How Game Designers use Emotion to Create Engagement

Chris Bennett and Margarita Quihuis in their early days of thinking about game design thinking. They look at emotion, collaboration, game economies, values based consumerism and how game design principles could be applied in general purpose software, commerce, etc.




Margarita: Okay. Hi, this is Margarita Quihuis and I’m the director of the Peace Innovation Lab and I’m also a researcher with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. I have the opportunity to talk to Chris Bennett. He’s a game designer, many, many years of experience from console games to social games, Diner Dash, which is one of the top iOS games ever. We’ve had this running conversation about a lot of the experience and insights that game designers have gotten, that to make products more persuasive and how we could take some of those principles of things that really work and apply them to other software applications. Even other industries and domains. So, Chris, last week I had the opportunity to go to the Facebook Compassion Research Day and I was fascinated to see how they were rethinking their interface in order to preserve the social graph.


It turns out that when people have some sort of conflict situation on Facebook, say for instance, someone posts a photo of you that you don’t like. In the past, the reporting flow was very limited. Basically, the default option was to block the person, but that was very extreme. Then they realized if we do that, then we’re going to break the social graph, and we don’t actually want people to default to not connecting with each other right? Can you imagine if you and I had a disagreement and my first reaction to that was “I’m never going to speak to Chris again.”


Chris: Right.


Margarita: As opposed to saying, “You know, Chris, this thing happened and I felt this way and that way and so on.” We have some practice in real life on how to do it, although it might be argued that people don’t do it really well, but online it’s even worse.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: It made me think about how game designers use emotion, right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Because emotion is a really important tool to move people through the different levels of the game. I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about it and see what came up for you.


Chris: Okay, it’s a really interesting question so maybe what I’ll do is go through the 3 major ways that game designers will use emotion in games to elicit those emotions and then we can go through and talk about those separately and how they relate to software apps. The classic way that emotion is used is in a narrative sense. So, you’re playing a Star Wars game and you’re hearing about the adventure that’s going on and it’s typically scripted events, it’s taking you through a story. It’s something that’s much closer to reading a book or watching a movie, but you’re playing interactive parts of the game, sometimes you’re watching cut scenes. There’s a plan behind it and there’s a narration behind it, and there’s a story behind it and that’s bringing you along on the emotional roller coaster, like a book or a movie would.


The second way is by in-game events, just mechanics of the game itself. So when you go through and play Pac-Man and you get that sense of “Oh, I just ate the dot, I can turn the tails and I can eat the ghosts now. Ahhh,” or “He’s right behind me. Oh, I screwed up and he ate me up.” Those little in-game events, they’re not a scripted narration, but they’re mechanics that create emotion in the game because of what it causes you to do while you’re playing it. Some of those are intended and some of those aren’t, but smart designers can pepper the game with those a-ha moments. Or those ‘urrgh’ moments, or those ‘awww’ moments. That’s pretty important too.


The third way that game designers use is simply by connecting people. You know me, I’m big on connecting people through games and through play. Just merely by connecting people in a game whether, it doesn’t matter if you’re running around shooting each other with paint guns in a game or if you’re running around and you’re building a house together, you’re building a castle together. Or whatever the case may be, you’re fighting giants or monsters, there’s so much emotion in the socialization that it’s an easy way to create that emotion because you’re going to have that connection with other people. When you have games that are heavily social, it starts to overlap the very problem that you’re talking about, that we’re talking about with Facebook with the compassion is, when you get together on World of Warcraft with a group of people who you may not know that well, you have that emotion built in, but you also have that emotional tension built in too that’s not scripted and that you have to account for.


Margarita: How does a game like World of Warcraft operate then because it’s also a game of collaboration right? So, there’s all these people who don’t know each other but they’re coming together to work on a common goal right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Even within work teams in the work place, we see this where there’s a common goal and yet there’s this tension in terms of, we’ve all had this experience, you’re on a team and there’s some people that are just sort of free riders, they’re slackers, they don’t do the stuff on time and all that and other people who, like the Hermione Grangers of the world who get everything all buttoned down and they got their homework done ahead of time. What lessons can we learn in terms of how does World of Warcraft trigger collaboration or what kind of conflict management do they have? How do they prompt people to say, “Okay, how am I going to resolve my difference with this person because I need this person in order to get this piece of the mission done?”


