DESIGNING A LEARNING EXPERIENCE AROUND CONSENT USING PLAY
'Understanding Boundaries' is an educational
game prototype, designed to facilitate a dialogue on consent.
The objective was to explore the role of play
while designing an interactive experience around
a social issue, with the larger goal of enabling a
shift in behavior and cultural practices.
Playtesting 'Understanding Boundaries'
Games for Change
Zhiqiang Li Andy
Iterative Design, Game Design
Many of us, at some point in our educational
tenure in the United States, have come across this video on consent, as part of the sexual violence prevention curriculum.
And though the video breaks 'consent' down into digestible content, consent is not as simple as a cup of tea. It is complex and multi-layered. It is far more than "no means no," and even "yes means yes" does not cover all the dynamics involved in authentic, affirmative, and enthusiastic consent.
Consent education is often only framed around
sex and imparted to children in middle school
or high school.
However, we believe that opening this curriculum to teach children about boundaries and healthy relationships from a formative age through play, aids in a better shift from a culture of harm
to a culture of respect and nurturance, ultimately playing an efficient role in preventing sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.
From the initial research and brainstorming phase
Communications Director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center
“Consent is more than just a word we need to teach to young people, it is a skill set. Practicing consent is the ability
to communicate your needs, desires, and boundaries in relationships and to respect the rights and preferences of others."
For each prototype that we developed, we first decided what we wanted the players to feel (Aesthetics). Based on that, we decided what kind of play could induce that feeling (Dynamics).
We then developed the necessary components
and constraints that could make the play
The behavior of complex, interactive systems –
like games – is incredibly difficult to predict.
We generally cannot know what exactly players are going to do once they start playing our game.
The only way to find out this is to follow the iterative design process of designing - playtesting
- analyzing - modifying.
We built quick primitive versions of our game for all our concepts, had different sets of people play it, and analyzed what happened. Each time we playtested, we found out what does and doesn’t work, made adjustments, and then tested it again.
Top: The MDA Framework, developed by Game Designers: Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek.
Bottom: The Iterative Design Framework
Understanding the characteristics
of 'real' consent.
Playtime: 10 mins
Minimum 3 players
For our prototype, we wanted our players to remember the three critical aspects to obtaining 'real' consent, i.e., the person giving consent should be Informed, Free of any Coercion, and Active in all senses.
We used the Memory Card game as our base, modifying it to suit our intention by adding more components. We tested this prototype with three different groups.
Creating quick, low fidelity prototypes and testing them with various groups also helped us detach from
the physical output and concentrate on the interaction.
LESSONS FROM TESTING APPROACH 1:
1. While the game was mechanically sound, it lacked any mental stimulation. It had oversimplified consent. In reality, it is much more complex.
2. A memory game is about collecting,
while consent is about judging, thinking, and interpreting. Game mechanics had overpowered the message of the game.
3. Two of the four options on the spinning board were negative, leaving more than 50% chance for players to sit idle. In any game, sitting idle and waiting for luck to strike is not a great feature.
Understanding the nuances of consent.
Playtime: 5 mins
Discussion: 5 mins
Minimum 4 players, divided into 2 teams.
Taking the lessons forward, for our second prototype, we wanted our players to experience the nuances of consent. We wanted to develop a game that included deduction, codes, and interpretation.
This game had 2 parts: a roleplaying activity, informed by prompts, performed by Team A (in a pair of 2), and a deduction and observation of the roleplay by Team B (in a pair of 2). This prototype was tested with 2 groups.
The iterative design approach puts emphasis on thinking short and testing long.
Hence, planning, observing and reflecting on the playtest is a crucial step.
LESSONS FROM TESTING APPROACH 2:
1. The game lacked strategy building.
It did not push the players beyond following the basic instructions.
2. Game and facilitation are both contingents — you need both. Play by itself isn’t doing anything here, and facilitation by itself won’t serve the purpose.
3. “Embarrassing is fun with friends”.
If someone has to do something awkward in public, have as many people do it, and don’t let anyone watch anyone! An audience will collapse the role-play because performance
4. If players in the game must have to do something embarrassing, it should be the game facilitators/the host first. Clown it up, act like a complete idiot.
This will make it somewhat okay for the players to act like idiots.
6. It is all right if a game focuses only on one aspect of the issue and doesn't show the complexity of the whole problem in its entirety.
5. Since consent is a very sensitive topic, making a game around something very silly would work well just so that people can have the conversations you want them to have. You don’t have to carry the baggage of
Playtime: 2 mins
Discussion: 8 mins
Minimum 4 players, divided into 2 teams.
Consent is messy and multi-layered. Our attempt to portray consent in its complexity was leading to a dilution of its nuances. Hence, we decided to scope down to the foundation of consent – Understanding Boundaries.
Taking forward the feedback from the first two approaches, we wanted to create an educational interaction while being silly, fun, and engaging.
We hence designed our play around everyday greetings, followed by a facilitated dialogue on consent.
Through our game, players explored:
Understanding one's boundaries, as is unique
to each relationship.
Establishing and communicating these boundaries.
Correctly understanding other's boundaries.
Respecting one's own and other's boundaries.
From playtests with three different groups. These were followed by a facilitated discussion.
Our playtests were done with players who had pre-established comfort and trust.
Boundaries are created by us to separate our likes from dislikes, wants from don't wants, comforts from discomforts, and okays from not okays.
Through this game, we intend to create a culture of communication and respect around boundaries and body sovereignty.
Variations of this game can be played with children as well as adults. The play remains the same, while changes in age-appropriate meaning and interpretation can be brought in by the facilitator.
Facilitating learning around boundaries with young children
(5 to 6 years of age) helps lay the groundwork for an understanding of sexual relationships much later on and
ensures a safer classroom environment in the present.
Four players, standing in pairs of two, facing each other at an arms-length distance.
In this game, there are four ways the players
can greet each other – Wave, Hi-5, Handshake,
and a Hug.
At the signal of the facilitator, players standing opposite each other lock their eyes, think of how they want to greet the other and do so at the count of three. Once done, players get into new pairs and repeat the same. The game goes on till each player has greeted the other three players.
The play is carefully observed and analyzed by the facilitator. After the four rounds, the facilitator probes the players to reflect on the game. A dialogue on body sovereignty, non-verbal cues, power, and identity dynamics can be extended, depending on the group's demographics.
1. "Understanding the other person's intention and gauging their boundaries - a lot of intuitive decision making is happening in a matter of 2 seconds."
3. "My greeting actions were non-consensus. I forced a high-five even when the person opposite me was just going for a wave. I am so sorry!"
2. "It's better to play safe and avoid crossing comfort levels."
Top: The four ways of greeting.
Bottom: Some of the questions that were asked during the facilitation following the play.
4. "I am realising that physical intimacy and the depth of a relationship may not co-relate and that is okay. Somebody I am very close to only wanted to shake hands."
6. "I tried all four types of greetings to explore feeling dismissed. Surprisingly, I am not feeling bad that I was not hugged back."
5. "Consent also differs and is practiced differently culturally."
REFLECTION AND WAY FORWARD
Our team received positive and enthusiastic feedback from our mentors and players. We wish to take this game forward by collaborating with a team of children and consent educators.
I also found this method of make-test-analyze-modify to be of use as a tool of design research. This method led to unbiased discoveries, it allowed for new questions to emerge from the very process of design. These were not part of the initial investigation but arose and were addressed through iterative play and design.