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 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).

Review Notes 1

10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation by Celeste Headlee

As I try to understand  interpersonal relationships better, I figured a TED Talk on what constitutes a good conversation would be beneficial. Only then can I understand how to use technology to facilitate those conversations. What I find interesting is that she suggests the same principles can be applied for both interviewing and having a conversation. My greatest takeaways were:

  1. Ask simple questions. (“Were you scared?” versus “How did that feel?”)
  2. Dont equate your experiences with theirs. It’s not about you.
  3. Try not to repeat yourself; it’s condescending.
  4. Prepare to be amazed.

Her talk has a strong focus on not talking and mostly listening, but I feel that a conversation requires more balance. Does this take into account the people with less social skills; those that would rather stare than say more words? I couldn’t help but find myself disagreeing at times. Perhaps it is because I find myself guilty of some of the above takeaways. In particular, I tend to ask specific questions because I try to summarize what I feel the other person is trying to communicate. it’s my way of reinforcing what I just heard. In addition, I was struck by this rule because I had spent much of my time trying to come up with the best thought-provoking questions for a potential thesis project. How do you develop a question that guides a good conversation, but is still simple?

How Video Games Create Good Learning by James Paul Gee

For a two page paper, I wasn’t expecting anything life-changing. Some of the points made are reflected in Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, which I am still trying to finish. But it’s a nice summation of the potential for games. Takeaways:

  1. “They make players think like scientists. Game play is built on a cycle of “hypothesize, probe the world, get a reaction, reflect on the results, re-probe to get better results”, a cycle typical of experimental science.”
  2. Failure: Gee suggests that lowering the consequences of failure encourages players to take take risks. I think this goes along with what McGonigal describes as “spectacular failure.” Somehow it can be more satisfying to wipe out epically than it is to win easily. Risks are better. Pushing your limits is better.
“Learning in High-Tech and Multimedia Environments” by Roxana Moreno

I would love to have examples of all of the principles in table 1. I’m interested in how to include guidance and reflection. I think both of these principles are important, but also make it hard for educational games to be less explicitly educational.

Guidance: “Novice students learn better when given principle-based explanations than they do when asked to infer principles by themselves.”

Reflection: “Students learn better when given opportunities to reflect during the meaning-making process.”

Personal Manifesto


Forget expectations. There is too much psychological garbage and not enough bytes to store the memories that you actually need. Do what makes you happy. Be selfish because that feeling of finally getting what you want will emanate as blinding beauty, and translate into infinite selflessness.

Your thoughts are like cookies: amazing when fresh but don’t let them go stale. Have a lot of different kinds. Share them. But be careful to not have too many, or they will get crushed in your cookie jar of a brain.

When you’re fearful, be silly. There will be plenty of instances for the world to discourage you and negate what you have to say. Getting what you want requires leaning into the discomfort, so lower the stakes and enjoy that scary journey. Don’t run blind but, goodness, go for it!

Creation is happiness. You will know the value of creation the very moment you start keeping paper and pen by your bedside just to quiet the visual noise in your head. Your early-self might think it’s craftiness, the jealous and sexist might put you down and whittle your passion down to the hobby of a housewife, but you know otherwise. Be it with code or beads, sensors or wood, you can build absolutely anything you want, crafts included and encouraged.

Be vulnerable.

Be patient.

Be hard to offend.

Get over yourself.

Yes, these are all related, and the hardest of them all, because they all involve extending beyond yourself. There is only so much you can do by yourself, so the sooner you learn how to get along with others, the better.

Extremism is overrated; it suggests not knowing the nature of humanity. There’s no such thing as universal rules because there are no universal circumstances. If you adopt everything here, you are a fool. This manifesto is for me, based on my circumstances, experiences, and explored consciousness.

Consciousness. Awareness of self. Conscientiousness. Awareness of others.

I said be selfish because no one else is going to fight for you. But also be selfish for what you believe in. You know what you believe is right, so fight for it. It is taxing. It is exhausting. But I would rather be weary from righteousness than refreshed from complacency.

Future Biography

My name is Devon Tam, and I am an entrepreneur, currently in the process of expanding my community center. But this community center isn’t one static place of brick and mortar. It’s actually a virtual space that connects you to various physical spaces in your area.

As an Interactive Multimedia major, Technology Studies minor, and Society, Ethics, and Technology interdisciplinary concentration, I am a major advocate for technology. However, I found that the more absorbed I was by my studies in technology, the further I felt from physical space. I craved the moments when I did not have to look at a screen to learn or feel connected to others.

After college, I pursued my technology education background and taught media classes. Although I valued education, I did not enjoy working within such a traditional framework. Instead of focusing on the students’ classroom experience, I found myself using the computer even more just to prepare myself to teach the already outdated curriculum. This wasn’t true to the real world. It had been three years since I graduated from college and even that content was irrelevant. So I piloted an after school program without much of a plan, except that we would only do something that interested us. During those initial couple of hours, it was our time to explore something that intrigued us but were too scared to try on our own. By the end of the first day, I had a running list of diverse workshop ideas that the students were genuinely interested in: Make an outfit out of foliage, make a cardboard arcade, make a responsive recycling bin, turn fruit into musical instruments, etc. Obviously I did not know everything, but I set about researching each one and creating a loose project to workshop. After all, you don’t have to be an expert to be able to tinker with something for a couple of hours. The students seemed to like it because it was not a major commitment, but it was just enough time to see if they wanted to learn more on their own. Each workshop would spark someone’s interest; even the most uninterested and unexcitable were involved. They told their friends and family because, now, when that distant aunt asked how school was going, they had something to talk about. And so that sparked more interest.

I realized that learning new things was not an interest exclusive to children. Parents were interested, other teachers wanted to collaborate, the senior center emailed me, the library reached out to me, and so I saw a new vision for these free-style workshops. I thought about the sustainability of this program and wondered why I had to be the one facilitating them. The students were the true driving forces, so why not utilize them. I came up with a new model: Take a class, teach a class. Anyone can be the student or instructor. I believe everyone has something they’re passionate about, and that enthusiasm is the most important part of being an instructor. People are vitalized by the energy of others, and when you enjoy what you’re teaching, others will enjoy learning it.

One year later and the classes are going strong. We learned how to make tamales, how to design a magazine cover, how to purl, how to make a mousetrap car, and more! Without the means to justify a physical location, we utilized local public spaces. One day it would be at the school, the next at the park, then at the senior citizen’s center. It didn’t matter where it was, people were interested and they were interacting with people they never would have met otherwise. But managing all of these workshops was a lot to handle so I resigned from my job to organize these kinds of classes. I built an online space to help keep everything organized and reach more people more quickly. It became the new community center – as it was the central location to find the workshops, and find people with similar interests.

Everyone wants to indulge on that spark of intrigue, but they’re too scared. Life tells us that if you aren’t going to be good at something, don’t bother. At that point, I realized one of my greatest fears was wasting my time. Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion that every time I participated in something that made me happy, helped me learn something, and gave me the opportunity to connect with another person was never a waste of time.