just using the game to have fun, but then adding stuff. But the other thing they did was they. They basically one of the games they were building, and I don’t know how far it went out, but they had it was, um, I think it was like Vietnam and the UK were the two places they were testing the game in. Really strange. I don’t know why I can’t remember. There probably will be a really good reason. I don’t know what it was, but it was like a kind of a, um, like a sims type kind of game. But SIM City more like. And you did some things, but it was around energy use and that kind of stuff. And maybe we can come back to daybreak. But the and the idea was that you ask you some questions and you did some things and you were effectively through the game, you were kind of responding to a survey, but you didn’t know that you were responding to a survey necessarily. And what that was doing was that was trying to pick up the general sense of what people understood about the things that relate to the climate and how to manage energy and all that kind of stuff so that they could see, okay, the population of the UK doesn’t seem to understand wind technology at all, you know, because all the people have been playing this game are picking these options, you know, and maybe in Vietnam they get it, you know. And so then they would the idea was you go to then public policy and say, look, you need to do some work in this area because a lot of the population have misunderstood these things or they don’t see the benefits of that kind of stuff. You know, um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:40:10] I think that’s a really I think that’s a really interesting use case for social impact games to actually not just have a standalone game where the, the point or the idea of it is to transmit a particular existence of a issue, but rather to use that game to then actually change policy. So connecting it with other things. So that I mean a lot of critique I guess on the entire industry of gaming is that it’s, you know, it’s just entertainment. It’s just people sitting around doing some stuff and it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t have impact. And that’s a perception that people have of games. And there’s such a huge component of learning in games in any game. And using that that learning component, not just to make people aware, but also to actually change things, I think is a really interesting thing. That’s, that’s, it’s just awesome to push and.

Adam Procter: [00:41:07] Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’ll give you two other examples in that regard just because I think they’re quite interesting and which I’ll get to the Daybreak one at the end. So the other one, we did a project with Nats, which is the national air traffic control people. They manage like, like all the skies across most of Europe, massive company. But what was really interesting from them was and this is obviously pre-pandemic when planes were actually flying and all that kind of jazz and people wanted to fly. Was that the they basically talked about the fact that they have these Rolls-Royces of like aeroplanes that are amazingly well built, you know, in terms of engineering. They’ve kind of done lots of work to have them efficient and all that kind of stuff. But the network they fly on is like the roads of the 1960s. Like it’s, it’s all completely messed up because they can’t fly the most efficient routes and these kind of things. And a lot of that was down to there being people concerned about aircraft flying over their village or wherever. And actually the impact of that noise versus the impact of the plane being able to fly the most efficient routes across the sky doesn’t add up. You know, you won’t have a village to live in if you don’t allow an aeroplane to occasionally fly over your village because you’re you’ll be destroyed by the climate crisis that all these inefficient, these efficient planes because they’re flying inefficiently. So we kind of made so in that instance and this is just a game jam a couple of weeks and some students just came up with some fun game games where you sort of flicking aeroplanes around and doing some bits and pieces. And we weren’t again, we weren’t quite sure how we’d fit that piece of information in, but it was about bringing this idea of efficiency.

Doug Belshaw: [00:42:40] That’s really intersesting because all three of us, in fact, we audience, people listening, we three plus my brother in law, we all meet on a Sunday to play games together and actually separately because we’ve done our kind of, what was it, a gamer personality test or whatever. Separately, we actually like quite different games. And the thing I wanted to mention was that we’re playing what I think are usually called triple-A games where, you know, we’re playing games which are developed by large games companies, high glossy, massive budgets or whatever. And and that’s quite different to kind of indie games, games which are meant to be played in a different context the way that we’re playing them, that kind of thing. So for example, a game I haven’t played yet, which is Battlefield 2042, like the whole setup for that is that it’s the year 2042 and the climate crisis is hit and there’s been wars and all that kind of stuff and you’re put in that scenario. And so the whole environment is kind of making you think, from what I’ve read about climate crisis, the impact of war, that kind of thing. So that’s very immersive. Whereas I guess some of the things that you’ve been talking about is less well, could be quite. Immersive, but possibly more like it’s the setup and the way that it’s the game’s mechanics which are helping you think about this kind of stuff.

Adam Procter: [00:44:03] Yeah, definitely. Definitely. You know, I think a lot of it’s about, you know, for us, it’s unlocking those conversations, you know, so that some of it’s about, you know, trying to impose, trying to give a sense of a lived experience. So what might this feel like to be in another person’s shoes for a period of time that can be done really, really well in games? And it’s getting. People to talk after they’ve played the game. That’s often the thing. So like with Daybreak, we did a test. I’ve got the physical prototype. Oh, you got it under my desk. And the students. So in Daybreak is a cooperative game. You can read more about it. But basically, you have to you have to play you play as different parts of the world to try and basically reduce global warming. And that’s the whole aim of the game. And and in from what I understand, most people, when they play it the first time they play it, they will lose. You know, they’ve got to work together. But it’s like it’s you don’t win first time because it’s hard and it’s all based on actual climate science and facts, lots of lots of data in it. And so at the end of the so the students who played the physical prototype, which we streamed on Twitch and played bass, they played and they lost, I could see they were going to lose a couple of rounds before it was clear to them they were going to lose. But what was really interesting was at the end of the game, they kind of they turned around to each other and said, you know what, we need what the players that were playing sort of the West, they realised that the first thing they had to do was help the rest of the world, like Global South, like ASAP. And so they wanted to play again because they felt that, okay, if we, if our starting position was just help the global South, we might be able to get out of this and you know and that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:45:42] That’s a big yeah, it’s a big realisation.

Adam Procter: [00:45:44] It’s a big realisation and I don’t even know whether they realise how big a realisation that was and I wasn’t going to be like, Duh.

Adam Procter: [00:45:52] You know, because they’re 18, 20 or whatever. Do you know what I mean? It’s they’ve got plenty of things to figure out and work out without me going, Aha, I knew that already.

Adam Procter: [00:46:00] There loads of other things I want.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:01] To talk about, like VR extended reality, you know, you’ve mentioned there about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you know, with, with VR and extended reality and augmented reality and all that kind of thing. There’s all. But, you know, we’re going to have to wrap it up here. Laura, do you have a question which might help us finish this up?

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:23] Um. Yeah, well, I mean, Adam, I’d love to hear what you think the next big social impact game is going to be, if you have an idea.

Adam Procter: [00:46:33] Well, I’m hoping it’ll be daybreak, because I think it just is really good, you know? So I’m hoping and, you know, that would be the thing for me. I think I’m not sure what else is coming, but.

Adam Procter: [00:46:43] Yeah, yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:44] Yeah, cool. So we’ll include in the show notes, links to Daybreak. Of course, there’s a great medium publication. They’ve been working openly, which they’ve been working on the game for a couple of years now, I think, and they started open. So you can kind of get into the whole process, which I think is really interesting and we will make sure and include some links to some of those other games that Adam mentioned. But I guess we’ll wrap it up for now.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:13] And if people want to follow you on the socials, find out more about you, that kind of thing, where should they go?

Adam Procter: [00:47:18] Well, they can’t. They have to go to my blog, which is discursive, discursive.adamprocter.co.uk is probably the best place to start. I’m not on Twitter.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:26] Okay. So Adam Procter. Okay, cool.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:29] Thanks, Adam!

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:30] Thank you, Adam!

Adam Procter: [00:47:31] Cool!