Behind the scenes: how does Active Cues develop their games?
Active Cues develops games for people with a cognitive disability, such as people with learning difficulties, dementia or autism-spectrum disorder. The games are developed using the co-design method: together with the target group. What does that process look like and what makes a game a Tovertafel game? User-centered designer Judith and game developer Rajiv tell us more about game development.
How does a game idea emerge?
Judith: “The inspiration for a new game can come from different directions: research of students on a work placement, feedback from people in practice, or from wishes from a target group. 'Something with photos' was one such idea, suitable both for people with dementia as for people with learning difficulties.”
The Nostalgia Puzzle game emerged from a desire for a game with photos combined with a wish to do something with a nostalgic activity like puzzling for people with dementia. Judith: "In a care home, I once worked on a puzzle for children with an elderly man with dementia. That was quite a struggle. The puzzle had a childish image but still proved too difficult for him. He simply lacked the ability to place a piece of the puzzle in the right position. But the social aspect of the activity and the connection to times past still brought him immense pleasure."
How do you then turn such an idea into a new game?
Rajiv: “Together with our visual designer we consider how we can mould those ideas into a game. That takes some real effort. Research, as well as observations, has taught us that people with dementia have fewer game experiences to enjoy as the disease progresses. A ten-year-old boy may, for instance, enjoy being able to reach higher levels. Someone with late stage dementia doesn't enjoy that at all; they appreciate relaxation and reminiscing. People with learning difficulties favour completely different game experiences.”
How are those game experiences expressed in the Tovertafel games?
Rajiv: “To stay with the Nostalgia Puzzle for a moment, we remove the elements that result in frustration, such as having to carefully place a puzzle piece, and use only those elements that result in moments of happiness. For people with dementia, we place emphasis on a sense of wonder and the experiential instead of the challenge. We try, in a sense, to make a game that reads the players' minds and automatically does what the players expect. We focus on success."
Judith: "When our game developers have come up with a first prototype, we take it out into the field to one of our co-design locations to test it. Our game developers frequently join us on these outings to keep in close contact with our target group. Such a game test often unfolds in a way no one would have expected."
Do many ideas end up in the bin?
Rajiv: “About 7 out of every 10 ideas ultimately won't end up on the Tovertafel. A game may prove to be too difficult for the players or fails to keep them focussed. Several locations, for instance, suggested the idea of 'peeling' potatoes. This game ended up creating fewer moments of happiness than we and the care workers had anticipated. One elderly lady with dementia cried out in exasperation: "I've got plenty of potatoes to peel at home." That means the end for that game. But it might re-emerge in a different form.”
Judith: “We observe our target group as objective as possible while they are playing the new game. But our observations alone are not enough. That is why we always evaluate the games with care workers and play therapists: they know their residents, clients, or children best.”
When is a game truly finished?
Rajiv: “The Nostalgia puzzle game was a favourite from the start. But only when we and care experts see that the game achieves its aim is it made available. Does it help people with dementia to relax? Does it foster social interaction between people with learning difficulties? Does it help children with autism spectrum disorder to learn social skills? These are the questions we continue to ask ourselves.”