Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Creating Values from Play – Tiltfactor

Tiltfactor, the interdisciplinary innovation studio dedicated to designing & studying games for social impact, was founded and is led by Dr. Mary Flanagan. Skilled at designing catchy games that teach people something or create new knowledge, the lab always follows up with rigorous research that proves the approach and creates tangible results. Tiltfactor has created unique game design methodologies that lead to innovation; these are shared as a resource at “Values at Play“, including curriculum and research papers Tiltfactor is now at Dartmouth College and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and national research groups.

Tiltfactor uses its unique design methodology, Critical Play, to incorporate fundamental human values and psychological principles to promote learning, attitude change, and behavior change. Tiltfactor investigates the power of story, systems thinking, and empathy to craft powerful experiences that make a difference in people’s lives: by reducing stereotypes and biases, promoting wellness, harnessing new forms of knowledge, and increasing global awareness.

We make games. We study how people play. We think games can change the world.  We think games are an art form. We believe games are capable of more.  We teach with games. We speak out with games. We help people through games. We brainstorm.  We research.  We play. We are Tiltfactor. Game design for social change.

Here are some wonderful games and the purposes behind the games :

POX: Save the People and ZOMBIEPOX

games for change, health gamePlayers in POX work cooperatively to control the spread of a disease around the board.  Each turn a player draws a card that dictates how the disease spreads, and then allows him/her to choose people to vaccinate or cure against the disease.  If players contain the disease then they all win.  If too many people die, then all players lose.

POX was originally developed when a local health non-profit approached Tiltfactor about making a game that teaches the concept of “herd immunity”–that getting vaccinated protects not only you, but everyone around you.  Since the development and release of the board game, we have been conducting rigorous psychological studies on both the original POX and the new zombie version.  We’ve found some awesome results, and papers on these studies are being reviewed for publication, so keep your eyes open!  Currently, POX has been incorporated into health curricula in high schools and middle schools across the state of New Hampshire.


Buffalo is a party game for 2-10 players, young adult and older.  The rules are extremely simple, and games that start with three players often end up with ten as partygoers investigate all the yelling, and then end up joining the game.  Players flip one card from the orange deck and one card from the blue deck into the center row.  Orange cards have adjectives on them, and blue cards have nouns.  Players race to yell out the name of a real person or fictional character that matches both cards.  For example, if “Teenage” and “Wizard” were flipped, you could yell out “Harry Potter” to make a match.  The first person to make a match takes the relevant cards, then adds two more!  Some combinations are more straightforward than others: can you name an “Annoying” “Conqueror?”  If the entire group gets stumped, it’s called being “buffaloed” (BUFFALO [buhf-uh-loh] verb to outwit, puzzle, or baffle), and two more cards are added and matches can be made across ANY two.  Whoever has made the most matches at the end wins!  Buffalo is a great game to play at parties, family gatherings, bars, coffee shops, and gaming conventions!

Buffalo was created as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to decrease gender bias in Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) fields.  The concept behind the game’s psychological effects is that sometimes you see pairs that conform to societal biases, like “Male” and “Scientist.”  When you see pairs that go against biases, however, like “Nerdy” “Jock,” and you make a match, your conceptions of what kind of societal categories go together are broadened.  In addition, although we are not running studies on this portion of the game, I can say with certainty that the game increases players’ abilities to name people–celebrities, scholars, politicians, and fictional characters.  We have even heard of players who spend half an hour doing research on their mobile phones before playing the game to get a leg up on their competitors!  Again, look for forthcoming papers.

Awkward Moment

Awkward Moment is a game for middle school age children, where players react to fictional awkward situations.  One player takes on the role of the Decider.  She flips over a “Moment” card and reads it aloud to the players.  It might say “You think you see a friend coming up the street, so you wave like crazy and yell her name. But when she gets closer, you realize it’s not her.”  All other players secretly submit “Reaction” cards from their hands to the decider, in the hopes of getting her to choose their card.  But there’s a catch!  The decider isn’t choosing her favorite reaction, she’s choosing based on her “Decider” card.  For example which is the most “honest” reaction: “Create a work of art about it,” “Text your best friend about it,” or “Fess up?”

Like Buffalo, Awkward Moment was also created as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to decrease gender bias in Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) fields.  While many of Awkward Moment’s moment cards are indeed just awkward, many of them also subtly relate to gender bias in STEM.  For example, “A boy in class accuses you of cheating on a biology test because you got a better grade than he did.”  While this in no way detracts from the game’s fun (I’ve observed 10-12 year-olds shriek in joy when playing), our studies have begun to reveal that it has profound positive effects.  Expect to hear about our results soon!

Metadata Games

— An Open Source Electronic Game for Archival Data Systems

In our work with the Digital Humanities Start Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), we have created a working example of a free, open source, internet‐based computer game system for augmenting access to archival records. We have developed a suite of minigames for the collection of metadata, initially for the Rauner Library at Dartmouth College. This project is a pilot for a larger open source initiative that will allow other institutions to use the games in their archives.

Increasingly, archivists across the US recognize that the mission of the archival institution is not only the acquisition, storage, description, and preservation of historical materials. The need to make the archive accessible – to provide usable tools and quality access to the material across members of society—is a dominant mission for many of today’s archivists. Having a suite of games enables database managers to custom link to the most effective and appropriate game front ends for their data.

metagame, games for change

Read this interview posted on Library of Congress for more details of this game : The Metadata Games Crowdsourcing Toolset for Libraries & Archives: An Interview with Mary Flanagan.

Note : Thanks to Max Seidman from Tiltfactor for providing detail descriptions for their games.


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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