Longitudinal Studies Video Game To Be Launched Later This Year

Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) are currently working with game developers, Duck Duck Zeus, to create a video game which explores findings from the UK’s cohort studies.

Using information from the 1958 National Child Development Study, 1970 British Cohort Study, Millennium Cohort Study and Next Steps, ‘Jacob’ (working title) will give players an interactive opportunity to follow hypothetical individuals as they make their way through life.

Dr David Bann, of CLS, and Professor Andrew Burn, of the UCL Institute of Education, are leading the collaborative project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Video games are an extremely promising avenue for public engagement with science – they are used by many millions around the world and even simple games can tackle serious and complicated themes,” explains Dr Bann.

“The game will enable members of the public to engage with quantitative research findings from longitudinal studies, and become familiar with concepts important to social science such as risk and variance.”

The 2D puzzle game, which will be available for PC, tablet and mobile in the spring, will challenge players to assemble ladder-like objects out of a number of different pieces. Players need to build upwards while avoiding or overcoming different obstacles. Unlike most video games, players will not start off equally – the game difficulty will depend on both random variation and on the early life socioeconomic conditions selected at the beginning of the game.

The more challenging the circumstances, the more difficult it will be on average to assemble the pieces to get to the top of the ladder and complete the game.

At the end of each game, players will be able to find out more about the possible influence of different socioeconomic conditions, through the published findings from peer-reviewed journal articles, which have used data from the cohort studies housed at CLS.

You can follow the frequent development updates of ‘Jacob’ on this blog site, on our Twitter and our Facebook Page

Three Generations – The Cohort Studies

Today we look into the three different studies conducted by CLS that will serve as the base data for Jacob.

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1958 National Child Development Study

Principal Investigator: Prof Alissa Goodman

The National Child Development Study (NCDS) follows the lives of 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1958. Also known as the 1958 Birth Cohort Study, it collects information on physical and educational development, economic circumstances, employment, family life, health behaviour, well being, social participation and attitudes.

The surveys

Since the birth survey in 1958, there have been nine further ‘sweeps’ of all cohort members at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 46, 50 and 55. In 2003 (at age 45), 9,000 cohort members also participated in a special bio-medical survey so they could learn more about how development, environments and lifestyles affect people’s health.

The data

The data for all NCDS sweeps is available from the UK Data Service. For more information, see the accessing the data page.

The 1970 British Cohort Study

Principal Investigator: Prof Alice Sullivan

The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) follows the lives of more than 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970. Over the course of cohort members lives, the BCS70 has collected information on health, physical, educational and social development, and economic circumstances among other factors.

The surveys

Since the birth survey in 1970, there have been eight ‘sweeps’ of all cohort members at ages 5, 10, 16, 26, 30, 34, 38 and 42. For more information on each of these surveys, visit the surveys pages.

The data

The data for all BCS70 sweeps are available from the UK Data Service. For more information, see the accessing the data page.

The Millennium Cohort Study

Acting Principal Investigator: Dr Morag Henderson
Principal Investigator: Prof Emla Fitzsimons

The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) is a multi-disciplinary research project following the lives of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000-01. It is the most recent of Britain’s world-renowned national longitudinal birth cohort studies. The study has been tracking the Millennium children through their early childhood years and plans to follow them into adulthood. It collects information on the children’s siblings and parents. MCS’s field of enquiry covers such diverse topics as parenting; childcare; school choice; child behaviour and cognitive development; child and parental health; parents’ employment and education; income and poverty; housing, neighbourhood and residential mobility; and social capital and ethnicity.

The surveys

The five surveys of MCS cohort members carried out so far – at age nine months, three, five, seven and eleven years – have built up a uniquely detailed portrait of the children of the new century. The Age 11 Survey took place place in 2012 and resulted in 13,287 productive interviews. This data along with the previous sweeps is available to download from the UK Data Service.

Three sub-studies have also been undertaken, with two reports produced so far: the Health Visitor Survey Report, and the Fertility Survey Report.

CLS is currently carrying out the age 14 survey, which is in field throughout 2015/early 2016. CLS will also carry out a new survey of the MCS cohort at age 17 in 2018.

The data

The data for all MCS sweeps is available from the UK Data Service. For more information, see the accessing the data  page.

