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Motivational Game Design: Bridging the Gap Between Principled Science and Practical Making

Speaker Name: 
Sebastian Deterding
Speaker Title: 
Speaker Organization: 
Digital Creativity Labs; University of York
Start Time: 
Monday, February 25, 2019 - 11:15am
End Time: 
Monday, February 25, 2019 - 12:15pm
Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Abstract: As everyday life is increasingly mediated by computational media, motivation has become a new core challenge for its designers: How do we shape our computational lifeworld to motivate people to live more healthily, save energy, learn, work, play, commune, or participate in politics? Designers turned to psychological research for guidance -- but often left unsatisfied, finding it too abstract or analytic. Small multidisciplinary fields like persuasive technology, design for behavior change, or gamification jumped into the fray and tried to translate between psychology and design, yet often with questionable results. In this lecture, I will reflect on my own research and practice in applied game design to tease out some of the epistemic differences between psychological and design knowledge that make translating between them difficult, and suggest some ways forward. I will argue that applied game design provides a golden opportunity to develop  a principled and practical science of motivational design, with its confluence of large-scale usage data, computational interfaces, and design practice.

Biography: Sebastian Deterding is a designer and researcher working on gameful and motivational design for human wellbeing. He is a reader at the Digital Creativity Labs at the University of York and holds a PhD in media studies from Hamburg University (2013). Founder and principal designer of the design agency coding conduct, he has created engaging experiences touching millions of users for clients including the BBC, BMW, Deutsche Telekom, KLM, and numerous startups. He has keynoted and presented at venues including CHI, Design and Emotion, GDC, Google, Lift, MIT Media Lab, IDEO, UX London, and Web Directions. He is founder of the Gamification Research Network, and co-editor of “The Gameful World” (MIT Press, 2015) and “Role-Playing Game Studies” (Routledge, 2018). He lives online at