Close but not too close: Distance and relevance in designing games for reflection

Ioanna Iacovides, Joe Cutting, Jen Beeston, Marta E. Cecchinato, Elisa D. Mekler, Paul Cairns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Persuasive games promote attitude and behavior change, of which reflection is an important precursor, but existing advice on designing for reflection is mixed and requires further empirical investigation. To address these concerns, we report on the design and evaluation (n=32) of a game to prompt student reflection on work-life balance. Participants either played as themselves or a third person character (Alex). An inductive qualitative analysis of post-play interviews, and a follow-up one week later, resulted in four themes that consider how gameplay facilitated reflection: making (sensible) consequences visible; it’s like MY life; the space between Alex and I; and triggers in everyday life. In addition, a deductive qualitative analysis indicated that while both games resulted in different forms of reflection for the majority of players, those who role-played as Alex appeared more likely to experience higher levels of reflection. Through exploring the different ways that the two versions of the game succeeded, and failed, to support reflection, we highlight the importance of providing a relevant context to players (so the game feels close to their experience), and allowing them to role-play as someone other than themselves (but not too close).
Original languageEnglish
Article number224
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Early online date10 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by internal funding from the University of York, and the Digital Creativity Labs jointly funded by EPSRC/AHRC/InnovateUK under grant no EP/M023265/1. We would like to thank Recluse Industries Ltd. for creating the two versions of the Student-Life Balance game, and all our participants who took part in playtesting, and the evaluation study. REFERENCES [

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Owner/Author.


  • evaluation
  • game design
  • reflection
  • role-play
  • work-life balance

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