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A Quest for the Interpersonal Skills needed for Social Success

Millions of youth and adults struggle every day with rejection caused by inappropriate interpersonal communication skills, many of them right here in the U.S.A. For many individuals the root problem is difficulty in understanding or using the nonverbal signs or signals (Dyssemia) that make up 93% of the communication that goes on between human beings.

 

Whether you want to call it lack of empathy, or a need of social-emotional intelligence, or Dyssemia, these skills are the keys to success in everyday life in school, in business, or at play, and yet we as a society spend almost no time ensuring that everyone is competent in them as they grow from infants to adults.

 

Lacking these skills leads to poor self-esteem, depression, and rage, coming from bullying and repeated rejection and it lands thousands of them in psychotherapy, the juvenile or adult justice system, on drugs, or ultimately in the graveyard. The nightly news screams with incidents of needlessly violent confrontations and the fallout from them.

 

Beyond these serious costs to society, these individuals suffer great losses in quality of life and productivity both personal and academic. Humans are social animals – they depend on their interpersonal skills even more than their limbs and analytical processes. Even a small improvement in these skills significantly improves the chances of a happier life for these individuals and those around them.

 

* The Goal

 

We would like to propose that those interested in social-emotional intelligence and empathy join with us to develop a software framework to provide a realistic simulation of human social interactions emphasizing recognition, understanding and use of emotions and nonverbal communication to assist those who have had difficulty in acquiring them on their own.

 

This framework would be used to develop engaging computer games to assist individuals in improving their interpersonal interactions in one-to-one and a group levels in recreational, educational and psycho-therapeutic settings.

 

We also hope to spark a movement towards mainstream companies incorporating these capabilities in their games – to enrich the player’s experience by focusing on alternative dramatic choices, beyond B-grade horror and action.

 

* Why A Computer Game Solution

 

Although there are a number of well-intentioned tools, self-improvement books, and systems, few prove effective in this arena and rarely reach those most of those in need.

 

We believe several elements conspire to keep those suffering from with these difficulties from utilizing the help currently available:

 

• While they may have heard of some coping techniques, they are reluctant to try them. They are fearful of failure, already having suffered problems in social situation. Trying something new with other people can seem too great a risk.

 

• Second, many of these individuals suffer attention related symptoms as well, sometimes known as a delay-averse learning style. If they are not sufficiently interested in something, they are likely to skip on to something new. On the other hand, they can focus with extreme intensity on stimuli that engage them. A delay-averse learning style is often associated with developmental challenges like Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) and Nonverbal Learning Disorders (NLD) associated with the Autistic spectrum.

 

• Third, the most common engaging and widespread stimuli in the modern world are electronic based entertainment, such as television and video/computer games. Even those individuals who are not “diagnosed” with a specific learning disability, particularly many those of growing up in the last 30 years have had their brains become “wired” to receiving input and provide feedback through these media. Yet few of these entertainment forms make any attempt at appropriate modeling of interpersonal skills.

 

• Fourth, it is documented that mammals learn the most and learn things best through play – when they are having fun – and yet we are the only such species that has virtually eliminated fun fro the educational process.

 

It is estimated that there are 70 million individuals with interpersonal skills issues in the United States alone. To effectively reach and assist the majority of this large audience, our solutions must be fascinating and encourage replay. In doing so, they are inherently capable of being a huge philanthropic or commercial success as entertainment products.

 

Our audience for these games is the younger gamers, both male and female – say those between 6 and 25 years of age. This audience is the major group currently actively playing video games.

 

Today’s computers and consoles are powerful enough and capable of handling the latest gaming software and already available to most members of this audience. This ensures that the advanced technology required to create the games can be utilized by the target market.

 

As far back as 2004, awareness of the use of games as therapeutic tools has been growing. Evidence BusinessWeek online May 13, 2004 - "Games could provide a solution: It goes without saying that they are a lot more fun than visiting therapists or taking medications. Plus, one American in two – that's 146 million people – already play computer and video games, according to the Entertainment Software Assn."

 

Growing trends in society show the need for games focused on human values rather than extolling violence. Many parents, legislators, and other organizations are becoming more and more concerned at the violence in games. The time for alternative games based on forming relationships with people is overdue.

