persuasive video game designing


Since about past decade, there has been a great increase of interest in design, theory and application of the games. However, although various overviews of the game theory have been written, Unified models of persuasive game design, the design of games that are aimed at behavioral change, are extremely scarce. In this blog, we will have a look at persuasive game design model based on three core concepts of persuasive gaming: The gamification process, the behavioral change design and the design of game worlds. You can refer to the figure below for schematic overview.

persuasive model

Due to the large scope of this abstract which would be extremely hard to cover all of it in a single blog, I have only included a brief description of the model and its definitions.


So, what is exactly a persuasive game design?

Before directly diving into defining persuasive game design, let’s have a look at some of our common experiences. Let’s think how we feel while playing video games. I won’t say all of the games, but a good video game does its best to drag the user or a player from his/her reality to the reality inside the game and makes the user think that the game world is their world, at least for the time being. I want to share my own experience about this. When I was a kid, I was fond of game Doom (I am talking about the first installment of this series). Well the game wasn’t so graphically immersive as compared to the ones that are published nowadays, but at that time, it was a great game and yes, I used to get completely submerged into the game world, even long after I played the game. The game used to impact me to such an extent that even when I was not playing it, I used to run around the house with the toy gun in my hand, pretending I was the main character of the doom game and shooting everywhere.  So, the game didn’t only influence me when I was playing it but also left some impact on my behavior when I was not playing and was in the real world. Every gamer or anyone who loves playing games must have had this kind of experience once in their lives. In fact, this is exactly the same principle of persuasive game designing.

Persuasive game designing is the game design technique aiming to create a user experienced game world to change the user behavior in the real world.

Users experience the real world. But, when they are playing the game, their real world experience momentarily changes into the game world experience. This change is never complete, but remains a mixture of both worlds. So we can say somewhat like game world and real world are at the (unreachable) ends of the continuum. Some game experiences (For eg. Playing sports games like soccer and cricket or basketball) are closer to the real world experience than that of while playing the fantasy war games such as world of Warcraft or age of empires. While on the other hand, some real world experiences like stock exchange are closer to the game world experiences like waiting for elevator, climbing stairs etc.

The motivational needs that drives the individual are quite similar in real world experience and game world experience. Every individual has the need for autonomy (The desire to decide for himself or right or condition of self-governance and independence), Competence (proficiency, accomplishment and mastery) and social relatedness. But the difference is that the individual has to actively search for these components in the real world, while game world is explicitly designed to fulfill these requirements, resulting in typical immersive and satisfying experience. Moreover, game world is experienced as protective world where his actions have less real consequences than those would have been in the real world. Being encouraged by such protective farming, the user enjoys immersion in the game world as a perceptual (e.g. presence), cognitive (game rule compliance), emotional (enjoying the wide array of game emotions) and social level (social player relationships). The two experiential qualities, immersive and enjoyable are and must be dominant in game world.

However, it is to be noted that immersion and enjoyment are not exclusive for game world experiences. They may also occur while doing a variety of other real world activities. Let’s have a look at some of those activities. One can get both immersion and enjoyment while listening to music or watching movies, or one could get those feelings by playing sports in real world, or carrying out his/her hobby. So, what differentiates the game world from other “flow”-like experiences? I would prefer to describe this experiences from the symptom-based view in the line of Goodman’s definition of the Aesthetic experience which states, “A symptom is neither necessary nor a sufficient condition for, but merely tends in conjugation with other such symptoms to be present in an aesthetic experience”. In the same way, the symptoms of a game experiences are the presence of one or more game elements.


Game Elements and Gamification:

Game elements are anything that are part of the game. They are also the motivational elements typical for game design. Often these elements are rule based and constitute boundaries between game world and the real world. Typical examples of game elements are: Challenge inside the game, Phantasy, competition, amongst the player and Non-player characters or between two or more players aimed at achieving the same goal, and exploration. Experiencing these elements give rise to a diverse and long set of specific game experiences, these elements also appear in the real world, but to evoke user experienced game worlds, game designers and artist can design them by process such as selection, combination, enhancing, addition or foregrounding. The designed game elements do need something to be applied upon (eg. A competition on something). These materials are derived from real world context and consists of attributes such as objects, social relationships, action, attitudes, user motivations or experiences. It is to be noted that persuasive games are not restricted to the digital medium but it’s form is dependent on game elements, the gamified real world context and the aimed transfer effect.

