As part of our departmental actions to foster professional growth, our team participates in various conferences throughout the year, including Games for Change, IAFP (International Association for Food Processors), Serious Game Play, Association for Communications Excellence (ACE), and the Consumer Food Safety Education Conference. Conferences are an excellent opportunity for our research and development team to interact with other professionals, studios, and researchers in various fields. Our team presents and shares research findings in educational media development and promotes developed products; we also learn from other experts and their work. Based on 2023 conference interactions, our team members Adrian, Barbara, Pamela, and Matheus wrote this blog post, highlighting our perspective on future trends for educational media development.
Inclusive design is the future.
Five years ago, when we were actively looking for guidance on accessibility in games, and how to incorporate representation and other areas, we found just a few folks working in the space. This year, it is clear that basically everyone in the field is working to be sure their work is more representative, culturally-informed, and accessible. At the exact time Barbara was at IAFP (International Association for Food Processors) speaking about inclusive design, Matheus was at Games for Change sitting in a session by a game designer about inclusive design practices (see image below). Every conference we have attended this summer (Including those for the Association for Communications Excellence [ACE] and the National Association for Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture [NACTA]) included presentations on the importance of inclusive design for learning.
Generally, inclusive design (often called Universal Design) includes accessibility (ways technology or other tools can be used by people with different physical or cognitive needs) as well as equity, representation, diversity and inclusion. More specifically for our field, it means considering any individual user of a product, and making sure that the product can be used by that person, speaks to that person, and represents specific cultural or social influences that helps that person learn or change behavior.
What this means for us!
We will have increasing access to others in this work:
We have been interested in designing for all learners, and taken steps to make our products representative and inclusive. This shift for everyone in our industry is exciting for many reasons. It means that all developers are looking for ways to be more inclusive, and that means more research and outreach on best practices. We are looking forward to more workshops, presentations and publications that challenge us to consider our own biases, and create or revise processes for our design work.
We have a responsibility to share our work:
With our Framework for Inclusive Design, our Guidelines for Representation and Diversity, and the continued professional development work we do in our studio, we have a great head start in helping other studios think through their design work. We will continue revising our frameworks and presenting and publishing until inclusive design becomes the norm — and is just referred to as design.
Well-being and social impact is more accessible, meaningful and desired.
Along with an increase in mental and social-emotional health, we are starting to see more emphasis on quality of life issues. Games for Change focused on a wide range of projects supporting mental health of players, students and communities, for example, the festival showcased DeepWell – a powerful game experience that delivers mental health treatment in an innovative way, connecting games and medical expertise. At the ACE Conference, DaraMonifah Cooper and Douglas H. Constance shared the importance of highlighting quality of life issues in submitting for grant funding. In addition to improving land health and agricultural practices, they said that Southern SARE and other funding agencies view outcomes for community health, well-being and social drivers as primary considerations of funding, and encourage more proposals to think about how proposed research can improve the lives of those in any community.
Support for environmental action and sustainability
Most of the subject matter within these realms of social impact games is so incredibly important to our global society. As developers, we are a small part of a more significant movement to empower people globally to advocate for social change and become socially conscious citizens. Climate change is one of the most interesting content areas at the Games for Change conference. Visually, the games and VR spaces that we are seeing today for environmental action and sustainability are some of the most visually enticing, which is odd because, as mentioned during the conference, in today's gaming worlds, everything is apocalyptic in design. Maybe that's why the games involving saving the Earth capture attention so easily as we live through one of the hottest climate periods on Earth. Terra Nil, created by Freelives, was introduced as a game for "building nature instead of building cities" (figure 2). Powerful. The rewilding movement and the climate catastrophe inspired the game, which aims to restore nature rather than encourage resource exploitation. Another inspiring space is Playing for the Planet, a repository for members' games facilitated by the UN Environment Programme. It hosts many games aimed at supporting our global environment. As our department continues to develop products for water and land sustainability, we may be able to promote our work within this space.
The trends highlighted here are powerful and show the direction media design is taking, becoming more inclusive and aware of humans’ needs and their variability. We are excited about this direction; our team has been working intentionally to foster more socially conscious and inclusive products and a more inclusive workspace. We understand that this is a process, and we are working towards getting better with each new product.
Written in collaboration by Matheus Cezarotto, Pamela Martinez, Adrian Aguirre and Barbara Chamberlin.
To learn more about our products and research contact:
Barbara Chamberlin, PhD
Interim Department Head
Extension Educational Media Specialist
Department of Innovative Media, Research and Extension