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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

How to Design for Impact in Games
by Walsh, Eric, Ph.D., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2018, 253; 10841207
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation, I seek to define strategies designers might use to enhance the effectiveness of their game’s message. To do so, I adopt a rhetorical approach to impact that recognizes identification between the designer’s view of the world and that of the player as critical to achieving impact. Based on a review of relevant literature drawn from the fields of rhetoric, interactive narrative, and game studies; interviews with prominent game designers Tracy Fullerton and Jesse Schell; case studies of Undertale, That Dragon, Cancer, and Papo & Yo; and a design project creating a game to increase empathy for people with ADHD, I endeavor to present a framework for impact design that delineates major concerns relevant to the act of identification. This framework recognizes abstraction based on clearly presenting the designer’s message and agency based on encouraging the player to engage with that message as the cornerstones of promoting impact through identification. From their intersection, I extrapolate three related design concerns: authenticity, affectivity, and ambiguity. Authenticity captures the degree to which the game rings true to both the developer’s own beliefs as well as those of the player; affectivity describes the player’s emotional connection to the game; and ambiguity invites players to seek their own meaning by completing the game through their act of play. Throughout my work, I expand upon these three concerns to identify how they can serve as useful heuristics for impact design, suggesting concrete strategies at the level of a game’s mechanics, aesthetics, and narrative. I believe in the potential of games to improve people’s lives and make the world a better place, and I see my research as contributing to that greater effort.

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Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rouse, Rebecca
Commitee: Chang, Ben, Haskins, Ekaterina, Malazita, James, Ruiz, Kathleen, Search, Patricia
School: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Department: Communication and Rhetoric
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 80/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Design, Communication, Rhetoric
Keywords: Game design, Games for change, Games for impact, Impact design, Interactive narrative, Rhetoric of games
Publication Number: 10841207
ISBN: 978-0-438-52610-5
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