 

 

What are the CLS Cohorts Studies?

Last time we explained a little about the CLS. Today we will give a further explanation into some of the work that they do.

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The cohort studies

By following the same individuals throughout their lives, cohort studies show:

  • how early life circumstances and experiences influence later outcomes
  • how an individual’s health, wealth, family, parenting, education, employment and social attitudes are linked
  • how these aspects of life vary for different people.

Through comparing the different generations in the three cohorts, CLS can chart social change and start to untangle the reasons behind it. Findings from the studies help evaluate and plan policies aimed at preventing adverse outcomes and promoting beneficial ones.

Over the years, findings from the cohort studies have contributed to their thinking in a number of different policy areas, including education and equality of opportunity; poverty and social exclusion; gender differences in pay and employment; social class differences in health; changing family structures; and anti-social behaviour.

Historically, the studies have been key sources of evidence for a number of government inquiries such as the Plowden Committee on Primary Education (1967), the Warnock Committee on Children with Special Educational Needs (1978), the Finer Committee on One Parent Families (1966-74), the Acheson Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health (1998) and the Moser Committee on Adult Basic Skills (1997-99).

One study of working mothers and early child development helped shift the argument for increased maternity leave. Another study on the impact of assets, such as savings and investments on future life chances, played a major part in the development of assets-based welfare policy, including the ‘Baby Bond’.

Publications and Resources

There are thousands of published works based on the British birth cohort studies. There are also a number of resources that CLS has produced to help researchers use the data.

Bibliography

The online bibliography is a searchable citations database of 3,500 publications based on 1958, 1970 and millennium cohort data. The bibliography is searchable by year, author, cohort study, journal name, title and abstract.

CLS library

The CLS library contains resources produced by CLS. It includes all types of survey documentation and resources, books, briefings, reports and working papers.

You can browse the library by publication type, or search for specific resources using the main website search box included.

CLS working paper series

The CLS working paper series features analysis of the 1958, 1970 and millennium cohort data on a variety of topics, as well as explorations of key methodological challenges in longitudinal research.

If you would like to submit a piece of research for possible publication as a CLS working paper, consult the guidelines.

Multimedia

You can view the latest video interviews, webinar recordings and podcasts on the multimedia page.

Videos and webinars are hosted on the CLScohorts YouTube channel, while the CLS podcasts are located on their Soundcloud page.

About the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS)

Today we give a brief explanation about CLS and what they do. Jacob uses data from their studies, so it would only be appropriate to explain a little more about them.

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Based in the Bloomsbury area of London. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) is an Economic and Social Research Council resource centre. It is based at the Department of Social Science, UCL Institute of Education, University of London.

The cohort studies

CLS is responsible for running four of Britain’s internationally-renowned cohort studies:

Cohort studies are a type of longitudinal research. They follow the same group of people throughout their lives, charting social change and untangling the reasons behind it. Find out more about the cohort studies and longitudinal research.

What They do

Running the cohort studies is a complex process, involving a number of different activities. To find out more about what CLS is up to, see their news and events sections.

Collecting the data

CLS regularly manages the extensive process of surveying all cohort members through a combination of face-to-face and telephone interviews, and paper and online questionnaires. The most recent surveys for the 1970 and millennium cohorts were carried out in 2012. The members of the 1958 cohort were surveyed in 2013.

When the surveys are complete, CLS cleans and documents the data, and deposits them with the UK Data Service, who make it available free-of-charge to researchers anywhere in the UK and abroad for non-commercial use.

Supporting researchers to use the data

CLS provides extensive documentation and guidance on each data set to help researchers better use the data, and runs a series of training workshops for first-time users. For more information on upcoming training opportunities, see their events page.

Sharing best practice in methodology

The experience of designing and managing the three cohort studies over many years has given them expertise in key methodological areas such as sampling, measuring social concepts over time, surveying special groups, using new technology in longitudinal surveys, and coping with attrition. CLS regularly collaborates with other survey managers to share best practice, and their survey methodology experts regularly participate in relevant national and international events. Find out more about their areas of expertise.

Conducting research

In addition to running the cohort studies, the CLS team is involved in a wide variety of research projects involving analysing longitudinal data and developing longitudinal research methodology. For more information, see CLS research.

