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Dr. Hazel Bradshaw, resident game designer in the Service Innovation Lab team, was invited to give a talk on the role of game design psychology and everyday life at the Wellington Creative Mornings event in April. Creative Mornings is a global breakfast event and the theme for April was Game.

In her presentation Hazel shares how game design principles can keep us engaged with everyday activities through finding a state of flow. The talk covers the historical significance of games in our civilisations, Hazel͛’s journey in game design and her specialisation in the field of ‘serious games’ and how serious game design practice informs her present work in government. The body of the talk unpacks how the psychological theories of motivation, skilled performance creation and Flow theory can be combined to create engaging experiences and interactions. Hazel explains how these theories relate to design thinking and daily life, not just game design. Hazel finalises the talk with a set of takeaway messages that provide the audience with some tips on how to ‘get some Flow in your day’.

>Transcript from Hazel Bradshaw’s talk about game design psychology and everyday life

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Thanks. It's going to be that tone, really. So it was a theme of games. And I really wanted to kind of talk... I'm a game designer, so this is like woo-hoo! I get to talk about all my stuff.

But I also want to talk about it in terms of psychology of game design, because it's really relevant to everybody, everyday life. And you will have experienced some of these things that I'm going to talk about. But, I'm going to go a little bit back first.

So what I want to cover today is history of games-- a brief history of games, my journey to where I've got to now, covering some of the usefulness of games that you'll probably be able to relate to. Then we'll do a little bit more of a kind of academicky bit in the middle-- because I'm an academic; can't help it-- on the psychology of games. And then I'll give you some takeaways that you can actually use for the rest of the day, hopefully, and the weekend.

History of games. They're really old. As long as we've had civilizations, we've had games. Some of the first ones are like we're going back 5,000 years. And we've got tile-based games. And that includes kind of how it evolved into something like chess. So there you go. 5,000 years.

Coming forward slightly, 100 years ago-- told you it was brief-- there was this thing that we started to do with what was war gaming. And HG Wells, the famous author, was really into this. And he created his own sort of room for the boys to sit and smoke cigars and play war games. And this is really relevant to where we're going to be going, kind of where we are now in modern games. But this was a way of kind of modelling experiences.

Forward again. So 40 years ago, we got to the point where we've got digital games. So sort of where we started with our modern era of games. So there were space wars, in the consoles which were the arcade games. And then we had Pong. Pong is where I came into this. So you can tell how old I am now.

And then, about 15 years ago, we kind of were fully into the digital age. We got past consoles, and we got into the whole massively multiplayer online role-playing games-- MMORPGs. And World of Warcraft was one of the biggest ones of that. That was 2004. This is kind of the area we're sitting in now.

I, however, sit in a slightly different area. So about 10 years ago-- I am really young, now- is this area of games which start to look at games for serious purposes. So we call them "serious games," which is a lousy name, but it's a game that's not for purely for entertainment. And this is about 10 years ago.

And this is a game called Foldit. Because humans are really good at pattern recognition, a bunch of scientists said, hey, can you help us fold all these proteins, because machine algorithms can't do it. So teams of people got together went, yep, sure, done it, next. And they were like, wow!

So I like being in this space, because games are actually useful for humanity. So this is where I sit, and why I work in government.

Da-da, da-da. And this is for the game geeks in the world. This is the journey. Someone will get it. So this is my journey. So this is actually me. It's not a '70s advert for an Atari. It's actually that's me. I'm so enthused.

So I started my journey through playing Pong. And I was just fascinated by the fact that I had control of these little paddles that went up and down on screen, and it made the noise, and it was me doing that. And I loved it.

And then it disappeared out of my mind, and then came back when I was trying to do my undergrad degree in art. And I got into special effects. But then I got into digital special effects. And then I got into worlds.

And then it was lost down in the time where I ended up doing a doctorate in this stuff. So I am actually a doctor of game design, which I find quite funny. So you can have a doctorate in this stuff.

But there's a whole heap of things that went on in between there that got me to there. But I was really interested in how people play games, why they play games, what makes them playable, what engages people with games. Because they do.

