The growth of social impact gaming has ushered in numerous methods for assessing games’ influence and their ability to bring about change. The issue of impact is at the heart of Games for Change’s recent report, Impact with Games: A Fragmented Field, and given the many overlaps with the Media Impact Project’s work to establish best practices for measuring media impact, it is only natural that we offer some thoughts.
Released in April, the report uses a collection of interviews and focus groups with gaming scholars and stakeholders to introduce the field’s fragmentation and the potential consequences that fragmentation poses to the field’s growth. According to report authors - Benjamin Stokes of American University; Nicole Walden, Francesco Nasso and Giancarlo Mariutto of the Michael Cohen Group; and Asi Burak of Games for Change - fragmentation primarily involves vastly divergent definitions of the field’s key concepts and frameworks. As the report states, the “language fundamental to articulating the assumptions behind social impact games often varies depending on where you look.” This means that a conversation about game impact can vary based on one’s positioning within the field or their orientation to it. We can imagine this lack of inclusiveness and disagreement over what counts as evidence causes a great deal of frustration and confusion for game developers, researchers and funders.
These definitional issues provide the framework for five claims made in the report about social impact gaming’s fragmentation. The authors argue that these claims further divide research and practice and potentially marginalize those who could help grow the field. The five claims are:
1. Impact is defined too narrowly causing the impact of some games to be overlooked or dismissed
2. Key terms (such as ‘game’ or assessment’) are politicized in a ways that further fragment the field
3. Evaluation methods are inflexible resulting in a more rigid and siloed design process
4. Calls for funding and awards are confusing and often employ vaguely defined or too narrowly defined terminology
5. Typologies and frameworks of the field are deep but not connected
At the Media Impact Project we are similarly invested in narrowing the gap between research and practice and uniting media practitioners and researchers both across and within fields. We view Game for Change’s fragmentation report as the start of a conversation about best practices in game impact measurement and see this conversation as not very different from those taking place in other media fields.
For example, in documentary film there are similar concerns over how to define social impact and how to use the wide array of measurement tools and platforms available. While tools provide a sense of direction for documentary filmmakers they can also fail to be useful in the absence of a clear framework or strategy. The consequence of this type of failure is increasingly becoming a matter of funding and support. Additionally, for those filmmakers who have successfully integrated metrics into their film campaigns, many still wrestle with whether they have selected the best tools for gauging impact. The nature of this debate shows that the need for shared ways to discuss and measure impact is an issue relevant to many types of media and that social impact gaming may similarly be confronting issues that emerge in a wide range of conversations about media impact.
As the first in a series of reports we look forward to seeing how Games for Change continues to mobilize these issues to defragment the field of social games. It our hope that the conversations that emerge from this report will also generate solutions that can be utilized across media disciplines.
To learn more about Games for Change and join the conversation, visit http://gameimpact.net/.
Nandi Jordan is a sociologist and qualitative researcher who consults with filmmakers and media makers to assess the impact of their work.