While designing Supervisor SafePros (SSP), our group considered which values we wanted to convey through game mechanics and narrative, being influenced by Belman, Nissenbaum, Flanagan & Diamond’s core principle that “values are at play in both the mechanics and narrative elements of games” (2011, p. 7) and also acknowledging that “values are embedded in games whether designers intend them to be or not” (p. 3). With this in mind, we identified two main values that we intended for the game to embody which we called “empathy” and “thoroughness”.
Empathy is attempted to be conveyed through the story and game rules as you learn more about your co-workers at the warehouse who are designed to have conversational and authentically idiosyncratic personalities. Through the course of performing your inspection, you learn about what is going on at the plant and the challenges of the day-to-day operations. Our intention is to build increasing care for keeping your team safe as you progress through levels using the game’s rules as well, such as how missing a critical issue can lead to a serious injury and you failing the level. The injury is directly related to a person that you met and the choices you made when interacting with them.
This is also how the value of “thoroughness” (which might also be described as awareness or curiosity) is intertwined: going through the game in a lackadaisical manner will result in mediocre results, lower morale of your team, and potentially an injury. It is only through fully interacting with the NPCs and exploring the environment that you can maximize your “Safety Score”, keeping everyone safe and happy.
A question that arose for me in our treatment of gender and race in the game is what is lost when creating generic characters to superficially represent gender and race? What I mean is that while we intended to make the game inclusive through representation as much as possible (eg: creating a variety of sprites of various skin colors and hair lengths, planning in depth character customization for Sam in the full game, using gender ambiguous abbreviated names for main characters) we also simultaneously sidestepped more complicated discussions about gender and race in the workplace and how these could play into worker safety. Through this process I have learned that these questions of scope must be considered by game designers, as there are always trade-offs based on how values are embedded into a game.
Considering the idea that games have both intended and unintended values built into them (Belman et al., 2011), it is also worth pointing out other unintended values baked into a game intended for workplace learners in industrial settings. For example, the game becomes a model for labour relations that embodies power structures based on neoliberal politics, avoiding discussion of unions or joint health and safety committees, minimizing the role of workers as agents in their own health and safety and situating the supervisor as a paternalistic figure. A more detailed version of the game would benefit from exploring these tensions in deeper ways since this would help new supervisors with the reality of navigating the complex adaptive system that is any medium or large organization.
A workplace learning game comes up against the issue of who it is marketed for and subsequent watering down of politically charged topics that make managers squirm. Despite these challenges, I believe games have a place in workplace learning since they can take the learner so much further than a video or powerpoint slide ever could. As explained by Frasca, “narrative is about what already happened while simulation is about what could happen…the potential of simulation is not just to convey values, but to allow the exploration of dynamic systems”, in this way games can be especially helpful for creating workplaces that are healthier, safer, and more inclusive since these matters have to do with human relations, and as such are inherently complex and involve possibilities and tensions to navigate.
Belman, J., Nissenbaum, H., Flanagan, M. & Diamond, J. (2011). Grow a Game: A tool for values conscious design and analysis of digital games. DiGRA 2011 Conference Proceedings.