Game On

Screenshot of the online game "Dreams of Your Life"
Screenshot of the online game "Dreams of Your Life"

Wherever technology leads us, one of our most fundamental impulses is to play – through advances of mobile devices and social networks, technology is shaping the brave new world where limits between work, free time, making profit and personal relationships are blurry. New rules apply. Surely you have noticed?

Jane McGonigal was one of the first researchers to explore the question of how games could change the way we think and act in everyday life. Her revolutionary talk on Games Developers Conference 2008 presented an argument of how reality is broken, and we need to start making games to fix it. Industry reacted with an explosion of “games for personal and social change”, “positive impact games”, “social reality games”, “serious games” and “leveraging the play of the planet”. What is this all about?

The idea is that we should not aim at making games that are better and more immersive alternatives to reality – but rather at making the world become a better and more immersive reality. Quest is to explicitly design games that improve quality of life, by providing opportunities to solve problems and intervene in social situations in surprising, inventive and effective ways. Now, that is what I call true entertainment.

This month, Jane and her team set out an example by releasing a game called SuperBetter. This platform helps one achieve his health and life goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing personal resilience – staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.

Another recent example is a subversive online experience Dreams Of Your Life, developed by London-based game company Hide&Seek. It supports Film4’s documentary film about 38-year old Joyce Vincent, whose skeleton was discovered in her bedsit three years after she had died. Game aims to engage player in reflection on subjects such as society, friendship, love and loneliness. Play is continued afterwards via email, by challenging player to undertake small, rewarding actions in his everyday life.

Here at the Centre, we are developing a reality fix of our own. The happiest man is the one who manages to unify work and play, do you agree? With my PhD research supported by MIRROR project – incorporating creativity, serious games and users’ professional needs – I would like to contribute to creating such working environments. Game on.


Play It Again, Sam

Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972) is one of my favourite films. Have you seen it? Only recently I realized its story features an insightful creativity technique application that relates to my current PhD research at the Centre.

By day, he is Woody Allen. But when night falls and the moon rises, Humphrey Bogart strikes again. Bogart’s Casablanca persona is appropriated as the fantasy mentor for Allen’s troubled character in the film, named Allan; throughout the plot, Allan is encouraged to take advice extracted from a familiar, but distant parallel world to solve his issues with dames in real life. Looking from the semiotics point of view, as Umberto Eco notes: Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. […] When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.

I will be relying on that power of stereotypes to evoke emotions in order to create a good game. My PhD work, supported by MIRROR project and supervised by Prof Neil Maiden (School of Informatics) and Prof Julienne Meyer (School for Health Sciences), aims to inform relationships between creativity and games, with application in dementia care domain.

Last month, thanks to Registered Nursing Home Association (RNHA), I took part in an induction for carers in Ipswich. During the role-play exercises, I noticed that carer should at some point act as a sort of detective, understanding residents’ actions and emotions, in the context of its causes and implications. Namely, reasoning in such a deductive way aims to help carer predict and resolve challenging behaviours occurring daily in a care home for people with dementia, which is a fast-paced, flexible and non-deterministic environment due to the nature of the residents’ condition. This approach empowers person-centred care, which is a priority for good carer practice. Furthermore, reconstructing events requires managing information from both personal and other people’s reflections, and therefore supports reflective learning, which has been the main topic of the MIRROR project. Parallel world is being chosen to correspond with its mechanisms to the original challenge.

Ideas found their shape during my last week’s visit to Imaginary, a game development company from Milan, another partner of ours in the MIRROR project. Using direct analogy as implicit creativity support, we are about to create a parallel-world game environment to support carers in discovering their inner detective skills. To spice up things in addition with some tricks of the trade, there will be explicit creativity support injected as well. These are just the initial clues I am giving you – keep in touch to find out more.

After you try my game, I hope you’d wish to play it again. Until, as time goes by

Bogart: That was great. You’ve, uh, you’ve really developed yourself a little style.
Allan: Yeah, I do have a certain amount of style, don’t I?
Bogart: Well, I guess you won’t be needing me any more. There’s nothing I can tell you now that you don’t already know.
Allan: I guess that’s so. I guess the secret’s not being you, it’s being me. True, you’re – you’re not too tall and kind of ugly, but – what the hell, I’m short enough and ugly enough to succeed on my own.
Bogart: Hmmph. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Supporting Reflection and Creative Thinking

My colleagues and I have just submitted a paper named “Supporting Reflection and Creative Thinking by Carers of Older People with Dementia” for a conference on Pervasive Care for People with Dementia and their Carers. It details some work we have been doing recently to trial the use of iPod Touch devices with commercially available and free apps to test a concept for increasing richness of the information captured by carers who work with people with dementia.

Caring for people with dementia has quite a few challenges. No two days are the same. No two sufferers are the same, as dementia does not have a “standard progression”. Add to that the medical issues that come with old age and you have fairly complex needs.

