Path of Trust

Prosocial games: Path of Trust

Who would have thought that a game about identifying the benefits of cooperation and expressing trustworthiness would feature a dark and foreboding labyrinth, two unlikely heroes and a whole lot of treasure? Path of Trust, developed by the Visual Computing Lab at the Information Technologies Institute of the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH), is first and foremost a story-driven game, not unlike games developed purely for the entertainment industry. Yet, armed with a set of game mechanics for the gamification of prosocial behaviour signs, Path of Trust unveils its serious game agenda by incorporating a movement-based interaction frame-work as well as a sophisticated real-time affect monitoring and tracking platform.

The storyline focuses on two adventurers who agree on working together in order to explore an ancient Egyptian tomb and collect the treasures hidden within. It just so happens that one of the two (an Indiana Jones wannabe old-timer) has suffered a serious injury during a past attempt at exploring the tricky corridors and has to be carried around by the other character, portraying a traditional, muscle-bound mercenary with practically zero experience in dungeon crawling. Together, these two agree on embarking on a treasure hunting quest, where one player has to properly provide directions as to where to go to next in order to avoid roaming mummies and traps, while the other has to navigate the environment and try to collect as much treasure pieces as possible. The game features colourful, immersive 3D graphics, cheerful cartoon characters as the main protagonists and up to five different endings in response to players’ cooperation efforts and mutual expression of trust.

The game is divided into two mini-games which model each character’s set of abilities and provide a fun exercise for both players involved in this unlikely alliance. One of the players is tasked to keep an eye on the top-down labyrinth map, deciding on which direction to point out to the other player through a simple memory game: The contents of all possible directions become briefly visible before a decision has to be made by the player. A trail of all previous rooms visited helps players avoid pointing out redundant directions and having their partner run around in circles. On the other hand, the second player gets a 3D view of the game world in which they’re able to navigate in order to turn around corners, collect treasure and avoid pitfalls. Both games are synchronized as to have each partner fulfil a certain task (like for example, deciding on which direction to point out next) while the other is pre-occupied with another task (i.e. trying to avoid a monster). This makes up for a cooperative experience that gives players the impression they’re actually relying on one another to get as far in the game as they can.

Game mechanics have been designed for the game to ensure the adoption of prosocial behaviour as the main focus of playing and ultimately, succeeding in the game. There is a strategically hidden element of competition between the two players as they explore the dungeon, namely, one player is rewarded twice as much than the other for each treasure piece they collect. This element is turned to a cooperation mechanism in the form of magical portals within the labyrinth which allow the two players to switch roles and thus, reroute resource revenue. The development team at CERTH believes this to be a major indicator for children understanding their partners needs and if it’s actually in their best interest to cooperate.

“A player pointing out a direction towards a magic portal signifies a desire for the balance in the game to turn around,” says Kostas Apostolakis, research associate on the project at CERTH. “Their peer will eventually recognize this as either a justified proposition for things “to be fair” or as a sign of greed, which will help them formulate a proper response as they now gain complete awareness of when an opportunity to switch places again presents itself”.

Care has been taken to elevate the importance of expressing trust-worthiness in the game as well. This will better manifest itself in future iterations of the game, as ongoing research work on adaptation mechanisms in response to player actions and engagement levels is incorporated into the core structure of the game. “The contents of each room in the dungeon are not pre-defined at the beginning of the game, but rather assigned during gameplay according to a set of probabilities”, the developer states.

“Therefore, players who exhibit a genuine desire to follow a common agenda and trust one another to do so will be rewarded better in future editions, adds Apostolakis.”Players, whose trust is broken, will face more difficult situations until they understand that working together is crucial for achieving far greater results”.

Already, Path of Trust has been demonstrated to children aged 7-10 in schools located in Portaria and Pallini, Greece. Reactions have been favourable and children were excited to play, hear about and even present drawings of their favorite parts of the game. Experimental results obtained through the integrated Prosocial Affect Monitor tracking framework also show promising indications on whether ProsocialLearn games can really help children understand whether to adopt a prosocial behaviour and develop emotional intelligence.

“Though we kept each player isolated and oblivious as to whom their partner might be, all children seemed to really understand and grasp the concept of the game,” notes Apostolakis. “They also enjoyed new ways to interact with the game, either using a Kinect or a Leap Motion Controller.”

Path of Trust will soon be launched as part of the ProsocialLearn web games portal. CERTH also targets a presentation at the 2015 Games and Learning Alliance conference held in Rome, Italy on December, by submitting a dedicated paper on the gamification of the prosocial traits explored.

Learn more about the Visual Computing Lab at the Information Technologies Institute of the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH) here.