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Dartmouth Study Illustrates How Game Design Can Reduce Stereotypes and Social Biases

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The percentage of participants in each condition who assigned 'scientist' to a female character.

A new study from Dartmouth College illustrates how games can have a positive impact in society.

Credit: Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace

A new Dartmouth College study highlights how games can have beneficial societal effects, using the approach of "embedded game design" to show how games can alter players' prejudices, reduce social stereotypes and biases, and bring about a more complex view of diversity.

Dartmouth's Tiltfactor Lab conducted the research, which used embedded game design to incorporate an intended persuasive message within the game's content, mechanics, or context of play, instead of making the message plain to players.

The researchers tested the strategies of "intermixing" and "obfuscating." The first approach blends "on-topic" and off-topic" game content to make themes less apparent, and the second uses game genres or framing devices to steer players' concentration away from the true objectives of the game. Two-party card games were employed, with their objectives being to challenge gender stereotypes and implicit bias in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

"Our work reveals that strategically embedding psychological techniques in a game's design both enhances the game's impact and provides a transformative player experience," says Tiltfactor founding director Mary Flanagan.

One game used the intermixing approach by interspersing cards that address situations involving bias against girls in STEM or a lack of gender equity with cards that do not address these situations. The other game applied obfuscation, challenging players to name a real or fictional person who matches the adjective-noun pairing revealed as two cards are flipped over.

From Dartmouth College
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