A key challenge is to ensure that the care plan for each resident in the care home has a tailored personal care plan, and to keep it up-to-date as the resident’s condition progresses. So the carers need to record changes and issues they notice. Good idea, but not so easy in practice. Especially when PCs running the required software are limited, space is limited, and time available for writing up the notes are limited. Often what gets recorded is brief and task oriented. It does not provide any reflection about why the issue or change has arisen, nor suggestions for what could be tried to solve it.

So what we’re doing this week with one care home we’re working with is to test if they could use a simple messaging tool that integrates with a dictation software to record more information throughout the day, which can then be reviewed and collated more simply at the end of the day. We also introduced an app we’ve developed that allows carers to search for similar cases when dealing with challenging behaviour (see post image) – more about that in a later post.

The carers can choose whether they prefer to dictate the notes, e.g. if they have a quiet moment, which will then be automatically turned into text. Alternatively if they are in a noisy environment, or where they might be overheard by residents, they can use the keyboard to enter notes.

So far the responses we’ve had are positive. The carers like the devices, and have found the apps simple to use. It will be interesting as more feedback comes in to see how the iPods survived the environment and if the notes that have been recorded are richer than what they were before the devices were introduced.

Whatever the outcome, I’m full of admiration for the can-do attitude of the carers. Some of them had never used a smart phone or used anything like the iPod Touch before. And all of them warned me before we started that they were ‘not very good’ with computers. But they took to it like ducks to water. Having a go was not a problem. Even if some were a bit hesitant to begin with. I just love their attitude. I’ve never had such willing participants 😀

Author: Kristine Pitts

Tackling the Challenges of Dementia Care: A Creative Problem Solving Approach

I thought I’d give you a quick update on the MIRROR project, as the University have been publicising it (see CityNews).

Mirror is a €6.45m R&D project funded by the European Union (EU) Seventh Framework Programme. It aims to empower employees to reflect on their performance, share their experiences, solve problems more creatively, and work together to develop best practice. As part of the project one of our objectives is to improve the quality of care for people with dementia through new software and techniques designed to foster creative problem solving and collaboration amongst care workers. To do this we are working with the Registered Nursing Home Association.


Caring for people with dementia is incredibly difficult, because each case is unique and can change quickly. We hope to make it easier for carers to deal with the problems they encounter, by helping them learn from previous situations, and apply their own and their colleagues’ knowledge in new ways.

Over the course of the four-year project, our team her at City will work closely with two care homes, to evaluate their needs and design a set of smart applications and accompanying hardware that can be readily incorporated into their working environment.

For example, a carer could use a digital pen to capture a resident’s details quickly, easily and remotely, before sharing the data with a colleague who could devise a treatment based on a prior, similar experience. This example overcomes two key constraints: Staff currently have limited exposure to technology, so if staff can continue taking notes on pen and paper, it will lessen their resistance to the introduction of the technology, while at the same time make records available digitally so that all staff can share information about residents.

Our aim is to develop practical tools that carers can use in their day-to-day work, to develop fresh ideas, put them into practice and record if they were successful. We’re in the market for good examples of what’s been tried elsewhere, also from other domains, so please do share.

Author: Kristine Pitts


MIRROR – Reflective (and Creative) Learning at Work

Football Kick-off

[tweetmeme]Amidst the football madness, Neil Maiden and I journeyed to Saarbruecken in Germany for a different sort of kick-off, the project kick-off for MIRROR – an EU Framework 7 funded project.

“MIRROR is aiming to develop the first technology-enhanced learning approach that can be used in highly dynamic working situations and situative context, where no teachers, no formal content and no explicit knowledge are available. “

It seems the EU has recognised it’s tough out there at the moment, and that many forms of formal training can be time consuming and costly, especially in SMEs where sending staff on training can mean difficulties in finding cover for the work they will be missing. Wouldn’t it be great if they could learn while they are on the job? (Doesn’t sound radical yet does it? Be patient, please).

When we’re taught new things or have new experiences we learn from them by reflecting on what we’ve experienced or been taught. Reflection is key to the MIRROR approach and the project aims to support the approach with technologies that enhance and motivate both individual and collaborative reflective learning process.

The key part that interests us is that reflection is not limited to the retrospective element, on the contrary there is an intimate connection between reflection and creativity. How? When we reflect on past events and experiences we train our capability for critical thinking and arrive at new insights or new perspectives from which to view a problem.

Our goals (here at City) in the project is to:

  • Understand opportunities for and barriers to reflective learning during creative problem solving
  • Develop creative problem solving strategies that have the potential to support reflective learning
  • Integrate model of reflective learning behaviour and outcomes with existing models creative problem solving
  • Develop software-based tools that support reflective learning during creative problem solving

We will be working closely with (among others) some UK based care homes, looking at how the MIRROR approach and technologies can support care home staff working with people who have dementia.

Where will it take us? We’ll keep you posted.

Author: Kristine Pitts