So this next slide is my entire PhD research. There's 10 years of that, plus my four years of PhD in one slide. This is a miracle, folks. I can do this in one slide.

But basically I came up with this system which is called Structural Playability. And it's a game play design rig for creating the immersive content within games. And it has four stages. And I'm not going to go into that for you, because it would probably take more than the four years it needed for me.

So at the beginning you have got the analysis of your problem, which is kind of where we sit with the serious games, all about story and user in here, and how you design. And this is about build, how you actually put this in a game engine.

I'm going to talk through some of the psychology that fits into this bit. And then hopefully I won't lose everyone, but you can shout at me and say, hey, what does that mean? That's fine. So some of the things I've done, just to say that I'm not kind of making this up.

One of the first ones I did was work with Mighty River Power and the University of Canterbury. I made a whole geothermal resource for

geologists to play with, and practise with. Which is great fun, because you could actually jump in the pools and die, and get kind of achievements for that. Can't do that in real life.

Second one I worked with Landcare Research. Apparently in New Zealand we have a bit of a problem with possums. And they eat our trees. There's no Australians here, are there? No, we don't like possums.

Basically, I was helping them to find ways that we could actually engage people with how you get rid of them, which usually has some really horrible ways, to be honest. But part of that was looking at kind of how the impacts of possums over time. So every tree you see in here is a possum eating it. And one day is one second. And you can just see the forest go pa-toosh! And this was a research thing we couldn't get funded. It's a shame.

Now here's a secret. Please don't tell anyone. This is a project I've just been working on. It's not been released yet. But this is a project with Te Papa. And this is going to be released soon. This is a way of using Minecraft to play with earthquakes. So you will be able to get your hands on this-- but not yet. So you might see me popping up again. This is a big secret. Don't tell anyone.

And then finally, where I am now, I've moved over from kind of Te Papa, and I've moved into government space called LabPlus. We're an R&D lab-- sort of experimental R&D lab-- that works across agency and government. So they thought, I know what we need. We need a game designer. I was like, sure.

So we are an open lab. Come and visit us I would say at our building. But we got booted out of our building last week, or the week before, because it's the one on Boulcoutt street that got shut down. So we're sort of floating around. So I'll tell you, come visit us. We have an open lab every Friday. It will be great.

OK.

[SIGH]

Usefulness of games. They have to be useful, right? So let's go back. I like this. Go back in time. Nudity warning.

So in the beginning, we did a lot of learning, because learning is universal. And it's also a survival method. So this is really important in terms of how we kind of approach it. We've had 3 million years of learning how to adapt to our environment so we survive. That's a lot of stuff going on in our heads that have hardwired us.

We also do this. We have this in common. We play. And animals play, and we play. And it's a way, a safe way, it's evolution's way of allowing us to acquire and perfect valuable skills in circumstances of relative safety. That's obviously really distracting you all right now. The elephants are my favourite. Love them.

So that's play. And we're really good at play. And we still play. And animals play.

However, humans have got really big heads. And we started doing other things from play. And we needed this thing called cognition to think about our world.

And you can't pick up the universe and play with it, really. It's just a bit too big. So we had this way of being able to model things. So this is where we kind of got cognition, and this is where we ended up with our education system, which is another track I will get down at some point.

So we have play. We have cognition. But what we have in between all these that joins them together, which is what we've been doing as long as civilization has been there, to acquire knowledge, we've got play, we've got cognition. But games actually give you both, and allow you to model all that. So all that lovely psychology we've been building up over 3 million years of kind of survival and adapting to environment, we can put it into games, and you can play with it. That's why I like games. And this is why I really like to get into gameplay psychology.

So the psychology I'm going to talk about is really relevant to everyone's everyday life. And these are the building blocks of gameplay that I use. Has anyone ever had that feeling where you're completely in the zone, where you're focused? Someone at the back has. I know him. Yeah.

So this is kind of a rundown of what these building blocks are. So first building block in this is Motivation. I'm sure you were all highly motivated this morning to get out of bed and come down here, and also go to work. Every day we have different ways, things that we are motivated by.

