A seriously immersive game.
Played on the Seventh Sense Board, a hybrid game platform.
The story of Thrive! is one in which the best solution for a given design challenge uncovers the need for a second product that doesn’t yet exist. Thrive! began as a 2-week-long rapid prototyping team challenge to create a game to teach about conservation and the plight of endangered species.
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Thrive! is a digital board game with AR features, which allows for an intuitive player experience without sacrificing the complexity of the topic of ecology or the social aspect of traditional board games.
Thrive! uses realistic imagery and minimal instructions. Players simply explore the board and make choices, then watch the consequences of their actions ripple through the ecosystem.
When a player makes a move the game zooms in on a closer view of the terrain. The player now sees the terrain within a single hexagon in the grid. Further exploration moves a player deeper into the environment and reveals hidden resources. In this way, each game space has infinite layers and possibilities.
In the spirit of environmental sustainability, the Seventh Sense game board is eco-conscious. Almost any game can be adapted to it, which eliminates the need for shelves of games and all of the waste that goes into manufacturing and disposal over time. Its packaging converts to build-it-yourself AR devices in the style of Google cardboard, with unique trigger images for each game character. The triggers are numbered 1-6, so that they can be used interchangeably for any of the Seventh Sense games. These triggers are readable by a smartphone camera using the associated app, and each unlocks additional experiences like the easter eggs planted by video game developers.
The Seventh Sense Board consists of a 20” hexagon-shaped sense screen which renders beautiful graphics - but can be played like a board game.
After taking a deep dive into ecology literature we decided to focus on the African savanna mosaic, which is home to many of the most popular animals found in zoos.
I diagrammed this simplified food web, incorporating many of the keystone species of the region. This became the underlying structure of our game.
We conducted fly-on-the-wall observations at 2 local game lounges, surveyed 22 self-identified game enthusiasts, and interviewed 2 experts - a local biologist, and an ecology professor at City College of San Francisco - for insight on the topic.
Our primary audience was gamers in their teens and 20’s, but we found other key stakeholders in educators and parents. This presented a major obstacle, because those stakeholder groups hold conflicting priorities. While our primary audience desired fun, moderately challenging, intuitive gameplay, ecology experts wanted to honor the complexity and seriousness of the topic. Parents tended to resent the amount of time their kids spent playing video games, and missed the tangible, social aspects of traditional family game nights.
We cast a wide net, comparing a wide variety of board, digital, and mixed reality games on the market today that attempt to tackle the topics of ecology and conservation.
Our research led us to further develop our primary persona, a college student with a baseline interest in the environment and a love of games, as well as 2 secondary personas representing the user groups most influential to, and most influenced by, our primary persona.
This journey / empathy map describes the typical game player’s experience through the lifecycle of a favorite game. Player dissatisfaction tends to stem from 1) a loss of momentum, 2) a loss of challenge, or 3) a loss of wonder.
Brainstorming | Moodboarding | Sketching
Because of time constraints, we felt restricted to a board game format. We considered varying degrees of realism and gameplay complexity. Because our competitive analysis revealed shortcomings in all of the game formats currently in production, we challenged ourselves to question our assumptions about the underlying structure of games.
With a very complex system map in hand, we invited game enthusiasts to play a handcrafted paper version of Thrive!, while we tweaked the rules in real time.
Participants were intrigued by the topic and admired the unique shape and visual design of the board, but - as predicted - had difficulty keeping track of gameplay and the various pieces. To improve player experience, we would need to dramatically simplify game rules and consequences beyond an acceptable level. This confirmed that a traditional board game format would not suit our needs.
To maintain the mathematical complexity necessary to authentically describe ecological interactions, our game needed to be digital. But to keep the tactile and social aspects of a board game, and to make it more accessible to educators and adults who weren't inclined toward video games or VR, we needed to create a new kind of platform.
Thrive! made it to the top of my case studies list because it's the kind of project that really gets me excited - when what first appears to be a dead end opens up the opportunity to innovate. Although we must often work within constraints, it's exhilarating to have the opportunity to shake off assumptions based on experience, and use the full range of modern technologies to reimagine a favorite pastime.
Additionally, Thrive! exhibits how technology and gamification can be used to promote empathy in social circles, rather than to create addiction in isolation. Technology should be used to bring us closer, remove barriers, share knowledge, and bring us more fully into the natural world - not to distract from it.
There are opportunities here with which I'd love to engage. What if we invested as much money into educational tools as we do into gaming and entertainment? What if games were as immersive and magical as those played on high-tech gaming platforms, yet full of social interaction with family and friends? What if immersive technology was used to start conversations and promote deeper understand of things that matter? What if we erased the lines between learning, playing, and spending "quality time" with loved ones?