Emergent and accessible virtual escape rooms
Product design, UX design, user research, visual design
The goal of this project was to design a product to empower individuals who deal with social isolation. What kind of product it would be was initially open-ended. Through research and exploration, I would arrive at a more specific solution.
My first step was to further my understanding of social isolation. My research consisted of interviews with individuals who have faced or previously dealt with social isolation, as well as online research into studies about the statistics and effects of social isolation. This initial research was done in order to build my knowledge of the topic, as well as to prevent me from relying on my own assumptions.
I gained two primary insights from these initial interviews.
First was the need to be respectful and sensitive to the issue, in order to avoid being patronizing or acting like my solution is going to “fix” social isolation. This provided me with a picture of the necessary tone and feel that my solution needed to use.
Second, I heard about the importance of shared interests and common ground when it comes to building relationships and positive interactions. The individuals I talked to expressed the significance of common ground when it comes to spending time with new people. Shared interests and common ground provided the foundation for my solution.
The product concept I arrived at following my initial research was a system of cooperative, augmented reality escape rooms. This idea arose from what I learned in my initial research. I was looking for something that was subtle and respectful, that responded to the user’s initiative, and that provided a way for individuals to interact in a social space designed around a shared interest.
One of the strengths of physical escape rooms is their ability to facilitate cooperative interaction among people who don’t know each other well, through their task-based focus on a common goal. However, the weakness of physical escape rooms for my purpose is the relative difficulty of organizing and scheduling a group to participate.
By taking advantage of systems and patterns established by multiplayer gaming, augmented reality escape rooms can eliminate the weakness of physical escape rooms to connect similarly-minded participants and generate escape room events in public locations that are easily accessible. This allows for individuals to find and participate in cooperative events with similarly minded individuals in a way that provides the participants with initiative in deciding when to take part.
With this concept and direction established, I needed to conduct a second round of research to gain knowledge and understanding to design a product in the mobile gaming space. I conducted more interviews, focusing on the interviewees’ mobile gaming habits and patterns, as well as their preferences and feelings on app monetization and online interaction and socialization.
These interviews surprised me because of how frequently the interviewees’ answers conflicted with my own preferences and assumptions. The information I gained allowed me to construct a set of personas to better help me understand potential users, and gave me a variety of perspectives on how people discover new mobile games, interact with monetization models, and socialize with others in gaming contexts.
In the prototyping phase, I focused on designing the interface and tools the users have for interacting with the escape rooms, as well as the social and location systems required to connect players and facilitate positive interaction.
The escape rooms function using a device's camera. Augmented reality objects are viewed and manipulated in the context of a real world setting in order to solve puzzles.
Because cooperation is a priority, the map screen is focused on allowing users to locate game events that others are interested in, in order to connect players based on their shared locations.
Following the completion of a game event, players are prompted with opportunities to give positive feedback to their teammates. This is done by selecting from a number of categories focusing on different aspects of the cooperative game experience. This system's goal is to encourage positive attitudes and interactions between players.