Human Wrongs: Playing with sensitive matters across sandbox games and anthropomorphism

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In this study we investigate the design of a playful digital simulation on human rights, targeting high school and university students, building on sociomateriality and simulation. Since human rights are a complex topic, emotionally and politically charged, with deep social and philosophical ramifications, we decided to recast the problem focusing on the connection between human rights and distribution of resources. The result is Human Wrongs, a sandbox game in which a single or a small group of players manages the shared resources of two populations. We wanted to avoid telling players what to think, letting them instead to uncover the dilemmas involved in securing equal access to the necessary goods, as to guarantee fundamental rights to life and freedom. As the name suggests, Human Wrongs can be used to see the effects of extreme inequality, providing the players with more opportunities for reflection, as in negative brainstorming. As it is argued that anthropomorphism in games affects players’ emotional and cognitive responses, and we wanted to avoid issues with politically correctness or conflicts, our initial prototype represented two populations of geometrical characters and food resources where visualized as spontaneously growing cupcakes. However, data from a participatory workshop conducted with a group of teenagers suggests a preference for more realistic situations and anthropomorphic characters, in which players can identify. To explore the impact of anthropomorphism on emotional responses and critical reflections we designed two new versions of our game, one with human-like characters and the other with funny-looking octopuses. Results from a qualitative evaluation with university students shows that even if the students found anthropomorphic game better suited to inspire critical reflections, they did enjoy playing the zoomorphic version and were more creative in exploring possible scenarios with it than with the human-themed version. Therefore, we propose a scenario where both versions are kept, to support more deep and nuanced reflections.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 13th International Conference on Game Based Learning, ECGBL 2019
EditorsLars Elbaek, Gunver Majgaard, Andrea Valente, Saifuddin Khalid
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International
Publication dateOct 2019
ISBN (Electronic)978-191276438-9
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
Event13th International Conference on Game Based Learning, ECGBL 2019 - Odense, Denmark
Duration: 3. Oct 20194. Oct 2019


Conference13th International Conference on Game Based Learning, ECGBL 2019
SeriesProceedings of the European Conference on Games-based Learning


  • Anthropomorphism
  • Collective good
  • Human rights
  • Identification
  • Sandbox games


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