Archive for Lit

Fear Fails

I just came across a piece on the likely effectiveness of the new, gruesome cigarette warning labels developed by the FDA. The idea is to scare people into quitting by graphically illustrating the consequences of smoking, right there on the package. Think this will work?

Nope, me neither.

Over 70% of American smokers already want to quit. That’s over 31 million people – an enormous number. Most of them will fail. The gap between desire and performance suggests we’ve been largely successful at educating people about the risks of smoking, but much less successful at helping them actually stop doing it.

The point of failure isn’t educational. It’s behavioral.

Telling someone, “Stop smoking or terrible things might happen to you someday!” is about as ineffective an intervention as you can imagine, even when it’s backed up by images. Our brains don’t do well with might or someday, especially when the decisions that get us to might and someday are repeated, daily behaviors. It’s easy for us to talk ourselves out of a conditional and faraway goal; after all, this cigarette won’t kill you. And if the little decisions get repeated often enough, they may take their toll on your willpower* – or hit you at a time when you’re not in the mood to think about your long-term goals in the first place.

Is it any wonder that fewer than 5% of smokers successfully quit on their own? When we say, “Just stop smoking,” we’re asking smokers to do something extraordinarily difficult and complex. However, we often speak and act as though it’s easy. This is a lie, and it’s one that is deeply damaging for smokers – especially those who have tried to quit and failed.

That’s why I’m so proud to be involved with the Lit2Quit project. When my students first came to me with the notion of a smoking-reduction game, I told them they had one restriction: they could not tell people to quit. That’s not the missing link for most quitters. What they came up with – and what I’ve been honored to be involved with, over the past two years – focuses on the behavioral aspect of quitting. When you’re not feeling serious or goal-oriented, you might still be willing to play a game; when your willpower is not at its best, the game helps reduce your cravings so you’re more likely to be able to manage them.

The difference between our project and the FDA’s new approach is fundamental. The FDA seems to believe that more information will help people quit smoking. The assumption is that people only smoke because they don’t really understand how bad it is for them; if the FDA can just communicate the facts more effectively, people will change their actions. Our project assumes the opposite. People who want to quit know what to do, but the hard part is translating it into action. That’s where we can help. As we collect our data, we’re finding out just how much!

* There’s some indication that the resource-depletion model of willpower may actually be a mindset issue; if you believe that your willpower gets depleted over time, it does, but if not, not. However, there’s enough long-standing research into willpower as a depletable resource that I’m not yet ready to toss the notion without further personal investigation.

Valve’s Play-Testing Methodologies

I was incredibly excited to come across this presentation on Valve’s approach to play-testing.  For those who don’t want to page through the whole PDF, they go over the advantages and limitations of many different methods of gathering data: observation, talk-alouds, surveys, in-game data collection, physiological measures and more.  Each method is good at getting at certain kinds of data, and you have to think about the game design problem you’re trying to solve when you choose which one to use.

It doesn’t surprise me that Valve does a great job with play-testing; their games are super-polished!  What did surprise me, though, was how similar their analysis was to what I learned in my research methods classes.  There’s a lot of talk about how far apart academia and industry are, but this particular area seems very closely aligned.

I was, of course, also reading with an eye to the data collection we’re doing for Lit.  As we start play-testing our first digital prototypes, there’s that moment of “Oh, man!  We’re a bunch of academics.  What the hell are we doing?”  The answer, it seems, is learning from the best that’s out there.  Rock.

Lit at G4H-NYC

For those following along at home, I presented on the Lit smoking-reduction game at the Games for Health NYC Meetup on Tuesday.  The talk went well, and I got some great questions and suggestions.  The thing that’s got me thinking hard is how we can integrate Lit with institutional smoking-reduction programs.  I don’t think that’s a near-term design goal -first we have to show it works! – but in the long run it sounds like we want to be accessible for both individual and institutional use.  Fortunately, I’ve got the email address of the person who brought it up, so we can continue the conversation!

While I think Games for Health is going to post my slides at some point, I wanted to share them here as well.  [pdf]  Enjoy!

Lit at G4H-NYC

If you’re in New York City and interested in learning more about the Lit project, I’m giving a talk at the New York Games for Health meeting on Tuesday, January 26th.  The event itself is free, but RSVP is required.  Given the project lineup, I’d say it’s well worth attending for any locals interested in the health games field!

Lit in Forbes

Lit is featured, among other games for health, in Forbes Magazine!

The ideal: that “Lit” will cause smokers to reach for their smart phones rather than their cigarettes. If it works, it might rank as the healthiest game on record.

Take Our Surveys!

As part of our design research for Lit, we’re exploring what game features make people feel “rushed” (excited/stimulated) and relaxed.  We’ve put together two brief surveys, one for each emotional state.

Take the rush survey.

Take the relax survey.

Thanks in advance for your help!