MightyU is an extraordinary research project for children with infantile cerebral paresis, in short: ICP or CP. ICP is a chronic movement disorder caused by early childhood brain damage. With the approaches of Gamification and Virtual Reality, MightyU wants to achieve that the affected children and adolescents can perform their therapy exercises more playfully and independently at home. Managing Director Thomas Immich answered important questions about the research project in a short question-and-answer interview:
What do you understand by “gamification”?
The term “gamification” has been well researched and therefore clearly defined. Gamification is understood to be “the application of game-typical elements in non-game contexts. In the sense of this definition, a therapy game for children is strictly speaking not a case of gamification, because there is no other context.
We are actually dealing with a complete game! A game, however, which is not primarily or exclusively for entertainment but primarily for the success of the therapy. This kind of game is also called a “Serious Game”.
But I don’t think it’s important for the MightyU project to draw the line very precisely. Rather, the two terms are very blurred, especially with MightyU:
On the one hand, we have natural game elements such as missions or difficulty increases – but on the other hand, we also consciously focus on non-game aspects. For example, with the muscle contraction sensor from Velamed, we use a technology that was not originally designed for the game context.
So when I explain gamification, I usually explain not so much what the term means, but what good it can do.
In my opinion, the core of all gamification activities lies in the uplifting feeling of self-efficacy and competence experience.
If an activity is too easy or even boring, you can turn it into a game by consciously using obstacles, i.e. “gamifying”. For example, if one of my children stiffly and firmly claims that he or she almost collapses on a forest hike, then all I have to say is: “Watch out! Don’t step on the stones, only on the roots”. And then it goes on again – although paradoxically the actual activity has become even more strenuous.
But gamification also works the other way around: if an activity is too strenuous or even overtaxing, then gamification can provide an easier introduction to that activity. This is exactly the direction we have chosen for MightyU, because children affected by ICP are often not only physically but also cognitively limited and an overtaxing game mechanic would quickly lead to frustration at this point.
How can this help to motivate children?
It motivates children – just like almost all of us – to be something special on the one hand, but at the same time to take their place as part of a larger group. However, unlike other children, children with ICP often suffer from the fact that both one and the other often seem unreachably far away. They are often unable to use their special abilities at all or even to play them out because their body prevents them from doing so, and this in turn makes it so difficult for them to take a firm place within a group of people or other children without disabilities. We have analyzed exactly these frustration experiences and tried to transform them into motivational experiences. Instead of expecting the children to take on the next challenge by playing a game that is too difficult, we have chosen a game genre that promotes neither failure nor competitive behavior: the so-called Worry Game. The main purpose of the game is not to grow as a player, but to help someone else grow.
In our case, the children have to help an individually selectable creature to hatch and then train and raise it over individual levels. Through their care, they gradually gain an ever stronger friend for life, with whom they can go on adventures together in a very special way, which would have been closed to the child alone. They can then play with the creature with or against their friends in the real world – but unlike in the real world, the balance of power is now finally fair or even easy in favor of the ICP child.
The children experience a very special kind of competence experience – which in my opinion is the core driver for motivation: only through the constant involvement of the child, the creature can grow and thrive. The children indirectly develop into something very special themselves during the game and at the same time, through playing together, they also find their connection to a larger group, since their physical limitations suddenly no longer play a role in playing together.
Do you also work playfully as a developer? If so how?
Yes – in my opinion, to achieve a playful result, you always have to be playful. The working environment should be harmonious. Everyone who starts at Centigrade will receive his or her own pixel avatar as a welcome present, inspired by earlier adventure games like Monkey Island. Moreover, he already has a small beginner Nerf Gun on his desk so that he doesn’t completely swim in the spontaneous Nerf Gun fights.
Besides we have our lounges here of course the obligatory table tennis table. But a very special one, namely one made of cardboard. Just like our pinball table here, which is also completely made of cardboard – in this case completely made of garbage. For us, cardboard is the epitome of the joy of experimentation and a good culture of error. You can use it to implement and test new ideas very quickly and discard them just as quickly, literally kicking the bucket. Extensive prototyping and testing of new devices or work results is therefore always a kind of explorative game for me.
But of course there are also working methods that contain much more concrete game elements.
A typical method for software developers is for example the so-called “Planning Poker”. The goal of “Planning Poker” is to arrive at the most precise estimate of the effort required for a complex implementation task. The game is played within a development team: for each task, everyone puts a number on the table, which in his opinion best reflects the complexity of the task. Then all cards are turned over and the player with the lowest estimate has to argue with the player with the highest estimate in front of the whole group why his estimate is actually the more realistic one. This is not only fun – all team members learn over time to make better estimates.
At this point, however, a very important aspect of gamification should be mentioned: nobody should be forced to play a game. For example, if someone feels uncomfortable playing Planning Poker, he or she can also make the assessment in the conventional way. Gamification always implies “voluntariness and self-determination”.
Another example is our UX Research role play, which is designed to sensitize concept developers and designers to not take all project requirements at face value. In the game, you have to find out through clever questioning techniques whether the other person’s world is turning the way he or she would like it to turn or whether it is an objective observation.
In your opinion, what potential does “gamification” have for the future? What will the world look like in 50 years?
Like any powerful approach, gamification has the power to influence our world for better or worse. Against the backdrop of current crises, one must justifiably ask oneself the question to what extent mankind should put itself at the center of its own actions for any length of time. Good gamification can motivate people to eat healthier, exercise more, use less plastic or join forces online to actively fight against ecological misdevelopment. Poor gamification can lead to stock market trading becoming even faster and more determined by numbers instead of substance.
Of course, I cannot speak for all the developments that will be influenced by gamification for good or bad in the next 50 years – I can only set an example and hope that those who develop new technologies or services with gamification carry a good value compass with them. Gamification should never be used for instrumentalization (no matter whether good or bad goals are behind it), but should give people the opportunity to bring their hidden positive potentials to the surface. Helping a group of people to live a more self-determined, enlightened life without causing great harm to another group of people or creatures is a good start.
But to venture at least a small prognosis for the future: current developments in the field of artificial intelligence will certainly be significantly influenced by gamification. Gamification will become one of the most important methods by which people will make their machines and digital services smarter. After all, gamification always means learning – in the joint game between humans and machines, both sides will learn. This will make both us and our algorithms smarter. The question will be who will be the first to cheat in this game 😉
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