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Aiming for Awkward? Annie’s Your Gal.

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Awkward Annie game

Awkward Annie is a game developed by the American University (AU) Game Lab Studio for the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to assess people’s abilities to understand what not to say in social situations. Bob Hone, a line designer for this project and professor in the AU Game Design program, discussed in detail the origins and purpose of this game.

“ETS wanted to assess whether or not people knew the right things to say in social situations. The nerdy name for that is called pragmalinguistics. There is also sociopragmatics, which is ‘do you know how to do the right things in social situations’,” said Hone.

“[Game Lab director] Lindsay Grace, the lead designer on the project, flipped it around and came up with the idea to find out whether people know the wrong things to say.”

Hone reached out to some of his contacts from the days when he used to run a design company, and was able to engage “a really clever artist” who developed a series of animations; Game Lab did all the programming. A player is only able to see the animations when he or she chooses the wrong – or most awkward – behavior. Otherwise, the image remains static.

Hone explains that a player can go through about 18 different dialogues, which are branching, so there are a total of 27 different outcomes based on what you choose to say.

ETS liked Annie and now Game Lab Studio is working on a new version focused on choosing the right things to say instead. Said Hone, “It’s a little confusing to some people. Some people from certain cultures have a really hard time choosing the wrong responses. So, now we are working on the positive version and we will compare them” for effectiveness and engagement.

Hone added, “What’s really great is that this game has given students the opportunity to work on real projects, which is the goal of the Game Studio. And the students get paid, which is an added bonus.”