Games as a research method
Posted on Tuesday March 31st 2015 at 15:12
Gamification is quite a hot topic in ICT development at the moment. Game elements are increasingly seen as a useful design approach to make everyday tasks or work-related activities more fun and to improve the user experience.
In the TraPIST project, we (together with our iMinds-SMIT colleagues at VUB) have used a similar approach to spice up our research. We created a board game that was used in one of our studies to gather insights into train passengers’ needs regarding the train information system we are developing in this project. More specifically, we wanted to understand what kind of questions passengers would ask if they would have access to an omniscient information system that would go way beyond existing train apps.
For this study we took inspiration from several game principles used in existing board games. The board itself was based on the Game of Life, with a track of squares representing a journey from home to destination. As in the Game of the Goose, we used penalty squares. Landing on such a square would cause participants to skip a turn due to a delay. Similar to Monopoly, we used event cards representing real life problems that passengers may encounter during their trip (e.g. unannounced delays, a flat bike tire, bad weather, …).
During the game, players could ask questions to a mock-up of the TraPIST train information system. They could type their questions on a tablet and the system (that was in fact operated by a researcher in another room, Wizard-of-Oz style) would answer their questions.
Our main objective was to gain an understanding of the kind of questions passengers would ask to the TraPIST system, which worked quite well in this game setting. Being in a fictitious, but familiar, train travel context helped our participants to think about what it would be like to use a non-existent future application. Adding game elements to the study made participation fun and lowered the threshold for participants to speak their minds.
We will definitely use game elements in our research again, as we felt this approach was quite successful. We will present our TraPIST board game at CHI in Seoul in April.