In Intro to HCI our class formed teams of four tasked with finding a problem space within the theme "Connected Campus." Our project chose to explore a set of games we termed "Mass Spatial Games," referring to their in-person gameplay over a large spatial area. We specifically focused on a week-long variant of tag called Humans vs Zombies (HvZ). We first researched the game itself, then developed designs to help increase players' immersion, ultimately building a prototype that we tested with a mini-game on Georgia Tech’s campus to gather feedback.k
HvZ is a campus-wide game of tag played over the course of a week. Each game has a slightly different backstory, but all follow the same thread: a viral outbreak affecting humanity. All players start out as humans, as denoted by a yellow bandana on their arm, except for one who is infected, the “original zombie.” As the zombies tag other players, the infection spreads. The humans, armed with socks and marshmallow guns, stun zombies and complete missions throughout the week to try and survive until the finale, where they have one final mission to escape the infection!
In our group of four, I was the only person who had played HvZ before, so to the group overall HvZ was relatively unknown. Our main task was to find a problem in the space we identified using a User Centered Design approach, meaning our first step was user research.
We started by interviewing five game "admins" to get a better sense of the space we were researching. The interviews were semi-structured, meaning we had a set of questions to start with but were focused on exploring the space and learning as much as we could. We took the insights from all the interviews and collected our thoughts in an Affinity Diagram.
Diagramming surfaced several interesting insights. We found we originally assumed that all players would play both sides of the game as intended: instead we found that some players would "rage quit" once tagged, or "suicide" in the beginning of the game to become zombies earlier. Stress is a major factor of the game and careful management of stress is key to a successful experience. Finally, the admins expressed that the tagging interaction was suboptimal and had room for improvement. Armed with this information, we got ready to play the game itself.
For the game week itself, we chose to use as many methods as possible to gather data about the game. Two of our researchers volunteered to ethnographically study the game by playing it themselves. One was tagged the first day, while the other made it to Thursday, giving us a pretty good sense of both sides as they evolved. In addition to ethnography, we deployed a pre-game and post-game survey, as well as a diary study which yielded amazing quotes among other things: see the personas. Additionally, myself and another researcher conducted interviews and observed players’ interactions during the week. At the end we had a mountain of data which led us to our second affinity mapping to make sense of it all.
After getting a sense of what themes had emerged, we individually generated approximately ten unique ideas that we then shared with each other and brainstormed with. The process led us to filter the themes down to four major categories: Audience Participation, Communication Wearable, Stun Tracker, and Location Control. We presented posters with these four concepts to our classmates, and with their feedback chose to move forward with the Stun Tracker, coupled with elements of Location Control.
The main idea with the stun tracker is to give the humans more agency in their game play. Currently the game only rewards humans for avoiding play as much as possible. Our persona for this type of play is the Human Mole, and while it generally allows the player to survive, we found that it wasn't as fun for the mole or the zombies. Our solution has two parts. First, we give all players stun coins to carry with them. Humans will receive one, whereas zombies will receive a fixed amount for the day. When a human is stunned, the zombie will take their coin, simplifying the tag interaction and keeping the players immersed. When a human stuns a zombie, they can (at their own risk) collect a stun coin from the zombie. The "Kill Board" for zombies, which tracks the network and number of kills for each person, is a central feature of the game that has a huge appeal due to bragging rights. The stun coins allow humans to have a similar board, showing who is the best "Zombie Killer." Additionally, the limited number of coins that zombies have will serve to limit their lives, causing them to be more tactical in their attacks.
The next phase of our project was the prototype itself. A teammate and I took lead on the hardware and software design, while a third teammate designed the housing which was laser cut out of cardboard. We used a Raspberry Pi and Pi Touchscreen connected to an analog coin counter, as well as an Arduino that ran lights. The lights provide visual feedback to users as they interact with the device, blinking when their card is successfully read and pulsing the color of the faction that currently owns the kiosk.
After creating our physical prototype, we had the opportunity to test it in a "mini game" setting with a small group of HvZ volunteers. The feedback was universally positive, and players of all different play styles enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the game in a new way!
Overall, I was extremely pleased with how this project turned out. I had the opportunity to practice in situ the research methods I was learning in other classes. As a group we reminded ourselves to always keep our eyes open to solutions beyond "apps," and as result we saw the opportunity for a much more nuanced and interesting addition to the game. I'm extremely grateful to have been on a truly multidisciplinary team. Leaning on the strengths of each other led to a better overall project that we are all proud of.