Chris: The way that they trigger the collaboration is by making the game difficult for doing it on your own. There’s a certain amount of fun that you can have in a game like World of Warcraft by yourself, never doing anymore than just talking to people, but you’re going to reach a level that you can’t really get passed. You’re also going to go up in level slower because you don’t have other people that show you the ropes, but also to go after those bigger monsters and those bigger treasure that are going to help you level up quicker. Part of what you do is, there’s a dance of you want to get together with a group of people who are higher level than you because it’s going to help you to level up faster, but a group of level 30 characters don’t want a level 2 character running around with them because what are they doing for them? They’re doing nothing but getting killed and getting in their way.


There’s that tension between, you want to find someone who’s a higher level group so you can learn, but some people also like working with lower levels because either they can mentor them or they can rampant over them, whatever the case is. You find these clouds of different levels of people start to gravitate towards each other and you’ll find that the groups of people tend to be plus or minus a certain amount of levels because it works for them. People just found naturally in the way that the game is designed that if you have a diverse group of characters that’s a certain size, yet not too big to where it becomes unwielding, it gets you through the game more effectively, and that’s how they have created a collaboration in a game that doesn’t necessarily need collaboration.


Margarita: Well, I’ve never played World of Warcraft, so I’m going to speak out of ignorance, but it would seem that in order to level up and if the game is designed that you need to seek out someone else’s help or someone else’s assistance, collaboration in order to do that, then the collaboration is central to it. Is there an optimal size for the team? I guess people just discover this organically over millions of hours of game play, some [inaudible 00:08:21] merged about what works and what doesn’t as people experiment.


Chris: Some of it’s based on the classic Dungeons and Dragons party size because that’s the where a lot of these games came from as far as the manic nature of the different games. You’ll have fighters and you’ll have wizards and you’ll have clerics and thieves that all have different roles in the party in the game. I haven’t played a lot of World of Warcraft lately, so I don’t have exact numbers in mind, but typically parties are running about 5 to 10 people. 5 people is the minimum where you can have all your bases covered. When you have 10 people, you have enough where you can have multiples of some, where “Hey, we’re going to have multiple fighters, we can have someone strong upfront to take a lot of damage, and then we’re going to have a couple of wizards in the middle who can cast spells while all the actions going on.”


I’ve seen videos of 20 and 30 person parties, but at that point, it starts to split up into different tactical squads and you need someone really almost domineering to watch over everyone, otherwise it just goes into chaos. If your average person who is like, “Oh, I’m used to running a 5 person team,” tries to bring 30 people in, you have one person that’s all they’re doing is running around telling people what to do. So those types of games are a really interesting Petri dish of not only the social mechanics of dealing with people and the emotions, but also the social economy of how big is too big and how small is too small to where, “Well, we’re only 3 people. We can’t really go after that big monster and we can’t get that big treasure.”


Margarita: Can you talk a little bit more about economies because I know that in the past, you’ve talked about game economies and things like that? I don’t know too much about it except what you’ve told me. What does that mean?


Chris: A social economy or a game economy?


Margarita: A social economy.


Chris: A social economy, I was using that as a term to mean what are you getting from the social dynamics and the social economy of how many people is too big for a party and how many people is too small for a party and what are those different roles? When you play a 2 person game, you only need 2 people. When you play Mario Kart, Mario Kart’s best with 4 people. Other games, when you play a first-person shooter, it’s nice to have 24 people in a game because then you have 2 groups of people that are pretty good chunks. If you get too many people, you start to run into Internet bandwidth problems. That’s the social economy there of what’s too small and what’s too big.


Margarita: Okay, so that’s going to vary based on the design of the game? It’s like parties and room size, you have to have the proper density in the room right?


Chris: Yeah, exactly.


Margarita: If it’s too crowded, you can’t dance, if it’s too big everyone’s embarrassed.


Chris: It also depends on what you’re doing. The same size room, if you’re having a poetry salon is going to be different than if you’re having a house party and you got the music bumping and everyone’s standing up and everyone’s dancing because you know about dance. The dynamics and what it is that you’re doing depends a lot too.


Margarita: Okay. Then in terms of game economy, what does that mean?


