Creating Conference Interaction with XGame at Xlab

Posted November 8, 2011

Last week, ESI hosted two cool public gaming events: XGame, a multiplayer collaborative game for SEGD’s Xlab 2011: The Design of Location at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, and Field Frogger, our live-action version of the beloved arcade game at Come Out & Play San Francisco. These two games follow in the footsteps of award-winning ESI games at Come Out & Play New York and Steel City Games Fest in Pittsburgh. I’m going to focus on Xlab here and Pete will tell us more about Field Frogger in an upcoming post.

The power of games is manifold. Aside from inspiring general fun and delight, games can provide an environment for collaboration and community, connect us to our emotions, abilities and behaviors, and create a forum for public interaction and dialogue. In the case of Xlab, our goals were to create a game that would encourage new kinds of interaction between Xlab participants, extend the discussion around conference themes and topics, and provide a new platform for networking.

Here’s how it worked.

For the Xlab conference, we created a two-part game to be played throughout the day-long event by encouraging participants to provide feedback to the conference content using individual response cards. After each of five panel discussions, participants were encouraged to post their cards on boards in the conference space. These boards evolved through the day into a colorful constellation of ideas and responses to the panel discussions.

During the closing party, participants were then given a game card with five new prompts. Each prompt was based on a social behavior or physical element in the Eyebeam space, for example “find” or “share” or “create.” These game prompts introduced new social variables into the festive environment, encouraging participants to interact in new ways with each other and their environment, and to collaborate to create new responses to the posted response cards from the earlier sessions.

What did we find?

Participation in XGame was highest early in the day, with a ton of really creative and varied responses. We observed some falloff after the lunch break, both in the variety and amount of card responses. However, Pete and the team did a great job of keeping the enthusiasm high and by the end of the day, the boards contained a full scope of responses. Overall, what social network guru Clay Shirky points out is true: most people are comfortable in the 99% of the participation spectrum, more consuming than sharing.

Because feedback is essential to our process, and because the discipline of design – graphic, physical, interaction – is an inherently social practice, we rely on human behavior and social input to inform our design decisions. How might we affect the 99%? In what other ways could the game or environment be designed to further encourage participation?

What are the next steps?

In our daily design practice at ESI, we always design varying levels of engagement in all our projects. We are social designers and gaming is just one way we engage people in meaningful ways with an experience. Games make people happy. They create a safe environment for public play and collaboration. Last week, we gathered a ton of feedback to inform game play development for future events.

Stay tuned for news about Field Frogger at Come Out & Play San Francisco and other ESI games. We hope to see you join in the fun at an upcoming event!

ESI Design

NBBJ’s New York experience design studio, ESI Design, transforms places into experiences that seamlessly weave the physical and digital worlds together.

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