Creating Stealth Game Interventions for Attitude and Behavior Change: An "Embedded Design" Model

Geoff Kaufman, Mary Flanagan, Max Seidman


Persuasive games tackling serious issues in a literal, explicit fashion are far less likely to succeed in changing attitudes or behaviors than are games that take the more “stealthy” approach of embedding persuasive messages within a game’s content or context. The “Embedded Design” model, developed by the design and research team at Tiltfactor Laboratory at Dartmouth College, offers novel, evidence-based strategies for including persuasive content in a game in ways that circumvent players’ psychological defenses, triggering a more receptive mindset for internalizing a game’s intended message, and do so without sacrificing players’ enjoyment or the game’s inherent replayability. Such techniques promise to revolutionize the repertoire of techniques that game developers should consider in broaching and presenting serious topics in games. Three original “Embedded Design” strategies are presented here: (1) Intermixing: balancing “on-message” and “off-message” content to render the former less overt or threatening; (2) Obfuscating: using framing devices or genres that divert expectations or focus away from the game’s persuasive intent; and (3) Distancing: employing fiction and metaphor to increase the psychological gap between players’ identities and beliefs, and the game’s characters and persuasive content.

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Published by the Digital Games Research Association.