Chris: A game economy, many games have points or dollars or gold that you use to buy things in the game. Many games have experience points that you accumulate by doing things in the game and when you get those experience points you can level up and that allows you to do more things in the game or get access to more areas or just be higher up on the totem pole. More recent casual and social games will have other economies in there or have other currencies, especially premium currencies that people might pay real money for that they can accumulate throughout the game slowly or they can buy with real money and get quickly. For instance, I may get 1 diamond every time I level up in a game, but when I look at that really cool castle that’s going to cost me 12 diamonds, I think, “Hmmm, do I really want to wait and level up 12 times or do I just want to buy 20 diamonds for 99 cents, buy the castle and be done with it?” That’s an example of double or triple currency economy.


Margarita: That’s relying on these extrinsic motivators right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: It’s like, I’m cheap so I wouldn’t pay for the castle.


Chris: Right, most people are cheap and they don’t want to pay something for that so they won’t. Those types of games will rely on a certain percentage of players who want to get through the game quickly, or they’re impatient, or there’s that “I need it now.” The games that really do that well have the ‘I need it now’ factor in there.


Margarita: Got it. Ummm.


Chris: Go ahead.


Margarita: I was talking to Mark Nelson the other day and he was talking about how he was experimenting with this Facebook game and it was a raiding game.


Chris: Oh yeah, P to P.


Margarita: Yeah, it’s not quite a city build because it’s a bit more hostile, a bit more aggressive. You go and somebody has something that you want so you go raid them and you take it, right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: So he was playing around because there’s chat in there as well and someone that was adjacent to him in the geography was going to come and take something from him and Mark decided to turn the game on its head by chatting with this person and saying, “And to what do I owe this great pleasure.”


Chris: Right, right. That’s funny.


Margarita: How can you take a game where you say people have different resources and instead of having the narrative be one of aggression, that I need to go and take it through some sort of aggressive means, to being one of collaboration. Of, “Oh what do you have? What can I exchange?” It’s the same underlying mechanics of the game, but the narrative is different.


Chris: Right. The mechanics of the game are actually pretty similar. Two good examples of that are some of the P2P games that he was probably playing are set up to create conflict between the players, that’s the point of them. Those are known more as less casual, more hardcore, what they call ‘midcore’ social games. There attracting not to the core social games market of people who are a little bit older, passed they’re teens and 20s maybe, who tend to be a lot more female who will play the CityVille type games, but the younger, typically male audience who still wants to try an iOS or a social game but the mechanics are built to attract that player and what it is that they want. They want to dominate, they want to have competition with people, they want to be butting heads with people, that’s what they’re there for.


The mechanics are not that dissimilar for a game like CityVille where you are building your city, but you’re also inviting your friends to be your neighbors. They’re not people you’re going to war with, they’re your neighbors and you’re trading with them. When you get your train that starts to come through your town and you send supplies over to your friend’s city, you’re doing that to help them. When you visit their city and you’re collecting some of their buildings and they get coins for it also, you’re doing it in a collaborative way, and the game was just planned to be that way. You can take an experience and push it in one direction or another depending on what your intention is for it.


You have to realize that you have to mix the right intention with the right audience because if I took a P2P audience and I made a game where they could be Mark Nelson in the game and make peace with people, peace is going to be the aberration of the game. It’s going to be the exception. If you have a game like CityVille and you had someone who wanted to come in and run rampant on someone’s city, I’m not sure how you would do it. You might be able to, but it would be the aberration. So you need to find the right mechanics and the right content and match it with the right audience, or at least an audience that’s open to it to get what it is that you’re looking for.


Margarita: Then picture the corporate world or the non-game world where we’re not really thinking about the intention or the narrative. We have software and then people say, “Oh I can manipulate the system so I can be aggressive, or I can manipulate the system so I can be collaborative,” but there’s no clear signal because not everyone is operating off of the same book, off of the same narrative. So you get these conflicting, here are people who are playing it in a very aggressive, political way. Something as benign as email right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Which is kind of narrative neutral and yet people can use email as a weapon, as a political tool right?


Chris: Right. Right, so it depends on what you’re intentions are. If you create a tool like Twitter or you create a tool like Chat Roulette, you’re basically throwing it out there in the open to see what people do with it. You can turn things back and forth based on your intentions but it gets taken out of your hands for what people want to use it for. When we’re talking about games, games are typically, even games that are like sandbox or open-world games, are typically built with an intention in mind they build a much tighter box. You could go and play Minecraft which is a low polygon resolution game about building different things and make a political statement, but you have to work to do it, that’s not what it’s based for.