 

In addition to video games, we want to develop “tools” aimed at therapists, educators, counselors, and researchers. These specialists are looking for different and more effective ways to assist their patients who have interpersonal skills issues and evaluate their results.

 

* How it Will Work

 

The keys to creating a successful intervention are to make it actively engaging, captivating, effective and fun:

 

• A game based on documented research on emotion and nonverbal language – the foundations for human interaction, tested for efficacy.

• An engaging game using familiar stimuli will captivate the imagination of the player and open their minds to receive the information provided through stimuli that they already react to positively. There’s nothing like feeling personally involved to keep your interest.

• A game that allows for experimentation and learning while they are engaged in having fun. Fun encourages reuse and reuse allows for the internalizing of the skills into everyday behavior.

• A game that provides them the ability to test out interpersonal skills in an environment where failure is not punished by ridicule.

• Accompanying the game with game-based tools for use with therapists, educators, and researchers. Tools that will provide re-enforcement for “patients” who need additional assistance from such professionals. Tools for use in private/group/school settings, where skills and concepts can be introduced for the “patient” to practice under supervision, where their progress can be monitored and discussed.

 

* Documented Research

 

Based on researched and published theories of emotional intelligence and “the [nonverbal] language of social success,” our game design includes the range and depth of the interpersonal communications. Dr. David Goleman’s published works on domains of emotional intelligence and Dr. Stephen Nowicki, Jr.’s published works on the channels nonverbal communication are being used as the basis for this to ensure that we create a product that is certified to be of potential social value.

 

* Emotional Intelligence

 

Recognizing emotions is a vital component of interpersonal relations. A person must understand what he is feeling before he can modify his behavior to be more socially acceptable. They must also decode the nonverbal signals of his companions to determine their emotional states as well. This is the basis of empathy.

 

• The game will incorporate the research and writings of Dr. Daniel Goleman, utilizing the five domains of emotional intellligence to drive game based relationships: Self-Understanding, Feelings Management, Impulse Control, Recognition of and Empathy for Emotions in Others, and the Ability to Handle Relationships with Others.

 

* Language of Relationships

 

For those who are comfortable in social situations, it can be a surprise that our words comprise only about 5-7% of human communication. Our game utilizes the nonverbal “Channels” that make up the “Language of Relationships” as advanced by Dr. Stephen Nowicki, Jr. and Dr. Marshall P. Duke: Rhythm, Interpersonal Space, Gesture and Postures, Facial Expressions, Paralanguage, and, Style of Dress into the center of the game play.

 

* Games That Engage, Captivate and Teach

 

Our gameplay model is based on the idea the player will enjoy talking with one or more “virtual characters” – simulated people. We believe we can engage and even captivate players by using the latest gaming technology to depict these people and make them come alive.

 

Advanced graphics and artificial intelligence systems are now available to create believable, intriguing characters within detailed interactive environments. While game technology is now focused on many of the elements needed to convey the complexity of communication, including lip synching, motion capture animation, facial expression and detailed models and textures, we are aware of no gaming companies focused on using this technology for modeling complex interpersonal behavior.

 

We will take this licensable technology and combine it with our models of nonverbal communication and emotion simulation to produce fun and engaging games.

 

Incorporating technologies for the expression and reception of facial expressions, para-language (tone of voice), personal space, body language, and speech into the center of the game play and imbedding human interactive situations, driven by a wide range of dynamic emotional states for each character into the core game play will be will make the game come alive for players. This is cutting-edge technology, needless to say, which carries some risks, but we believe that working with experienced technology partners will reduce the risk greatly.

 

Players are rewarded for successful interactions with others. Our stories and environments conspire to allow the player to care about the characters and groups he meets through play. A player who chooses to react favorably to this will be amply rewarded.

 

This is not to say these games will lack drama or gloss over all of man’s imperfections. Instead, we reject the easy use of gore or hand-eye coordination as a basic game model. Our players can be confronted with violence and danger, but discover the key to survival is most often social rather than personal.

