Games for Change (G4C) is a movement and community of practice dedicated to using digital games for social change. However, a common model of persuasion built into most G4C, called Information Deficit, assumes that supporting children to learn facts will result in behavior change around social issues. There is little evidence that this approach works. We propose a model of game play, called Emergent Dialogue, which encourages children to discuss their values during interaction with factual information in a G4C.

We apply the Emergent Dialogue to the design of Youtopia, a tangible, tabletop learning game about sustainability. Our goal was to create a game that provided opportunities for children to express and discuss their values around sustainable development tradeoffs during game play.

Group Project: research, design, prototyping, usability testing, user studies

My Role: usability testing and user studies

Timeline: 2012-2014


The system of Youtopia consists of a set of tangible stamps used for input onto a multi-touch tabletop map display. The main form of interaction with the map is through stamping land uses onto the map with the tangible stamps. There are two kinds of stamps: land uses and tools. Touch is used for basic system controls such as choosing a map or population size.

Land Use Stamps

  • Natural resource stamps: to designate natural resources as usable for human development
  • Human development stamps: to designate spaces for food, shelter or energy production facilities.
  • Co-dependent use: Human developments cannot be built without first designating natural resources as usable. For example, in order to create a housing unit, a user must stamp the lumber stamp onto an area of forest to designate the lumber from the forest as usable. Then s/he can use the housing stamp to place a housing unit somewhere in the available grasslands.


  • Eraser stamp: undo previous stamp actions.
  • Impact stamp: display an information overlay about the current world state
  • Information ring: display a detailed information overlay about that stamp

Usability Testing

We recorded the participants’ specific actions when they performed the tasks, and identified several issues in both interaction and interface design.

We took semi-structured observational notes and video taped the testing process.

The Usability Testing Protocol

The Summary of the Design Issues

UI Design: we added the dots so that users could know the approximate percentages.

Interaction Design: we modified the interaction flow so that users could select the population size (that could influence their building strategy) before building their world.

Tangible Design: we designed the physical label for stamps and colour-coded their categories so that users could quickly find out the stamp they want to use.

Evaluation #1

Mixed Methods Research with Children

We evaluated Youtopia using a mixed methods user study at a local school with forty children, aged 10 and 11. Two children played the activity together to build a world they would like to live in. We captured video and log data, and two additional researchers took observational notes using structured observation sheets. We followed each session with a short survey and interviews which we recorded and transcribed. Two weeks later students presented their map and final world in a class presentation that was also recorded with video and assessed against learning outcomes by teachers using a standardized rubric.

We developed our own schema: in-depth and conflict for video coding children’s dialogue and physical actions during the play. Our results provide evidence that our model are effective for supporting value-based dialogue during collaborative game play.

Evaluation #2

Mixed Methods Research with Young Adults

We also conducted another study in which we used Youtopia as a research instrument to evaluate whether our core design strategy the co-dependent (CD) configuration in system design/physical tools/roles could support effective collaboration between young adults than the independent design (ID) condition.

The comparative within-group study with 12 participants showed that the CD design supported more equitable verbal and physical participation. It encouraged participants to discuss their goals and decisions. The ID design sometimes led to parallel interaction.In both cases, freezing the display with informational tools encouraged subsequent collaborative behaviours.

Lessons Learned

1. How to design collaborative activity in large screen devices (tabletops)

2. How to administrate Usability Testing with children

3. How to design and conduct Mixed Methods research in both the field and the controlled environments

4. How to use Video Coding method to analyze data



Dr. Alissa N. Antle: Project Lead

Dr. Alyssa Wise [Dept Education]: Project Co-Lead

Graduate Students

  • Amanda Willis: Learning Designer
  • Min Fan: Usability Researcher
  • Jillian Warren: User Experience Researcher
  • Allen Bevans: Design and Technical Support
  • Aaron May: Wheels and User Experience Researcher

Undergraduate Students

  • Saba Nowroozi (SIAT Undergraduate Research Scholarship): Interaction Design
  • Perry: Program
  • Rachael Eckersley (FCAT Undergrad Fellowship): Art


  • Anna Macaranas: Project Manager