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Witches and warlocks, power and kids emotional needs

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

A whimsical warlock character from Friendly Fox Designs, captured stirring a cauldron in the woods, embodies the enchantment and imagination that our trails bring to life. Ideal for educational programmes that blend folklore, nature, and interactive storytelling.

Witches, wizards and magic have appeared in stories for centuries, but why are we so fascinated? Obviously magic is real :) but there are also psychological reasons behind our love of magical beings, they are powerful for a start. Most of us want to be more powerful and feel more in control and a magic wand would help. If only we could cast a spell or two, life could be a lot easier.

Games allow us to escape into alternative worlds where we can have more of the power and control we seek and overcoming wizards or gaining magical powers are an excellent mechanism to support these needs. Fantasy worlds with such supernatural narratives can lead to greater motivation and enjoyment of a game.

Children in particular respond well as they have stronger needs. They do not have full control over their everyday lives, parents or carers often decide where they go and what they do. Older children, particularly, can desire to be more adult and have more choice over their activities, this is why parents get a lot of kick back during these phases! Del Vechio in his book: “Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer's Guide to a Kid's Heart” also explains that children are also smaller and not as strong or powerful as they would like to be. They are therefore ‘spellbound’ by other magical characters who have power and if they can beat them within a game through their own magical abilities, that is the icing on the cake.

In my PhD thesis I focussed on the best ways to meet the key emotional needs of children. I am in good company as Shigeru Miyamoto (the creator of Mario and Zelda series) was very aware of the importance and explains that he designs his games around a series of specific desired emotional experiences. To find a scientific approach to this, I adapted a framework created by Rigby and Ryan, researchers into motivation and psychological health, basing their work on ‘self-determination’ theory (Ryan, 2006). They identify a number of key emotional needs that must be represented to guarantee success of a game and explain that they similarly apply to multiple domains of life, such as learning or work. One key aspect is ‘autonomy’ which includes having control and choices over ones world.

Witches and Wizards are also potentially scary, could this put children off a game? In answering this we would only need to look at the success of the Disney to realise that the opposite is true, almost all of their films include a wicked magical antagonist. The potential to overcome fears is another key emotional need also discussed by Del Vechio. He explains that this is why children love ghosts, vampires, witches and the whole supernatural crew. It is also why we included a slightly scary wizard example in our game.

We hope that whey players gathering natural objects in our games and gain magical abilities from them in order to defeat an evil wizard or two, we are also making the connection between the power and magic that is inherent in our natural world. Our narratives attempt to make the obvious wellbeing and health benefits of the natural world into a theme for the game.

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