Guiding Impact: Designing Impact Guides to use videogames for players, parents, and teachers

Impact Guide Header

As part of my work at the ASU’s Center for Games and Impact, I created the concept of Impact Guides. Impact Guides are a way to extend the experience of a game beyond what happens on the screen, and to reflect on key themes within the game and the connections to the larger world. I believe that games have the potential to transform how players see their actions, how teachers teach and engage students, and how families can share in experiences and talk about them.

I designed the Impact Guides to prompt players to think critically about their play—from the design and mechanics of the game to their own feelings to their everyday experiences—with a specific focus on the impact that these key moments can have.  Importantly, the Guides are invitations to not only reflect on personal experience but to share these ideas and impact with a larger community and to begin a dialogue about the intersection of play and change in the world.

The Impact Guides focus on specific thematic issues aligned with the Center’s larger Impact Areas. These Impact Areas include Environmental Sustainability, Economic Prosperity, Cultural Emergence, Educational Relevancy, Engaged Citizenship, and Public Health.

Working with a great group of undergraduate interns and with the Center’s staff, we created more than 30 guides for all kinds of games, form commercial, off-the-shelf games to games designed for education specifically. Our goal was to add new ways of thinking about games people might already be playing (Minecraft or Civilization, for example) as well as to introduce them to new games and new genres.

Playing with a purpose: Players, Teachers, Parents Guides

Different people come to games with different purposes—Impact Guides are designed with these groups in mind in order to capture the most meaningful approaches to the game and the impact surrounding it. All Impact Guides share key themes and a common purpose: to think deeply about the game, the player, and the world at large.  Player Guides explore the experience of the game and the central impact areas; the Teacher and Parent Guides add additional layers of reflection and context for adults to engage in younger players’ experiences and start conversations around their play.

  • Players Guides—Playing the game is key to understanding the impact it can have in the world. Player Guides are designed to highlight key themes and to frame them at multiple levels: how the game presents the theme, how players feel and experience it, and how it connects to the world around them. Themes can be overtly evident in the game, or can be more conceptually focused (for example, the theme of “problem solving” is central to both the mechanics and story of Portal; the theme of “sustainability” is not directly apparent in Minecraft but forms an important frame for understanding the game).
  • Teachers Guides—Teachers Guides extend the themes described in the Players Guides and includes reflective questions for teachers about their play. These guides also include prompts for students to engage in classroom discussions or other reflection, and classroom activities centered on the key themes. Teacher Guides are intended to provide a framework for playing and talking about the game, but also for teachers to expand on the Guide to incorporate their own practices, interests, and curriculum.
  • Parents Guides—Keeping up with a child’s play can be difficult; technology changes almost as quickly as their interests. Parents Guides are meant to provide parents with some sense of the game and some questions to ask their kids about their play in order to start a conversation. We also provide additional context for the game, including introductory videos and descriptions of the game, on our website. In conjunction with these resources, Parents Guides let families play and share their thoughts about what their play means to them and to the larger world.

Example Impact Guide: Portal 2 (Teacher’s Guide)

Portal - Impact Guide - Thumb

You can look at more examples of Impact Guides at gamesandimpact.org/impact-guides/, which includes more than 30 guides for commerical and educational games. 

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