Gamification can be defined as Designing of game elements applied on real world attributes to create a user experienced game world.

Persuasive gaming and transfer:

So, Let’s get on to the word “transfer used in headline above. As I have already set forward an example about the effect that the game DOOM had in me and how it altered some of my behavior in the real world. Well transfer in this context refers to the same phenomenon. Transfer in this context can be defined as “effect of user experienced game world on forming, altering or reinforcing user compliance, behavioral or attitude in the real world.

Games can change behavior in the game world than in the real world. The enjoyable and immersive game world can help, motivate or persuade users to behave in the same way they experience as difficult in the real world. The designer can intend to change this behavior as in Fogg’s definition of persuasive technology,” Interactive computing systems designed to change people’s attitude and behaviors”, or the persuasion might be the effect of the game rhetoric as in Bogost’s definition of persuasive games: “Videogames that mount procedural rhetoric effectively.

Gamification and transfer are separate process however: gamification doesn’t imply transfer. Transfer of game world into real world can occur on different levels: the player compliance, behavior or attitudes may be formed or changed or reinforced. Transfer effects can be directed when the original to be changed user-behavioral or motivational aspects are gamified and take part in the game world (as gamified real-world attributes). In the game world these behavioral/motivational aspects can be changed towards the target behavior. When the target behavior is realized in the game world, the transfer from the game world to the real world can be designed by the persuasive game designer. This transfer design is often neglected. Three main design methods can be applied to make this transfer as transgression from the game world to the real world: (1) Sudden change, in which there is no transgression. The game world experience functions as a prime for the behavior in the real world; (2) Gradual change, in which the game world dissolves gradually into the real


world and vice versa. The game world may (a) finally vanish into the real world (dissolve) or (b) parts of the game world may remain present in the real world; and (3) Adaptive change, when the level of transgression from the game world into the real world is dependent from the actual user’s behavioral change in the real world. Given the behavioral goals of persuasive games it is essential that the transfer effect of the game world is tested in effect studies. Effect studies can focus on the game design as a whole or on the effect of individual game-elements generating generic knowledge for persuasive game design.


Defining Games: What are games?

Following the central position of the user experience in the game worlds and the real world, the classification of a game primarily depends on its use and only secondary on the game product. For example, a game product like a baseball bat can be used as entertainment game (baseball), as a persuasive game (increase social relations), or as a non-game (weapon). At the same time, a non-game object like pavement tiles can be used as non-game (to walk), as game (to avoid the tile crossings) or as (rather dull) persuasive game (not to walk on the street). So ultimately, the decision if something (a product, rule system, or activity) is a game is dependent on its use. The question of What is a game? could therefore be changed into “When is a game experienced as game?” or shorter When is a game? This question is positively answered by the user experience of a game world including the presence of game-elements symptoms. Persuasive games additionally include aimed behavioral transfer effects.


Persuasive game design is somewhat of a revolution in the game designing world. There are many debated going on over the world on whether the video games can have good or bad effects on the player and this solely depends on how the player takes the game. There are many restrictions applied to the video games so that they wouldn’t affect the unintended age groups in a wrong way. This concept gave rise to a rating system that is commonly known today as ESRB (Entertainment software rating board). It rates different video games on different categories such as fit for everyone or somewhat like for teens and matures etc. depending upon the context which somewhat prevents the game elements having an adverse effect on unintended age groups. It also depends upon the player about what he/she makes of the experiences of the game and how he/she allows that experiences to effect themselves. Either way, we all can agree that persuasive game design if carried out correctly is a revolution in the game design technique.

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