Playing Games

Being Human was the topic of the AQR Conference this year. As part of this conference, Abbey Clemens from Tonic, led a session about how we can use playing games in qual research to get under the skin of respondents. As a projective technique, it is completely led by the consumer, eliminating all direct questioning while gaining a deep understanding of decision making, mindsets, reactions and context.

The methodology has multiple benefits: for the respondent, the researcher and of course the client through the depth and breadth of insight. For respondents, it’s fun, natural, easy to get involved in and inclusive. On the other hand, researchers gain from playing games because creates a great group dynamic and it’s an excellent exercise to understand the market context as well as the individual consumer context. While there are many benefits to game playing, there is a concern that we won’t get the depth of insight that we need from it.

So, the aim of the session was to get attendees to experience game playing first hand so that they could see what it feels like as a respondent but also from a researcher’s point of view by seeing it in action. To do this, we broke the room into groups of 6-8 and got them to play a game designed specifically for the conference, The Game of Life. The result are these live illustrations drawn as conversations unfolded. The first one illustrates the game in action and the types of choices participants were making. The second and third ones detail the theory and benefits as well as the key principles to using game playing. These illustrations really bring to life the energy and enthusiasm participants (other researchers no less!) had for the methodology and post conference we heard from a number of people that the session successfully changed their mind about game playing. So, if you haven’t tried it yet, what’s stopping you?

We are busy writing a white paper with more detail on the theory and principles behind it. If you are interested in a copy please email

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