Tiltfactor

This game challenges your social biases.

Nothing takes the fun out of a game like the telltale whiff of edutainment. You played with Legos because you wanted to build your own world, not spatial skills. You played Oregon Trail because you wanted to tempt death by dysentery, not learn about manifest destiny. And yet, subliminally, you did learn, just by playing.

That’s the idea behind Buffalo, a card game created by Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor Lab and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The rules are simple: Start by drawing one card from the adjective deck (e.g., “old,” “Caucasian,” “eco-friendly”) and one from the noun deck (e.g., “scientist,” “superhero,” “feminist”). Then, all players race to shout out a real person or fictional character who fits the bill. For the combination of “blond” and “supermodel,” for instance, you might name Heidi Klum; for “dead,” “male,” and “musician,” you might name Kurt Cobain. The first player to make a match with two or more cards takes those cards, and if everyone is stumped, or “buffaloed,” you draw another noun and adjective pair and try again. The player with the most cards wins.

(Tiltfactor)

The hidden object of the game, though, is to subvert players’ latent stereotypes. Given only the “physicist” card, you might gravitate toward Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, or Isaac Newton—all men. But when this card is paired with the “female” descriptor, for example, the game challenges your assumptions about who is or can be a scientist. Maybe next time you have to think of a physicist, you’ll go for Marie Curie or Jocelyn Bell Burnell instead. The mechanism is subtle, but research suggests that it works: In a study recently published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Tiltfactor found that students who played Buffalo reported higher “social identity complexity” (a measure of inclusiveness) than those in a control group.

This approach, called “embedded design,” is central to Tiltfactor’s practice. The laboratory, founded by designer Mary Flanagan, builds games based on psychological principles: Buffalo’s “obfuscating” strategy draws on reactance theory, which states that people go on the defensive when they perceive attempts to change their behavior or attitudes. We dig in our heels when we’re told what to do.

Buffalo can break through this innate resistance because you can’t tell it’s working. “The vast majority of players did not connect the game directly to biases and stereotypes,” the researchers note. “When asked what they thought the game’s purpose was, many identified such goals as testing or expanding one’s memory or knowledge of historical or pop culture figures.”

One game of Buffalo might not convince your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving to change his ways—but it’s a start. And it’s a good reminder to all of us to be more open-minded.

Board game, $20.95 at Amazon.

H/t Fast Company

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo-illustration of several big-box retail stores.
    Equity

    After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown

    Big-box retailers nationwide are slashing their property taxes through a legal loophole known as "dark store theory." For the towns that rely on that revenue, this could be a disaster.

  2. A photo of a resident of Community First Village, a tiny-home community for people who were once living in homelessness, outside of Austin, Texas.!
    Design

    Austin's Fix for Homelessness: Tiny Houses, and Lots of Neighbors

    Community First! Village’s model for ending homelessness emphasizes the stabilizing power of social connections.

  3. A photo of a mural in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    Life

    Stop Complaining About Your Rent and Move to Tulsa, Suggests Tulsa

    In an effort to beef up the city’s tech workforce, the George Kaiser Family Foundation is offering $10,000, free rent, and other perks to remote workers who move to Tulsa for a year.

  4. Transportation

    California's DOT Admits That More Roads Mean More Traffic

    Take it from Caltrans: If you build highways, drivers will come.

  5. The charred remnants of a building in Paradise, California, destroyed by the Camp Fire.
    Environment

    How California Cities Can Tackle Wildfire Prevention

    Wildfires like Camp and Tubbs are blazing with greater intensity and frequency, due to factors including climate change and urban sprawl. How can cities stay safe?