Whereas an open environment, like let’s say Second Life or Twitter, it’s pretty easy to do because there’s no assumption that you wouldn’t be doing it. You could literally go into Second Life and build a soapbox and tell people that you’re going to talk about something that’s going on that you’re worried about, and then a certain tribe of people will gather around you and that’s the point of it. If you go into World of Warcraft and do that, most of the people are going to say, “Hey, I’m busy getting that dragon out of that castle, I don’t have time for you. I’m not here for anything or something, I’m here for this particular thing, which is to go get those orcs and take their treasure.” If someone’s trying to elicit particular emotions or particular connections, I think it’s good to build the box in that way, that helps at least facilitate that.


Margarita: Okay. Then the when you look at enterprise applications and why they sometimes fall flat is because there is this task intention right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: A process intention, you want to do these things.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Accounting or invoices or supply chain and all that, but there’s no emotional layer.


Chris: I want to play world of supply chain.


Margarita: World of supply chain.


Chris: Yeah.


Margarita: It’s funny because USA ID has a technology challenge on human atrocities and how we can use technology to combat that and I was talking to a researcher at Intel 2 months ago. He was looking at me like, “Huh? How would you do that.” I said, “Well, what if it became a feature of your supply chain software that there was data that would let you know what your exposure was to human rights violations.”


Chris: Interesting.


Margarita: Because there’s an economic cost to being fox-conned.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Right. It hits your stock price, it affects your brand, consumers may choose a different product, a competitive product that they perceive to be more inline with their values, right?


Chris: That’s interesting. It would be interesting if things like that became widespread. If you’re on Amazon, which has become the online Walmart of the world, or the US at least. While you’re searching for things, you have the prices, you have whether it’s new or used, you have what people’s ratings are, you have reviews; but what if you also had a meter that told you about human rights violations that were connected with it and just gave a meter with it. Or you’re buying produce and it gave you an idea of where it was coming from and you didn’t have to rely on someone’s marketing packaging or the fact that it’s going through 6 or 7 tiers before it gets to you. That’s all being quantified and that’s all being tracked. It’s like looking down at your gas gauge or your mileage meter and seeing the data, and seeing, “Oh, I thought I was driving good but I’m only getting 23 miles to the gallon.”


Margarita: Right, right, right. Part of it is interesting because it’s a different angle toward the issue that the social capital folks have in terms of externalities. So the way our economic system works is it doesn’t pull in the externalities and part of it was because in the past we didn’t have the ability to measure that and account for it.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: If the product that you make creates a lot of pollution downstream, it’s not your problem right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: It can then have these other affects, it isn’t brought in. How do you bring that cost in because you don’t bear it? Maybe another way to approach it, at least toward consumers is just surfacing it and just making it visible. Then you go, “Oh, here’s my dashboard of all my purchases on Amazon and it turns out the carbon footprint is off and it’s off in terms of my values.” What I think is interesting is this emerging awareness among consumers about matching products to their values.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Right? In the marketplace, it provides a … it’s more of a niche-ification. I was at the store the other day and there were organic, soy-free eggs.


Chris: Really?


Margarita: Exactly. I’m going “Soy-free? Is that an issue?” Apparently, it’s a big enough issue for enough people to create a micro-market.


Chris: Wow.


Margarita: Of soy-free organic eggs. There’s [inaudible 00:23:33] a dozen.


Chris: How much?


Margarita: If that’s something that’s really important to you, there’s an egg farmer who can meet that right?


Chris: Right. That’s interesting. Yeah.


Margarita: It would be interesting to have this game-ification of commerce so that way you could see how you’re doing against your values. Or even if you weren’t aware that that was a value, it’s sort of like the inception thing, it plants a seed in your head and you start thinking, “Gosh I’m not as green as I would like.” If Amazon gave you an alternative and said, “Well, you typically buy this.” Or if you go to the grocery store, this is what you typically buy based on we scan your card and we know your buying habits. This is an organic alternative, or this is a vegan alternative, or this is a … just giving you different scenarios based on what it is that you care about.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: It could be health. You’re diabetic and you’re looking for things that are attuned to diabetics. So it says instead of choosing product A, choose product B, it’s better for you. Instead of you having to proactively do the research on it because it can be overwhelming.


