As a semester-long project in my college Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction course, I worked with a multidisciplinary team of four from different majors to improve Humans vs Zombies (HvZ), a campus-wide game that plays like a week-long version of tag (more info on the game here). Our goal was to develop designs that helped increase players' immersion; ultimately, we built a prototype that we tested with a mini-game on Georgia Tech’s campus to gather feedback.
We started by interviewing five game admins to get a better sense of the game and how the players interacted with it. We took insights from all of the interviews and collected our thoughts in an affinity diagram. This process surfaced several interesting insights:
1. Stress is a major factor of the game and careful management of stress is key to a successful experience.
2. Some players would “rage quit” once tagged or “suicide” in the beginning of the game to become zombies, instead of playing both sides of the game as intended.
3. Admins expressed that the tagging interaction itself was suboptimal and had room for improvement.
Armed with this information, we were ready to play and observe the game ourselves. During the game, we gathered data using as many research methods as possible. Two members of our group volunteered to ethnographically study the game by playing it themselves. One was tagged the first day and became a zombie. The other made it four days, giving us a pretty good sense of both sides of the game as they evolved. In addition to ethnography, we deployed a pre-game and post-game survey, as well as a diary study (persona example below). Additionally, I and the other researcher conducted interviews and observed players’ interactions during the week. At the end we had collected quite a bit of qualitative data, which prompted us to conduct a second affinity diagramming session to make sense of it all.
Based on the themes from our affinity diagram, we brainstormed four different ways that we could positively affect the player experience. They were:
• Audience participation: develop an experience to allow non-players to interact with the game, using physical scoreboards deployed around campus.
• Communication wearable: develop a wearable device that would help players get a better sense of the game without relying on a mobile website.
•Stun tracker: keep track of the times humans stun zombies, giving the human playerbase a goal to work towards beyond survival.
• Location control: create kiosks that operate as control zones, with associated player interactions.
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 core of the stun tracker mechanic was to give humans more agency in their game play. At the time, the game mechanics rewarded humans for avoiding play as much as possible. Our persona for this type of play was the Human Mole, and while it generally allowed the player to survive, we found the experience wasn't as rewarding for the mole or the zombies.
Our solution had two parts. First, we gave all players “stun coins” to carry with them. Humans received one (representing their one life), whereas zombies received a fixed amount for the day. When a human is stunned, the zombie takes 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, was a central feature of the game that had a huge appeal to players due to bragging rights of being a top zombie. 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 also limited their lives, causing them to be more tactical in their attacks.
I took lead with another teammate on the hardware components and software design, while a third teammate designed the physical 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 to run lights. The lights provided visual feedback to users as they interacted with the device, blinking when their card was 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 the research methods I was learning in other classes in situ. As a group, we reminded ourselves to always keep our eyes open to solutions beyond "apps," and as a result we saw the opportunity for a 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.