The main thing that we feel motivated when you feel excited about something comes from this idea of being self-determined. Self-determination-- feeling like you can initiate your own behaviour. Some of you won't feel very self-determined this morning. You'll have had to come in. You've got to go and do things. You don't feel self-determined. Your motivation's low.

But at the core of everything, if we want to design good gameplay, and if you want to have a good response to how you act during your day, can you feel self-determined? Do you have autonomy? Do you feel competent in what you're doing? And can you relate things together?

So that's self-determined. If you've got this self-determination, you're feeling, yes, I felt good. I can take on the world. It's me. I have control. Then you can look at two types of motivation.

The best type of motivation is your intrinsic one, which is the things that drive you from the inside, your internal drives. It's what you care about. I know a particular person in the room-- my partner-- who's only motivated by windsurfing. He's going to kill me for this. So he has his drive.

So you will have a drive where you're intrinsically motivated. I'm really motivated by games. I'm also motivated by gardening, which is a bit weird. So that's my intrinsic drive. It's the one that makes you get up and want to do something.

Other side of that is your extrinsic, your external drives. So work is an extrinsic, because it pays you money so then you can go and do the things that you want to do at the weekend. Again, my partner hasn't figured out the extrinsic bit yet. Totally going to kill me.

So thinking about those two. So in game design you want to get-- or in any kind of thing where you want to design a product-- think about what intrinsically motivates your audience, and then think about how you can kind of move them with the extrinsic stuff. That's what points and things are for in gameplay. It's kind of moving people around. Or scoreboards, that kind of thing.

So here's another layer. This is my master's degree slide. There's a theory of skill performance. All of us are capable of using our skills to perform really well.

And we have different levels that we do this. So we start off when we're learning, and it's easy. We're just kind of thinking about stuff, and going, ooh, click. That's that. And it's really slow, but you're really learning, and it's easy.

Then you begin to come into this idea where you can associate two things together. In gameplay, you would run and you would jump as two different, separate things. And then you could associate those two together, which means you can actually scale castle walls. Great, that's medium.

When all of your skills come together in one big pool, you are totally autonomous. That's when gameplay hits you with the hard level. That's the boss level, where you're using all your skill, and you're kind of then rolling over into this thing which I've described as "the zone."

But it's actually a flow state. Flow is the cool, optimal experience. But it's also the universal theory of enjoyment. So if you're challenging yourself, and you're being that 3 million years ago that survival, edge of challenging, surviving, doing, using all your skills, this is the result. It's this kind of flow state.

And I'm going to say this right. And it was 1990, by a psychologist called Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I'm going to test you on that one later. So what he discovered when he did his research across different cultures across the globe, rock climbers and readers and Korean tai chi people I think as well, was that when we say we enjoy ourselves, we're all describing something that's the same. We're all in flow. And what that means is that, see, this is flow. This is the zone. This is the channel that you want to be in. If you enjoy your life, this will be it.

If you do mountain biking, or reading, or gardening, and you're just in here, and you're happy, this is part of where you are. And the reason is because your challenge level is probably meeting your skill level. So you're skilled, and you've got a challenge that you can meet.

When you start off within flow, you always have an idea of something that you can actually achieve. So what we do is we bounce around the edges of flow channel. So our skills go up. Our challenge decreases. We get a new challenge, and our skills, --- we just kind of bounce around through there.

Thinking about work sometimes, your skill levels can be quite high. However, the challenge level, perhaps, isn't always up to what you want to get out of a day. So you end up in this area where you are a bit bored. And the more your skill levels go up, and the less your challenge moves, the more boredom you'll get. And then you'll get further and further away from the flow state.

The opposite of this is if the challenge is too high, and your skills aren't up to it, or you don't think your skills are up to it, then you are going to head up out of here and off into anxiety. And funnily enough, anxiety is also one of the things that underly procrastination. So next time you're procrastinating, just take a look and go, am I feeling anxious? Are my skills and challenges matching up? Oh, OK.