Chris: Yeah, it can. one important distinction, the main difference between a game economy and a real economy is that a game economy is controlled and manipulated on purpose. It’s a closed system and there are still online games that have real economies, they let people auction off items. Someone will get ore in the game and they’ll use it to create a sword and they’ll give it to a magician who can make it into a magic sword and now it’s much more valuable because of the end product and they auction it off somewhere for 500 times of what the ore originally costs, and that’s a real economy. Those things are hard to control and games have started to hire actual real economists to help advise them in what they’re doing.


Game economies, especially the simpler ones, they still do have complex economies, but there’s something that you’re doing with the economy. You’re taking the basic concepts of faucets and drains of hey, where does the money come into an economy and where’s the money come out of an economy, and you’re controlling those things. You have control over the taps and you have control over the drains, and you do that because you want to make the games interesting and fun and engaging, but not give people too much too quickly. If you came into World of Warcraft and the first thing that you saw when you walked out into the forest was a dragon flew away, like the dragon in The Hobbit flies away and you’re sitting there with a whole treasure trove. Anything that you could ever want is there, that’s going to be really exciting for like an hour, but if that treasure trove is sitting 120 hours down the way but you know that it’s there and you get hints that it’s there, that’s what makes the journey more interesting.


That’s why we’re willing to start off as a hobbit in his nice little hobbit hole having these dwarves visit him and this strange wizard visit him because we know when we trust the game designers, that’s the beginning of a journey. That we’re going to have travails, but also some fun moments along the way, and whether the narrative is planned or whether it’s scripted or whether it’s social, there’s that promise that we’re going on a journey and that we’re going to have fun and we’re going to learn something that draws people in. That’s the part that I see enterprise software or real world type things forget. They assume that because they’re really, really into solving the debt crisis or because they’re really, really into ending bullying or ending massacres that the people who engage with their product will be as into that.


They don’t provide really a proper narrative for them and that’s why those types of serious games that come out have a bunch of researchers play them and a bunch of people who are really, really into them play them, and they get people playing games in the hundreds and the thousands instead of games that are, in more my experience, there’s millions of people playing them or maybe even tens of millions of people playing them. CityVille topped out at 100 million people playing it every month. They had about 8 to 12 million people playing it on a daily basis. No other game can touch that and there’s a reason for it, there’s nothing in that game that was there to really turn people off. The things that were there in the game were to include people and they gave them a very tight box to play in, but there was some interesting choices that they could make.


If you look at the … It’s funny right now is a really popular time to jump on Zynga and everyone says how they’re terrible and they’re falling a part and they’re evil or whatever. Look back and look at the success that they found with their games and look at why that happened. It’s not just Zynga, it’s also Playdom and Disney, and it’s also a bunch of other companies that did it successfully is look at what it is that they’re doing. CityVille is not about building Megalopolis, it’s not SimCity, it’s about building Green Acres, it’s a lot more Happy Days then it is 2013. FarmVille, again, it has that Green Acres feel, like “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if you had a farm and it was like this?” It’s not a John Deere farm simulator.


Margarita: So it’s nostalgic?


Chris: Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and that’s part of what that is. Even a lot of the fantasy games for a little bit older audiences, say in their 30s and 40s, those games are nostalgic for the first time someone played Dungeons and Dragons 20 or 30 years ago. Even though that seems like a short period of time for nostalgia, you know how things go in waves. Right now 80s music is popular. 5 years ago, 70s were really popular and eventually we’ll move onto grunge is going to be classic rock.


Margarita: Is going to be the classic rock, right.


Chris: That seems really strange to me, but that’s how those things go in waves and nostalgia is a very strong emotion connecting with these super cute animal faces with the big eyes, and ‘won’t you save me?’ It’s very sappy and in your face, but it also hits against people’s emotion.


Margarita: One of the challenges, obviously, because we’ve talked about the tiny minuscule impact that real games, or serious games have had. How could we take just a little drop of the serious and put it into the massively popular games? I think it goes back to BJ Fogg’s philosophy that if you’re going to move people into particular behavior, you want to use the lightest touch. Not to be heavy handed about any particular topic because it triggers resistance or people may not agree with it, but just the tiniest little nudge to move them that way and then put them on this behavior path where it’s just a series of tiny nudges. Have you seen any work in that area or any experimentation on that?


