Initial Project Proposal

The Inspiration

Some of my favorite memories of freshman year in college are staying up late and having deep conversations with once strangers, learning about different lifestyles, discussing people’s passion and endeavors. It was not until four hours of absolute nothingness that the best conversations would form. Now that I am a Junior, I have observed how increased responsibility affects our opportunities to have these talks. It seems that the busier people are, the less likely we are to engage in real conversations. Instead, interactions are reduced to brief salutations, and perhaps a briefing on our latest time-consuming project. With everyone being so busy, how do we make time for these typically spontaneous talks? How can we optimize our conversations to be more fulfilling? If time is a commodity, how can we make sure that talking to each other is a priority?

The Big Idea

My idea is to “gamify” this concept and produce an alternate reality game of sorts, involving game cards and an app or website to track the cards. Each card has a question prompt and a unique code for tracking purposes.

The mission: To go outside your comfort zone, make an effort to get to know someone else, and have conversations about topics that matter to you.

Gameplay: Receive a playing card. Find someone you want to know more about (it could be an acquaintance, a relative you haven’t seen in a while, a stranger at the bus stop – anyone) and start up a conversation involving the prompt on the card. Pass it on – now that person has this mission. They will go to the app/website to log that the card has been passed on, and then find somebody new to learn about.

In essence, it’s an ice breaker challenge that’s simple in concept but (I believe) has greater implications and intrinsic value than is apparent, especially for people with a measure of social anxiety. Everyone has something to say but not necessarily someone to say it to. Receiving a card gives you more initiative to talk. And tracking these conversations might give insight into which question prompts are more compelling, and inspire others to use the prompt to facilitate their own conversations.

Target Audience

The target audience is anyone that is interested in interacting with other people. I could see this being of particular interest to people with social anxiety, who might benefit from this type of framework to compel them to interact with more people. In addition, this card game might be well-suited for young travelers. Being in a strange and new place where you might not know anyone, conversations with the people hold the potential of making a foreign place seem smaller and easier to manage. In fact, during a recent trip to Georgia, I was by myself and happened to converse with a stranger in the park. It was not until that conversation that I felt more comfortable and in touch with Atlanta. Although I consider myself to be independent, I doubt I would have had the initiative to approach anyone the way they had. I believe that having the courage to start a conversation is the hardest step, and that is exactly what this creation is aimed to address. Whether you are not confident in your social skills, or fear the social stigma of talking to strangers, perhaps treating these situations as opportunities to play a game might change the way we interact with each other.

Comparable Existing Work 

Currently, there are conversation topic cards available, such as Table Topics, which are simple, presentable cards with thought-provoking questions on them. They are typically used at get-togethers. In addition, there are play-and-pass style games, such as Boom Boom! Cards, which encourages “intentional acts of kindness” and provides an online interface to share and track one’s “underground acts of guerilla goodness.” The cards are also available as a board game edition, and themed packs. Similarly, there is a card game called Sneaky Cards that motivates people to become a “secret agent of joy.” The missions are whimsical and aim to spread “art and intrigue to an unsuspecting public.”

My thesis proposal is unique because I have yet to find a merging of the two. My intention in creating this conversation-based game is to capture the spirit of these play-and-pass style games, but to encourage people to devote time to talking to one another more. I believe there is great value in having conversations in person, and technology should be reinforcing their value, not diminishing it. And with a game like this, we increase our chances of having valuable conversations, and all of the emotional benefits that come with these interactions, because it becomes our mission to seek them out. Furthermore, the games above involve mostly one-way limited interactions: open the door for 10 consecutive people, buy a stranger a cup of coffee, give this card to somebody without them knowing. But sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to listen to them, and give them a moment of your time to show that their personal stories, values, or opinions mean something. This is what makes my project distinct from the rest, although I would like to develop the game to be even more unique.

Creative and Technical Strategy 

Above all, I want this game to increase opportunities for meaningful conversations by making it more fun to put yourself in a vulnerable position. As much as I love technology, I have always been a great proponent of using technology to facilitate human interactions, not replace them. And this mentality will be the main influence on my creative strategy. As for my technical strategy, I would like to determine what online interface best matches with the purpose of the game – be it a map, blog, mobile application, sms-driven platform, etc. I know that the interface must be able to handle a lot of data, be secure, and be simple to use (in terms of UX design and accessibility when traveling). As a result, I will probably use php to handle the data, and perhaps google maps to handle geo location services. Regardless of what technology I use, there will definitely be a learning curve for me. I expect to use mostly online resources to educate myself, such as lynda.com and code academy. I may also buy instructional books if appropriate. As for the playing cards themselves, I will conduct research about the best kind of material to use that will be durable, and possibly eco-friendly (in case the card becomes litter). The card should be easy to transport, but also be hard to forget or lose. In place of the common plastic reinforced paper card, I would like to explore the use of natural materials, like wood, and card-design alternatives, such as a wearable “card.”

Skills and Experience

My undergraduate studies have focused on the ethical use of technology, and the majority of the projects I have worked on have a social justice component. In addition, being a student worker in Residential Education has given me the opportunity to explore different methods of community development. For instance, I installed a “Survey of the Week” sign in all of my houses, since the upperclassmen cohort tends to have limited interactions with their own neighbors. Each resident has their own tag so that they can respond according to the answer scale or write in their own answers, and get to know their peers based around a new weekly subject matter. Surveys posted include:

  • Do you believe in miracles?
  • Draw your imaginary friend.
  • Will you be voting in the 2016 Presidential Elections?
  • Name a song that makes you happy.
  • What is something on your bucket list?
  • Which best captures your outlook on life: Half glass full or half glass empty?

Not only has this helped me learn about my busy residents, but their answers have given me material to facilitate conversations with them.

Furthermore, previous Interactive Multimedia classes have provided me background in building the types of online interfaces that could be used to track the cards. I have varied experience building websites, using PHP to handle databases, using twilio for sms features, and using leaflet to create maps. Other skills that might be useful are Photoshop (especially for marketing), and video game development using Unity.

Possible Proofs of Concept
  1. Test play “Sneaky Cards” to measure how willing people are to play this kind of game.
  2. Make paper cards to test the quality and success of topics.
  3. Build an online interface to input the location of cards.
  4. Develop a map tool to display the locations input from a database.
  5. Create a social media account for sharing stories and feedback.
  6. Test other card materials (digital fabrication opportunity).
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