Transformational Games Framework

I aim to design games that are fun but serve a greater purpose beyond entertainment. In the industry, these types of games are called “serious games”. But in my experience with building games, I focus so much on the purpose that gameplay is lacking. If fun is sacrificed, is what I have built really a game at all? As the Global Game Jam 2017 nears, I have contemplated my game design skills, and discovered the Transformational Game Framework used by Schell Games. I like the guiding questions and think they will help bring focus to my game designs.


Transformational Games Framework

  1. High-Level Purpose: What is the big-picture goal for impact on the world that is motivating your game’s development? How does this impact goal compete with other goals like profit, popularity, or critical acclaim?
  2. Audience & Context: Who is the audience for your game — not only those who will play it but the gatekeepers and community members that will also affect the game’s impact? Where, when, and how often will the game be played and how will that help or hurt the game’s effectiveness?
  3. Barriers: What things stand in the way of your purpose and how you want to change your players? Why aren’t they already changed?
  4. Player Transformations: What are the defining ways you want your players to be different after playing your game?
  5. Expert Resources: Who or what are the people, books, etc., that you consider authoritative sources of insight and feedback on your domain and how will you integrate them into your process?
  6. Key Concepts: What is the critical content from your subject matter that your game experience needs to be embody? And just as importantly, what content will be excluded?
  7. Supporting Research: What pre-existing theory and case studies are informing your choices?
  8. Assessment Plan: How will you and others determine if your game is effective?


My curiosity in emotion-responsive technology led me to research a new feeling: awe. More complex and not overused like “happy”, I hope the feeling of awe elicits a unique set of measurable physical responses.

In the paper from Stanford University titled “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being”, the authors suggest that experiences of awe can help people live more in the moment, and feel as though they have more time. Consequently, this increases a person’s patience, willingness to volunteer their time, choose life experiences over material goods, and promote overall life satisfaction. Their studies show that perception of time is the key outcome which distinguishes awe from happiness.

Although this paper was from 2012, youtube videos and viral videos on social media still tout this discovery as a revelation – that a venture into nature can encourage well-being. Just two years later, a Huffington Post article advertised the benefits of feeling awe, suggesting people look at pictures and videos of nature to boost creativity (not unlike the methods used in the Stanford experiments: recount a memory, read a brief story, watch a commercial with nature).

Now, another two years later after that publication, I aim to do more. The idea of looking at a stock photo of mountains to help me destress makes me cringe. I want to be able to look back on my own awe-inspiring adventures, not only fond memories but as inspiration for the future. I know I am not the only one. 30 tourists can take identical photos from the same lookout, but the experience of capturing the moment the sunset glows on the Three Sisters is a personal memory. And when I look back on that panorama, I do not just see a beautiful photo, I experience that moment of awe all over again, and in that way, time feels plentiful the way they suggest in the Stanford paper. I aspire for my thesis invention to capture this type of personal experience, and increase opportunities to experience awe. After reading the Huffington post article, I might find guidance in researching Maslow’s theory of “peak experiences” to focus on opportunities for awe in the everyday.

Edit: Just a thought…I have been musing over the way current technology encourages people to act like computers. Say a certain phrase to communicate with Alexa. Speak a certain way in order for voice recognition to understand you. Type the correct terms in the search engine to get the answers you are looking for. The examples occur to me more and more. I wonder whether this conditioning impacts a person’s opportunities for experiencing awe.

Mindmapping Progress

It seems I have not updated my thesis progress as often as I had intended. Apparently, I gravitate towards mindmapping and journaling my thesis progress, as opposed to blogging. Over the fall semester, I have collected articles and research that might help evolve my original ideas. Below is a screenshot of my mindmap, as WordPress does not support embedding this type of file.

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 3.42.54 PM.png

It is evident that I am intrigued by memory- not only at an individual level, but as a nation. While abroad, I took a class called Discovering Australia, where we explored the national identity by examining prominent myths about the country (Terra Nullius, Anzac Legend, Land of the Fair Go, Sporting Nation, Good Global Citizen). Naturally, this led me to examine the USA’s national identity, and all the ways that I myself “perform” the behavior of a “true American”. My Sex, Gender, and Diversity class revealed to me the ways in which this national identity can be manipulated by the government to discriminate against certain people. Again, I drew parallels with the USA. It was deeply personal, and encouraged me to reexamine my identity as it relates to my nationality. The way we choose to narrate history is the conscious creation and reinforcement of national memory. It affects what we perceive to be the truth, who we respect, who we trust, how we interact within and outside the country. This national “memory-making” shapes our personal memories in innumerable ways. It would be interesting to explore the symbiotic relationship between national and individual memory. I believe technological developments to improve understanding in this area would greatly improve the human experience and relationship to technology.

Wearable memories?

I just received an email from Tiny Circuits, a business I discovered at Maker Faire New York. They impressed me, as well as many other makers, with their shockingly small arcade kit. I never thought to utilize their tiny parts as a wearable, but the recent release of the Memento Kickstarter project sparked something. Would an LED screen be an appropriate interface for my thesis project? Is there really a market for customizable video jewelry such as this?

Beyond IMM 498

Considering how much my thesis plans have wavered this semester, I can only imagine how my “gap semester” will affect the idea I presented in my final thesis proposal. In the past two weeks, I have already begun to revise my proposal, and I believe current events in the technology industry will continue to influence my thesis. This is where I will log my updates, in the hopes that writing these posts will help organize my thoughts, as well as help me articulate my idea as a whole.

My first update is based on news of Apple’s plans to release a Siri SDK, Apple’s virtual assistant. Throughout this semester, I have mused over the future of technology, specifically how we might be able to incorporate technology in our lives in a way that does not disrupt or take away from our interactions with other people. This type of technology exists to some extent, although not for the purpose I would like to address, which is human conversations. For example, voice-activated assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, have serious potential to  minimize our interactions to a mere voice command. The release of a Siri SDK means that I could potentially use the system as the interface for the camera.

Use cases:

  1. The voice-activated assistant is programmed to recognize certain phrases. When a user wants to retrieve and save a “memory” they can say their pre-programmed phrase. This might prove to be confusing and disruptive during conversation if not done well.
  2. Alternatively, the camera could be automated to recognize phrases that indicate a happy moment, and consequently save without prompting the user.