Design Engineering
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The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions

Course
Design Engineering MEng
Supervisor
Dr Weston Baxter
Theme
Space Invaders

Within the broad umbrella of play behaviour, humans are motivated to play with risks to develop their responses to said risks. This research introduces risk-play behaviour to the context of designing for behaviour change, with the application of the insights to innovation. The proposed framework displays existing examples of playful products, experiences, behaviours and games to explore the nuanced connections between play and motivational risk. Understanding this link and applying the framework, provides designers a unique perspective to create interventions that leverage play as a motivation for a desired behaviour.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Project crossover.

Introduction

My project exists within the field of design for behaviour change. How can interventions be made to create positive change in user behaviour? My project also exists within play. Play has many benefits including internal development, increasing social bonds and is closely linked to learning. Applying play to innovation has been previously attempted, with gamification being the most popular example. However, these uses are limited and do not represent the deeper possibilities of using play in innovation. My project contributes further exploration into this crossover, and leverages a different, hopefully more complete understanding of play for innovation. However, to understand this we must first understand play.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Definition of play.

Play

Literature describes 15 core motivations of human behaviour (Aunger & Curtis, 2013). These motivations are the reasons why we do what we do. A specific behaviour can be described as being driven by a motivation. For example, playing basketball can be described as being motivated by play. We want to practise skills which are important for survival.

However, behaviour is complicated and can be driven by a combination of motivations. Riding a roller coaster engages with the fear motivation (to prevent accidents) but is a playful experience. We learn to cope with the fear in a safe context. A more subtle example is teasing, which is associated with the affiliation or attract motivation (to gain social capital or a mate). We learn to cope with rejection without fully being rejected. Playful behaviour can be driven by play and other motivations when we are learning how to react to risks. To understand this further, we need to understand risk.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Definition of risk.

Risk

Within behaviour psychology this definition is expanded to include perceived risk. It is shown that people interact with risks in a subjective manner, which does not always align with the quantifiable value of the risks.

Each motivation of human behaviour has an inherent objective to achieve. For instance, ‘disgust’ is the drive to avoid internal threats such as diseases and ‘hoard’ seeks to accumulate resource. These objectives can be threatened by events that either prevent action or have negative consequences. For example, ‘close proximity to faeces’ is a risk within the disgust motivation, it could cause disease. Further, ‘competition for resource’ is a risk within the hoard motivation, it could prevent accumulation of resource.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Definitions of perceived and actual risk.

Risk-Play Behaviour

Engaging with the threats to a motivation’s objectives in a lower stake setting provides an opportunity for people to practise their response to the risk, developing evolutionarily important skills. The lower stake setting is created through a difference between the perceived risk and actual risk of an activity/experience. Take swimming with sharks for example. The risk is of being eaten by a shark, in open water this is not fun, think Jaws, the movie. However, being inside a metal cage mitigates the actual risk of being eaten. Maintaining this high perceived risk, while mitigating the actual risk creates a playful experience. People learn about how to react to the threat of sharks while being safe from actual harm.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Swimming with sharks.

A further example is fairground games. The games themselves exist within the hoard and play motivations, an opportunity to win a valuable resource. However, they also entice players as a chance to win a toy for their partner, which engages with the risk of not being able to provide for a mate, a risk in the attract motivation. The same difference in actual and perceived risk exists as in the example above, thus creating a playful experience in both the hoard and attract motivations simultaneously. Play’s ability to engage with multiple other motivations in the same activity, depending on the context, creates rich play experiences.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Fairground games.

Design Framework

My contribution is a design framework that describes risk-play interactions and applies this thinking to creating playful interventions.

One output of my project was to document existing examples of playful behaviour being driven by play and other motivations through related risks within the other motivations. By displaying a multitude of examples, the origins could be understood and then applied to creating new risk-play interventions. The examples are shown in the following table. Each play example’s perceived risk and actual risk difference is shown in the risk difference column. Each play example shares a row with the specific risk outcome that it links to. The related risks are grouped into the other motivation of behaviour that contains it using general risk categories. The examples were selected to show how play can intersect with all other motivations. All motivation definitions are taken from Aunger & Curtis’ 2013 paper.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions
Play Matrix.

Following on from the creation of the table, a design process was developed to utilise the framework table for creating new products/experiences/games. The aim is that designers can use this method to create new forms of play or design interventions that utilise the risk-play link as the motivation to create positive change in user behaviour.

 — The Risk-Play Design Framework: Creating Playful Interventions

Further Work

My project also involved testing the developed framework. If you would like more information regarding its application to design, please feel free to contact me using any of the links at the top of the page.

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