The Prototyping Phase – Part 3

We continue with our in-depth look into the conceptual prototype for Jacob. If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2 of this article then we would recommend that you do so.

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So far we’ve covered the basic premise of the game and the available pieces offered to the player to assist them. We’ve briefly examined the obstacles, which may hinder the player’s progression. Though these factors may be drawn at random for the player before the start of the game, the reason for including them is far from the sake of adding variety.

We can break down a potential character at the start of the game into 3 separate core components.

  1. Where they were born. (Countryside, Exurban, Suburban, Urban Environments)
  2. When they were born. (1958, 1970 and year 2000)
  3. Their family background. (e.g., Working Class, Middle Class, Upper Class)

These factors are far from simple monikers. The Duck Duck Zeus design team, in consultation with CLS and DARE have decided that these seemingly randomised factors would actually be drawn from the data acquired by the three separate CLS cohort studies.

As well as the character’s background, their lifespan will also be drawn from the data as the total number of ladder pieces given to the player in a single playthrough will represent their life expectancy.

At the start of a turn, the player will be given a set number of ladder pieces. The range, number and quality of these ladder pieces will be determined based on the character’s randomly assigned attributes. This algorithm will be carefully designed with the supervision of CLS to make sure that the play experience accurately represents the findings of the studies.

So, for example, if we take a character from a privileged background the chances of them getting more useful pieces will increase. However, it is very important to establish two major factors of this system.

Firstly, a character with a more privileged background will potentially have a better chance of getting far in a playthrough. However, while their chances of having better resources may increase, the game is still governed by chance and a successful outcome is not a certainty. This accurately represents the fact that while you may be rich or privileged you may still not do well in life. Your wealth may not acquire you happiness or success and your life may even be a fleeting one at that.

Secondly, coming from a poorer or less privileged background in the game will decrease your chances of better resources. This once again would not be a certainty and it may very well be the case that such an individual would do experientially well in a playthrough. This represents the fact that individuals can still go onto achieve great things. That the rags-to-riches story may occur through either luck, determination or through the luck that one has created for themselves.

Hopefully these articles have been able to shed some light as to what direction the game is taking and which aspects of the CLS studies they hope to convey. Understandably in its current state there still may be some confusion as to how the game actually plays, but we will address this when we come to showcase the playable prototype later this month.

 

 

The Prototyping Phase – Part 2

Today we continue our breakdown of the Jacob conceptual prototype.

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The aim from the original proposal document was to design a puzzle game that represents the findings of the CLS cohort studies. The objective is rather simple, players must build their ladder as high as possible in the allotted game time. The number of ladder pieces discussed in the previous article represent the length of a person’s lifetime. The range of pieces offered to the player represents their opportunities, chances, successes, failures and personal life goals that are fulfilled in their lifetime.

Additionally in the environment obstacles pop up at random (as they tend to in life). Some may be relatively easy to overcome while others may take a person down a long winding path before they can divert around it.

The design team at Duck Duck Zeus decided not to label these life obstacles and leave them deliberately nondescript. The reason for this design decision was simple. Everyone’s goals in life are subjective and are different from one another. While one individual may strive to be wealthy, another may be perfectly happy living with far less money. Some people place more value over education compared to gaining hands-on life experience. While others see career advancement to be more important to them than raising a family. By labelling the game’s obstacles it would be considered extremely insensitive to imply that certain roles or aims in life are simply more important than others which is far from the truth.

Just like life itself Jacob is not exactly a fair game. As in life some individuals will have a better head start than others. Therefore before each playthrough several factors are randomised.

  1. The number of total ladder pieces given (Representing the life expectancy of the character in-game)
  2. The ‘quality’ of the range of ladder pieces given (Representing a character’s background privilege and their continuous privilege throughout life)
  3. The other background aspects of a characters life (Such as where were they born, eg, in the countryside or city; and when they were born, eg, 1958, 1970 or in the year 2000).

It may seem unfair and counterintuitive to force these random variables on the player and not give them their preferred choice. However, the reason for this randomness is to highlight the varied challenges different people can face during life.

Next time we will show the core gameplay loop of a single turn in-game and how these random values will dictate what type of ladder pieces the player will have at their disposal.