Chris: Yeah, about a little under a year ago, I was working with USA ID and a social game company in Jordan called Aranim Games on that very thing. They were trying to help teach civic engagements and water energy resources to young Jordanians. They were trying to get passed the concept of let’s just build a serious game that 150 people are going to play and really be into and they were going to present it at a conference and were going to be this is great. We were trying to go beyond that, so the design that I wrote for them was matching what was much more popular at the time of a city building game but a very small version of it. Of hey, let’s take a microcosm of a game like CityVille where it’s not built to be a game about civic engagement, it’s built to be a fun game where you have a small city or small village in Jordan and you’re building it up and you’re doing the same things that you do, you’re collecting the buildings, you’re meeting new neighbors, you’re building new things; but the content came in subtle ways.


You’ll have quests in games which is an important narrative device. It’s a good way to get people through the game, it’s breadcrumbs of why don’t you do this next, why don’t you do this next, why don’t you do this next. One of the things I did was deconstruct CityVille and it was interesting to see how they introduced different parts of the game. When they wanted to show you the government, they would say, “Well in order to get to the next level population, you need 150 community points. Or you can get 200 community points by building a post office.” Well it’s pretty obvious to someone that if they never build a post office, they’re never going to get above 150 population. So they build that post office. Now you’ve given that first step of “Oh, okay, maybe I want to do more than just build bike shops and cafes and houses for people.” There’s a third tier. There’s the commercial, there’s a residential and there’s a government. Okay I get that now.


Once you start building more of that in, they start to have little scenarios of hey, why don’t you run for mayor of the city? So they’d have a series of quests that were involved in that. First if you want to do that then you need to go out and get a bunch of signatures and they would have a quest around that. Hey why don’t you have a bully pulpit where you can talk about the cool things you’re going to do with the city and tell them about how you built this cool sports stadium. One of the first things you’ve got to do is build the sports stadium to show people what you’ve done.


We’re starting to write out quests and scenarios for the Jordanian project of how do we teach people civic engagement? Let’s have an NPC in the game, a non-player character in the game who is a reporter who can tell you what’s actually going on in the city so when their head pops up, they’re going to be telling you the real, on-the-street of what’s going on, which is sometimes going to be at odds of what the governor character who’s telling you, “Well, this is what our city planning is going to be like” and you have this reporter that says, “Yeah, the people are really worried about leaky pipes and they’re losing water. What can we do about that?” It was a way to bring in the real world into the game, but it was meant as a game first, and the real world was brought into it in subtle ways.


Margarita: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no that’s really interesting because the real world is just a tiny challenge right? As opposed to hitting your head over it and say “We’re going to make you a better citizen.” Then it makes me think back on the Facebook work on the reporting flows that they did for 13 and 14 year olds and how to deal with photos or comments that they objected to and so on. One of the things that they found was the conventional wisdom is that you want to reduce the number of clicks in the user interface, right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: The number of screens people need to get through in order to accomplish whatever they want accomplished and what they found instead was in the reporting flows when they made them a little bit longer, they got more engagement, they got more compliance in terms of people following through to the very end.


Chris: When they increase the number of …


Margarita: Part of it was taking the time to help the person unpack how they actually felt about it.


Chris: Wow, that’s interesting.


Margarita: Right? Say like, “Well, you want to report this photo. Well why?” The next dialog box would give you a series of radial buttons. It’s like it’s embarrassing, it’s offensive, it’s this, it’s that, it’s the other. Trying to get more precise language then ‘I don’t like it.’ Right? What it did was triggered a moment of self-reflection for the 14 year old. Why is this upsetting me precisely?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Let me think about it and then the next dialog box is well what do you want to about it? Right?


Chris: Right.