 

The game will not depict interactive violence or reward mayhem. Such events are always subordinate to conversation and social interaction. So events of a violent nature, from fistfights to riots to full-scale warfare, are depicted using an in-game engine cinematic form while the character interacts with the situation socially – perhaps discovering the cause of the violence and convincing the parties to desist. Random violence is never rewarded.

 

Where current games limit social interaction to a few menu trees – simply a mechanical puzzle or excuse to lead into the next mission, we aim to move beyond this by providing greater player control of his character’s nonverbal communication and by modeling human reactions onto the computer-generated characters. Players will have much more scope to relate to the game’s world and people.

 

Our game will use character interaction, relationship development, and world events to focus the player’s interest and involvement, rather than emphasizing violence and hand-eye coordination as seen in most video games.

 

Gameplay consists of scenarios in which players encounter characters and interesting situations unfold. Players start the game by simply learning to interact with others. As they become better at understanding other people, they begin making alliances and bargains, solving social problems, and providing people with good advice and even leadership. As a direct result of this kind of human interaction, they find themselves becoming more and more famous and powerful within the world of the game.

 

While a huge challenge for any solution is how to catch and retain a player’s interest. Young people tend to shy away from anything labeled educational, and doubly so for anything labeled “therapeutic.”

 

• Ideally the games will provide learning as a “Trojan horse” – that is, the learning aspect will be hidden inside the entertainment product. We are not talking about “edutainment”, which has proven to be a “turn-off” for 90% of all youth, but about something far more effective: products that are as engaging as other video games, but that by the nature of their core gameplay, teach valuable skills. Rather than chasing young people away with “this is good for you – play it,” they will want to play our games because they are fun!

 

* Safe Fun in the Sandbox

 

If someone fails in a real social situation, the repercussions can erase any potential for learning. However, when the situation is modeled within our game, the penalties are minor and non-threatening. The player can explore choices both stupid and brilliant without being ostracized. This allows him to recognize the strategies that work and might be applicable in the real world.

 

A crucial part of the our solution is the idea of a “sandbox” where players can freely experiment and make errors with their interactions with others – errors that in real life, often yield painful or costly consequences in physical, psychological, and/or monetary terms. In our games players can learn from their mistakes without penalty in the real-world.

 

Allowing experimentation aimed at realistic simulated people in realistic scenarios provides the player the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, possibly even to intentionally make “mistakes” to see what could happen, but ultimately the confidence to try new solutions until they are comfortable that they work.

 

Allowing this comfort zone additionally encourages the reuse of the game as a learning tool.

 

* Therapeutic Tools

 

Because of our close connection with therapists, educators and researchers, we plan to provide them additional tools to make better use of the game in their own settings. These tools allow them to customize the experience to the children they work with. The professionals can monitor and change the experience iteratively.

 

• For those children exposed to the game in a professional setting, the full game allows them to explore these skills at home, at their own pace. Nothing delights our children more than a new excuse to spend more time tied into electronic entertainment.

 

* A Two-Pronged Approach

 

In order to provide the most effective assistance for those youth whose interpersonal skills issues have brought them to professionals for assistance, we propose a two-pronged system.

 

For the most players there is the full game – an entertaining and engaging practice arena outside the therapeutic setting. For the professionals who work with them we will be providing a series of lessons activated by a simple menu selection interface, which we call the Administrator Console. The lessons, derived from the content of the game, are intended to be used under the direction of a specialist in the therapeutic setting. The two parts reinforce one another.

 

Each lesson in the system teaches a specific interpersonal skill, using the colorful “virtual characters” and artificial intelligence from the game to immerse the player in the experience and make it come alive.

 

The administrator is able to select, initiate, track, display, pause, and restart the lessons being worked on and could provide a chat capability with the player's machine via the console.

 

* Continuity between Lessons and Game Scenarios

 

The two parts are seamless in their content to the subject player. In other words, every lesson used for the therapeutic portion of the system is lifted directly out of the game so that they play the same way, with the same characters, and offer the same short-term feedback/results.

 

By using the same gameplay, these lessons become positive feedback to the player as they encounter them in the game. If they run into an issue in the game, they can bring it up in therapy. If they come across a difficult concept in therapy, they can seek out similar situations in the full game.

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Idea No. 75