So, flow. There's eight stages to flow. I'm not going to list all of these, but we'll go into them a bit deeply. So you can track kind of what makes up a flow state.

So in terms of me as a designer, I want to look at what motivates people. I want to look at how I can scaffold a skill performance for them-- easy, medium hard. But if I want to get people in a flow state, what are the design conditions I can start to actually manipulate that will get people into those second set of flow conditions.

So the challenge is one of the key things. If you can design a challenge that meets people's ability to undertake it, if it's too high a challenge they won't engage with it. The other ones is, challenges need to occur in a sequence of activities that are goal-related and bounded by rules, which sounds to me exactly like a game. And feedback is one of the cool things. Without a goal, and without feedback, you're not aware where you are, so you don't feel motivated.

The second set of flow conditions are measures. So you can measure how well you are doing. So if you are trying to design something to get people into flow, you can measure the outcomes of that by using these criteria.

So if you can concentrate on what you're doing and be undisturbed, get that in that zone sort of thing, and then you feel a sense of control, then you get to this point where you have this loss of self-consciousness. It means that you don't care about what someone else is doing. You don't start looking and relating yourself to somebody else. You just actually are complete. Now this is me, I'm doing this, and I'm happy.

And a big one-- this is why it works with gamers, and you can tell-- is the transformation of time. Time disappears, and you'll just start going, oh, I like this task. This is good. I was just doing it for five minutes. But it's not. It's like two or three hours later. That's when you know you've been in a flow state.

So think back to times when you've done that, and you've gone, oh, yeah, oh. I've woken up, and I'm going, ooh, that's nice. World of Warcraft was my timesink. I had to stop playing that.

So all of that, how does that all fit together? How do I relate all this back? In gameplay design, I am looking at building this up as a set of building blocks. I am looking at, first of all, how people are motivated, and what they're motivated by. This is something you can do with your own life. What motivates you, and what are you motivated by?

And that's kind of what I do for the player. As a designer, I want to look at how do I create the right conditions for people to be able to have a skill performance. Because skill performance underlies the conditions for flow. And we all want to be enjoying what we're doing.

And the top one is the experience. It's like, this is what you want to capture. This is what you want people to feel like. When I design a game, or any kind of government services, I don't want people to go, oh, this is horrible. I want them to go, wow, this is amazing.

I don't necessarily think we'll ever get into flow in government service design. But at least we can create conditions where people aren't just going, this is horrible. I feel so bad about myself.

So that's why I'm in government. And that's why I want to change it. Because it's got to be better.

OK. Takeaways. Doo-doo. Quick recap. Games are good. We've had them as long as we've been civilised, and as long as we've hung out in groups. Games are great.

Serious games, it's a lousy name, but it's a great topic. And it will only expand as we get more capable of creating educational games, or even in school, or simulations.

The purpose of games is that they combine play and cognition, so we can model things. And it's actually fun. It's fun playing with your own world. And good psychology-- good gameplay psychology-- motivates and rewards, and creates conditions for flow state.

Finally, I'm going to leave you with some tasks for today. If you want to get some flow in your day, think about what's going to motivate you. Create a challenge around that so that you know what you're going to be challenged by.

Give yourself some clear goals. Imagine those goals in stages. How do you get to them? Give yourself the easy, medium, and hard. It's OK to just have something easy to hit. Makes you feel good.

Decide on what feedback you need, because feedback is so important. Why we get de-motivated is because we don't get feedback. So ask your boss for feedback, or give you're phone to go, hey, you're so cool. Something like that.

The most important bit-- and this is what we don't do as humans; we're lousy at this in our society now-- allow yourself to feel rewarded. It's OK to go, oh, that was good. I did good.

And take that from games. Games do that, because they build into the system. You can do this for yourselves. Be rewarded. It's OK.

Good. Bang on time. Wicked. And that's me. So you can find me at my name. And that's my little frog. So if you see this icon online somewhere, that's usually me.

So this is Driedfrog. That's my whole other story. And you can find me on LinkedIn, for those that use LinkedIn.

Great. Thank you very much for listening to my talk.

[APPLAUSE]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

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