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Project Type: Mobile Application Prototype
Collaborators: Katy Tsai, Parita Kapadia, Ahmed Ansari
Timeframe: 6 weeks (Fall 2011)
Personal Contributions: Storyboards, UI Design, System Diagram, Portion of Graphical Assets
Shared Contributions: Design Research and Synthesis, Interviews, Ideation, Persona and Scenario
Development, Prototyping

01. Project Brief

How can we encourage more sustainable behavior in people? For our Basic Interaction class, our team of four decided to approach this problem through the frame of sustainability starts at a young age. Since it is difficult to change people’s ingrained behaviors and beliefs, we wanted to see if we could create an app that would be targeted towards younger children. The result is a mobile gaming experience that envisions a virtual world called “Gaia” in which children complete mini games and activities (quests) that improve their knowledge of sustainability. However, a unique twist is that built into the narrative of the game, children will also have to complete quests in the real world (called “Urth” by the in-game characters), which will help encourage sustainable behaviors in the real world.

The final deliverables for the project included a Flash prototype, design pitch presentation, and process book. Note that this project is not associated in any way with the online gaming experience Gaia Online.


02. Design Research

To explore the design space of children, mobile applications and sustainability, we wanted to learn more about what kinds of technology children (specifically 7-10 year olds) were using and what their knowledge of sustainability was. We conducted expert interviews with educators and went to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to observe children playing and learning. We found that children are quite adept at using smartphones and mobile applications, but that the contexts in which usage occurred was more intermittent.


03. Game and Narrative Development

We decided to design a game because we needed an app that would be able to compete with other popular gaming apps on the market. We chose the iPhone platform because many children were familiar with the interface and controls from similar devices like iPod Touches. However, we were also aware that of the fact that we didn’t want to create a game that children would spend hours playing. Wanting to encourage sustainable activities situated in the real world, we envisioned a game with a virtual world called “Gaia” which was a tiny planet in the same solar system as Earth. Earth and Gaia are linked ecologically, and children will be able to play an alien avatar that first starts completing quests in Gaia and then eventually be “deployed” on critical missions to “Urth” (Earth). Upon completing a quest, players will be able to collect a currency called “biota” which can be used to buy in-game upgrades and items.


05. Final Design

The final design of the game reflects a handcrafted, vibrant and fun aesthetic that we were aiming for. We were inspired by the visual style of popular games for gaming consoles such as Little Big Planet.



06. System Overview

We believe that this app fits into a larger ecosystem. Though it can function as a self-contained gaming experience, as children play they will see that their actions will mean much more if they complete “Urth Quests”, which are activities completed in the real world. We envision children visiting recycling sites, donating old clothes, etc and in return, receiving a QR code on a card that they can scan to redeem points. By needing parental help in completing some of the activities, we hope that children can encourage adults and parents to be more sustainable as well.


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