The Prototyping Phase – Part 1

Ever wondered what most video games look like during their early conception? Well in the case of Jacob it looked a little something like this:

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Might not be what you expected, but when a video game is being formulated you want to have a draft environment that is by no means presentable enough to the general public but is clear enough for the designers involved to understand and discuss on while allowing to be quickly edited for rapid change and improvement.

While not all video games may take on the form of tangible cards for their prototype, the development team at Duck Duck Zeus believed that the best way to iron out the game’s core mechanics from its original proposal document was to build it in card form. By doing so they able to switch and change components very quickly and effortlessly.

Each of the cards in the picture above represents one of the types of ladder pieces that a player can obtain during a standard gameplay session. These are given in the following shapes:

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A straight piece as its name suggests allows the player to move in a straight line. These are the most simple pieces to use and offer the most direct route to the player but offer little flexibility.

An angled piece offers the player a 90 degree angle option, however since the pieces can’t rotate they may require a bit of pre-thought before being used. They do however provide solutions to avoid obstacles in the environment so that the player doesn’t immediately become stuck or trapped.

A T-shape ladder piece starts from its point of origin and then splits into both a left and right handed movement, the player can decide which of the the two routes to follow allowing for a more flexible choice of deviation.

A cross piece allows connections to go in all four directions and offers an incredible amount of versatility. These pieces however to resolve balancing issues appear less frequently than some of the other pieces.

In part 2 we will be looking into how these pieces work within the context of the game and the other mechanics that make up the core gameplay loop of Jacob.

Design Challenges: Abstract vs Concrete

When using real life data in a game, do you go abstract or concrete?

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It’s a difficult question to answer. Every game must wrestle with the need to depict realistic aspects, be it the character or world design to the game’s physics engine. Though at the same time a video game must create a flexible environment that doesn’t restrict or hinder the player from being able to fully control and enjoy the experience.

One of the greatest challenges to occur during the conceptualisation and early prototyping phase of Jacob has been the very fact that the game is based on the CLS’s cohort studies data. When creating a game that deals with serious subject matter it is always important to consider how far a game must go to deliver that data to its target audience.

On one hand, when drawing inspiration from real life data it is crucial to realise that if you stray too far away from the subject material then the objective of the project loses all meaning.

But on the other hand, drawing too closely to realism can ruin the play experience. For example, think of the many games you have played in a real world setting that have forgone very simple day to day necessities such as sleeping, eating, drinking and using the toilet.

For Jacob however we decided to take the more abstract route for two very important reasons. Firstly we wanted to avoid the risk of making broad generalisations; just like life, everyone’s journey throughout the game will be different and so it would be unwise to unnecessarily pigeon hole people into caricatures or stereotypes.

Secondly, and most importantly, is that the game must serve a purpose to the player. Striving for realism is sometimes necessary, as mentioned previously, but going too far in that direction may restrict the player to the point where the game loses their attention.

Though what is important to understand is that this decision to go more abstract is far from a simple compromise. Once the more abstract route is taken different challenges immediately occur.  The greatest challenge is that the game must adequately tie back to the data.

To achieve this aim we will be working closely with the team at CLS. The development team at Duck Duck Zeus have already had the pleasure of meeting them to discuss the proposed idea and the early prototype, and will continue to work with them to ensure that the balance between engaging gameplay and accurate subject matter is carried out.

It Always Beings With An Engine

Every game begins with an engine.

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A video game like any complex machine requires an engine at the heart of its system and without a good engine your machine can easily fall apart in no time at all.

The question is which engine is the right one to use?

The answer however is a little more difficult to answer. There are many good game engines currently available for both private and commercial use and they offer a diverse range of strengths and weaknesses.

The question that should really be asked is what do we require this engine to do?

As this game is being released for free, and explores CLS’s cohort studies, we want as many people as possible to find out about the findings of the research. The best way to make it available to everyone is to have the ability to port Jacob to as many different devices and systems as feasibly possible.

That is why the team at Duck Duck Zeus have chosen Unity 5 as their game engine for this project. In addition to the team’s familiarity with the engine, Unity also allows an easier means of porting the game to other systems.

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As you can see Unity already has a proven track record of success releases across a variety of platforms. If you would like to know more about Unity or (or even try it yourself as there is a free version) you can download it from the Unity website