Margarita: You still have the option to block, but there was this new option to message the person and they found that overwhelmingly, the teens wanted to resolve the issue on their own. They didn’t want to bring in an older adult. They didn’t want to bring in Facebook. It’s like, “No, no, I want to work this out and so we’re going to have a dialog.” Then they experimented with message boxes that were blank and then of course people go “Uh, what do I say?” Message box that were pre-populated with text that pulled some of the emotionally rich language that had been flagged in the previous dialog box. So, if you said it was embarrassing, then it would say “Dear, Chris, please take down this photo, I find it’s embarrassing to me.” They found that nuances between saying “Please take down the photo” versus “Would you mind.” Would you mind is a little bit indirect, it’s a bit softer, but it wasn’t effective.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: To the person who received the message, but if you said ‘please’, then the person is like, “Oh, okay, I’ll do that.” There’s linguistic subtleties to that. I’m curious about this civic game. So you go through and all of a sudden this conflict occurs or this point of contention and say you’re running for mayor and you come up with a campaign slogan and you get feedback that it doesn’t work. Then to have something to help you unpack why that particular type of messaging wouldn’t work or why it would alienate this cohort of the population versus another. Part of the game is that I need to get 50% of the vote, but the population is divided so that I can’t rely on any one group to get the 50%.


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Which is not unusual. Then you say, “Oh, if I come out with this message, it works for this group, but that only gets me 25% of the way there and it pisses everyone else off.”


Chris: Right.


Margarita: Right? How do I, again, be more nuanced? Okay, I have to really think about how I’m going to build a coalition or how do I communicate in such a way that I can bring people together rather than push them apart.


Chris: Right. Interesting. Yeah, there’s several things that really hit me in there of establishing value and having a real call to action. If you someone doesn’t like something and they hit the report button and their only options are block or not block, then either 100% of the people are going to hit block or the people who don’t are going to forget and say, “Oh, I’m frustrated because I didn’t want to block. I didn’t want to bring adult.”


Margarita: Right.


Chris: I didn’t want to choose a nuclear option, but I didn’t do anything. Even if you had options of messaging the person on that first screen, you haven’t established any value to that and you haven’t gotten passed the person’s reptilian brain of “Ahh, I can’t believe they tagged me in that photo.”


Margarita: Exactly, exactly. That’s why they have these intermediate steps. [crosstalk 00:39:34] disable that reptilian brain.


Chris: Right, so this is interesting because game tutorials have thankfully gotten shorter over the years. You used to have these complex tutorials that would take you 20 minutes to get through because they’re trying to get you into the game and they have very complex things to teach you. Now they try to get it to the minimum number of clicks necessary to actually show you what the game is about. Angry Birds, I think you have like 7 clicks and then you actually get to start playing the game. There’s no huge tutorial and there’s no words in it either, it’s all iconic and visual; but with what you’re describing, having a couple … having 2 few clicks is going to lead to unwanted actions because people haven’t gotten there yet.


Margarita: It encourages reactionary thinking versus take a moment, breathe, and then respond.


Chris: Right. The process of having the unpack that and think about that causes you to stop thinking about the … stop using the reptilian part of the brain for a second and start to use the emotions and think, “Huh, well why did I want them to do that? Was it embarrassing or was it incorrect or were they bullying me? What was really going on there?” “Well, I was embarrassed because my hair looked really weird in that picture.”


Margarita: Right.


Chris: If that’s all it was, then there’s a way to deal with that, but if you go through that process and you go, “You know what? That person was being a jerk and they did it to be a jerk.” Then there’s an option you want to go, but at least you thought about it and having something that talks to you in real language … good games are good about talking to you in a real language and not making up this machine language.


Margarita: Right, right.


Chris: The days of having a computer talk to you and every scifi game of ‘this is what’s happening and this computer system has gone haywire’. Games have moved beyond that and I know people who write for games and they write in interesting ways, they write to try and talk to you. I know that some of the bigger game companies, when they’re writing those little messages that try to get you click on something in Facebook or on your iPhone when you’re sending a notification to someone, they will AB test those things like crazy. There’s 7 words in it, but they’ll come up with 12 different versions of it and they’ll AB test all 12 of those to see which one of them gets point 1 percent of the better response and go with that one.


They’ve been finding ways to be hyper-specific with their persuasion there because they know that that tenth of a percent is going to increase the virality of the game and get more people involved with it. When they’re dealing with millions or tens of millions of people, that one tenth of one percent could mean thousands more people playing the game on a daily basis.


Margarita: Interesting, interesting.


Chris: Yeah.


Margarita: I think our time is just about up, but this was super fascinating and it’s already triggered more questions that I’d like to ask you at another time.


Chris: Awesome. Well, we should definitely do another one of these.


Margarita: Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much Chris.


Chris: All right, this is Chris Bennett signing out.


Margarita: All right, bye.