As a part of a graduate design charrette sponsored by EA PopCap Studios, our team was challenged to create a game that positively impacts behavior in a personal, social, or environmental way. In doing so, our team wanted to explore how casual game mechanics and conceptual abstraction could be used to make a difficult topic more approachable. The charrette was focused on concept development and did not allot time for implementation.
I was the lead UX designer on a team of 3. I collaborated with my team to conduct research, and then provided creative vision and guidance during concept development process. I worked independently to create wireflows into high-fidelity UI designs and develop brand identity.
Disasters can disrupt food supplies without warning. While many people view disaster events as unlikely or assume government organizations already have well-defined plans, these systems often lack crucial components that leave ordinary citizens exposed.
The twin challenges of peak oil and climate change mean that our modes of production will eventually be forced to adapt to scarcity, and this has become increasingly evident with severe weather battering places like California and Florida. Urban populations are especially vulnerable because they lack basic survival skills, like growing food or filtering water, which help to maintain food security during a scarcity situation. We wanted to create a game that could teach the younger generation how to survive in a world of reduced access to energy, while also empowering them with the skills to reduce their environmental footprint in the present.
We began by researching the social and psychological components of behavior we wanted to affect, including influence tactics and learning strategies. We then isolated a specific behavioral context by mapping our problem space and thematically narrowing it through competitive analysis and group discussion. This led us to explore how we could apply game-based methods and strategies to encourage a cooperative, community-centered approach to resource scarcity planning and response.
We reviewed literature from a variety of academic, business, and popular media sources to familiarize ourselves with the basic concepts of game design and behavior change, and define the context and intent of our innovation.
We mapped core themes by identifying subcategories with increasing specificity and later compressed intersecting areas into a single map to contextualize relationships of strategic interest.
We conducted a popular media scan to better understand the emerging context of our problem space. We searched key terms on 11 global news websites–Al Jazeera, BBC, CCTV, CNN, DW-TV, Euronews, France 24, NHK World, Press TV, RT, and TeleSUR–and reviewed the top 10 results to determine what resources and issues were related to post-disaster scarcity.
We researched in-market product trends and produced a competitive analysis that categorized competitor offerings on a 2 X 2 matrix to reveal overlooked market opportunities.
The increasing value of resources as they become scarce motivates powerful groups to take control of the supply exacerbating scarcity for the remaining populace.
As vital resources become scarce urban populations often migrate to environmentally sensitive lands where unsustainable land use practices cause environmental degradation and further scarcity.
Environmental scarcity can aggravate latent social conflicts causing a loss of infrastructure, reduced communication, and worsening scarcity.
After conducting research, We began to structure our findings and frame insights by creating a series of conceptual models to illustrate behavior patterns and system relationships. This led us to create a set of design principles and an experience map to guide our design process to our final problem statement.
Disasters are unpredictable and often cause significant disruptions to food supplies for entire communities. Urban populations are especially vulnerable because they have no primary food production skills. Teaching consumers the skills to become producers reduces their dependence on others to meet their essential needs.
The experience map illustrates that people’s emotional reactions have predictable patterns through the stages of disaster: beginning from left to right, complacency grows until disaster strikes, which is followed by a period of disillusionment and hopelessness leading to eventual reconstruction through collective awareness of the situation.
Planning begins with a dialogue. We need to bring awareness to critical issue and start a discussion within families and communities. Group problem solving improves creative thinking, coordination, and group leadership.
A good preparedness plan fosters collaboration based on shared principles and objectives that allow the potential resources and capacities to be identified, recognized, and utilized. Individuals are more likely to cooperate when the challenge or reward is bigger than they can achieve on their own.
When people work together, they can cover each others weaknesses and combine their unique strengths to achieve an impact larger than the sum of their parts. Identifying responsibilities for each group member helps to build synergy and coordination within the team.
During a disaster, geographical proximity often becomes the most important factor bonding a support network. Understanding local cultural and environmental landmarks can help to eliminate gaps in communication, infrastructure, and resources that limit capacities to respond and recover.
We began brainstorming broadly and then created a concept generation matrix to narrow our scope of potential disasters and develop concepts. We began by creating 33 initial concepts and iteratively narrowed to our top 3 concepts based on the opportunities we identified for gaming applications to impact our problem space.
To quickly externalize our initial ideas, each team member independently created three visual braindumps to explore multiple directions of the problem space. We then came together and identified several overlapping themes: teamwork, mobility, lack of technology and infrastructure, and economic stratification.
We created sketches of action verbs associated with our problem space to generate concept ideas and uncover new themes like primitive communication methods and improvised collaboration. Each team member utilized a different method for generating action verbs: one used keywords, another used thematic groups, and the last used a random list.
We created a moodboard to align our vision and capture our intent. Some key themes that emerged are communication, cooperation, growth, and resilience.
We created quick sketches of the remaining 18 concepts to externalize our ideas for discussion.
We created scenario sketches to better understand the opportunities and limitations of our concepts and gain empathy for the situations our users may find themselves in.
We worked out a storyboard to explore how we could teach survival skills during gameplay.
● Discover: Explore the land to locate key resources and landmarks
● Strategize: Work together to endure severe weather and seasonal changes
● Preserve: Learn to identify habitats and propose rules to maintain ecological balance
● Water: Learn to identify and purify water sources and create irrigation networks
● Food: Gather, hunt, and grow as you prepare and store food to weather the seasons
● Warmth: Learn skills and gather supplies to build, upgrade, and protect your campsite
● Security: Prioritize personal and group needs to grow strong and survive
● Communication: Learn to collaborate using only primitive methods
● Social support: Build friendships by working with others to gain skill bonuses
● Accomplishment: Learn a specialization and gain prestige from your unique contributions
The design charrette concluded at the end of the concept development phase and the team presented an augmented reality concept to peers, faculty, and industry stakeholders. Applying feedback from this review, I then continued to refine the concept on my own after the team had disassembled. The concept, features, and UI designs presented here include this extension and represent my own personal intentions for the concept.
A high-level application flow showing the apps hub and spoke architecture, which is built around the 'active world' map. The core features of the app focus on managing your team and resources while you learn new skills exploring the land.
Games can make disaster preparedness more accessible. By shifting the tone of discourse from "serious" to "fun," it becomes permissible to discuss disturbing topics and worst-case scenarios that go overlooked during day-to-day experience.
In the case of Tipping Point, a serious topic is abstracted to increase its approachability. Our purpose was to first activate user awareness of scarcity outcomes, and then to teach users techniques that empower a collaborative response. While the specific skills taught are intended to be practically useful, it is hoped that they will never need to be realized in an emergency scenario. Yet, we hope to impart tangible benefit by conditioning and reinforcing the value of cooperative action. In doing so, we hope to predispose users to cooperative approaches in real life.
At this point, Tipping Point remains in a conceptual phase. Seeing potential, I have tried to deepen and enrich the concept beyond what was achieved as a group. The next steps, would be to conduct user research to understand which mechanics sustain motivation and then define the game flow and ruleset as a response to the insights gained. I intend to use Tipping Point as a starting point for future endeavors.