By Aurora Arevalo, Fil Bacarro, Bridget Esqueda, & Sarah Kaminski
Citation: Lee, J.J. (2013). Game mechanics to promote new understandings of identity and ethnic minority stereotypes. Digital Culture & Education, 5(2), pg. 127-150.
This study uses interactive game mechanics to create digital games that address the influence and perceptions of ethnic minority stereotypes, specifically to Asian Americans. The influence of stereotypes on Asian Americans can affect such areas as academic performance, mental health, and identity development. The Model Minority stereotype prevents issues Asian Americans may be experiencing from being addressed, such as identity issues that can arise from internalization of this stereotype and having to navigate Western and traditional Eastern worldviews. The game design used in this study creates a non-threatening and interactive environment that allows participants to increase their understanding of how labeling and stereotypes can impact the experiences of Asian American youth. Particular areas of interest include the development of identity and self-concept in relation to stereotypes, and the perceptions and assumptions participants may hold toward Asian Americans.
The author’s overarching research question is, “Can game mechanics be used to promote new understandings of identity and ethnic minority stereotypes?” The primary research questions are:
1) Do ISGs affect Asian students’ perceptions of self-identities in relationship to stereotypes?
2) Do ISGs promote new perceptions and understandings of Asian culture?
3) Are ISGs effective in educating players about facts regarding Asian culture and
Lee uses a mixed-methods design broken into two phases. Phase 1 was for brainstorming and game design. The second phase was playing of the game and gathering of information. This study contributed an important investigation on how game mechanics help players learn about cultures and themselves which provides a way for players to move closer to identity achievement. By using a simple survey of five open ended questions; recurring stereotypes emerged within the ethnic group which were implanted in the game.
Two game prototypes that were created using the information from the first phase.
1. Flying Asian Stereotypes! Game- participants choose stereotypes for their character. Each stereotype has different consequences such as the “nerdy” stereotype make the character have a nerdy appearance. The objectives were to allow participants to reflect on their identity, educate players of Asian and Asian-American issues, and give a simulated experience of what it’s like to be labeled as an Asian stereotype. Participants were asked to play three rounds, each time constructing a different identity.
2. The A-Culture-Rate Game- participants had to rate the acculturation and biographical information of ten people of Asian descent from a scale of 1 to 5 once. The objective of this game was for the participant to realize that it’s not easy to determine someone’s character based on physical appearance.
Before and after the games, participants had to fill a 95-item survey in order to catch shifts in the areas of knowledge of Asian culture, perceptions and attitudes, and self-identity in relation to these stereotypes. The pre-test was given in paper format and the post-test was given via online survey.
Findings and Conclusions
The results were derived by quantitative data (pre- and post-tests were analyzed for general trends within groups) and qualitative data (open coding and thematic analysis of interview data was performed).
1. Lee found out that ISGs do affect the self-identities of Asian students. Pre-test scores revealed that first generation Asians had the highest change in self-identity, followed by the second generation Asian-Americans. Non-Asians had virtually no change in their self-identity. The semi-structured interviews’ results “supported finding that players were able to learn new understanding of themselves. In several instances, players were able to reflect upon self-identities, verbalize goals and possible future/selves (p. 144).” The interview results show that Asian-American players were able to identify with stereotypes and issues raised in the game. Based on the study, ISGs do in fact change the perception of self-identity of Asian students.
2. Results from the pre- and post-test assessments implied awareness of existing stereotypes were low for Asians while Asian-Americans were high. Results also indicated games helped comprehend Asian stereotypes. The same conclusion was derived from qualitative data. Before the ISGs, Asian students were not fully aware of the Asian stereotypes; the results from this study clearly suggest that the ISGs do promote new perceptions and understandings of Asian culture.
3. The results indicated the mini-games had a positive effect on learning facts regarding Asian culture and participants learned facts related to Asian culture. It implied ISGs were effective in educating players about facts regarding Asian culture and stereotypes.
Lee concluded that through ISGs, Asian players were able to understand their self-identity and roles stereotypes played in their life. Lee suggests that this study can be adapted to explore the consequences of stereotypes faced by other minority groups. If ISGs worked well within the Asian community, many other minorities can benefit from the information that ISGs can provide.
Unanswered questions and future research
While this study brought to light a different way to educate the impact of stereotypes on the identity of people of different ethnic backgrounds, how does this new approach compare to traditional interventions? Are ISGs more effective than traditional means? What is the difference in impact to the self-identity of the people who participate in the different interventions? Are different interventions needed for different learners? Since every person learns in a different way, does this affect the effectiveness of these interventions?
Other unanswered questions: could stereotypes be taught through a mainstream game format? While ISGs were effective in impacting the self-identity of the Asian participants, they weren’t a game that would be actively sought out. These games were designed with a study in mind rather than in a broad application.
Future research could look at the application of these concepts to a more mainstream format. Could a hand-held game be developed for a wider audience? Can this concept only be approached in a classroom setting?
Lee acknowledges that that there was no way of knowing which combinations of features led to the study’s success. Could the features of the game be narrowed to see which were the most effective? And could they apply them to a new program and study the result?