Be Here

A phone game with the people around you

Purpose

Bachelor of Design Capstone Project

Collaborators

Shelby Li

Project Role

Concept development, research, wireframing, ideation, video production, UI design

Links

Watch the video on Vimeo

Technology has the capacity to connect people on truly incredible scale, but we have also seen technology as a barrier to real human connection and presence. It’s all too common these days to spend time with friends or family, only to discover everyone staring down at their phone, immersed in their device rather than engaging with the people close to them. With Be Here, we set out to find a way to change phones from a distraction to a way to better engage with everyone nearby.

 The Be Here interface spans across multiple devices, encouraging friends to join their phones to grow the game and engage with the group activity

The Be Here interface spans across multiple devices, encouraging friends to join their phones to grow the game and engage with the group activity

Concept

Be Here is a social, multi-device experience that makes it fun for people to talk to each other and encourages them to stay focused on in-person interaction rather than on their mobile devices. While social networking provides constant communication and connectivity with friends, it also creates a lack of satisfying in-person connections. The rise in popularity of events such as dinners where all guests must stack their phones in the center of the table make evident the desire for uninterrupted, quality in-person interactions.

Be Here prevents social disconnects by turning each player’s mobile device into a piece of the larger group game. Be Here encourages interesting and in-depth conversation among friends by providing a themed set of hypothetical questions based on common interests to consider. By playing at these unusual situations, players gain insight into themselves and their friends.

Click for the Be Here concept video.

Ideation

The concept for Be Here began with our interest in the group ‘flow’ state often brought on by multiplayer games, particularly rigorous board games. We began by with a series of interviews of people who enjoy playing games of all types, and surveyed a wide variety of collaborative and competitive board games, video games, and mobile app games. We also visited physical places that people gather to play for long periods of time, such as Seattle’s own Card Kingdom.

 Across the board, people lit up when talking about the experiences they had playing a game with friends.

Across the board, people lit up when talking about the experiences they had playing a game with friends.

Through our research we found that board games succeed in keeping players immersed in the conversation, promoting interesting discussion, and giving people the opportunity to play at situations they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. People love board games because not only are they deeply engaged with the game intellectually, but they are also socially focused, particularly in games that promote close interaction with other players. Even when it is not your turn, a good board game encourages you to be physically and vocally engaged with the other players and the game itself, planning your next move. 

 Be Here profile showing recent games, frequent party members, recent achievements, and details of how often I've received them

Be Here profile showing recent games, frequent party members, recent achievements, and details of how often I've received them

Process

With Be Here, we attempted to emulate these positive qualities of the board game experience, while avoiding some of the issues associated with physical board games: lack of spontaneity, high learning curves, and negative social perceptions. By turning mobile devices into a piece of the social game, we could also use a game to combat social isolation.

 A diagram showing how the multi-device board becomes a core game mechanic

A diagram showing how the multi-device board becomes a core game mechanic

As Be Here is a game played over many sessions, we sought to design a rewards system that persisted for each player and could grow over time. When a player wins a category in Be Here, they’re awarded “props” in the form of a digital merit badge, which can be proudly displayed on their profile and used as bragging rights for other players. Since the props are reflective of attributes of the player, winning the same props many times against different sets of players turns them into super “mad props” to show your dominance in this category against all challengers.

The props are all positive, and awarded based on the votes of your friends. Thus, your Be Here profile reflects all the things your friends think make you special. 

Aesthetic

We found inspiration in childhood social activity groups like Boy/Girl Scouts and camp troops, which led to our round "merit badges" and cheerful aesthetic. We also incorporated large imagery that expands whenever another player/device is added to the game, to help make the moment of joining into a signature, delightful experience. Each image is vibrant and evocative of the question category that is selected, making a new “board” for every round. 

 The game awards "props" to the winners of each round, based on the players' votes. Over time, your profile reflects the things that make you special to your friends.

The game awards "props" to the winners of each round, based on the players' votes. Over time, your profile reflects the things that make you special to your friends.

Going Forward

Be Here was a conceptual project for my undergraduate thesis, but the concept remains compelling for further work. Recent studies have shown that teenagers and young adults deemed "chronically lonely" tend to stay that way into their adult lives, and believe their loneliness is their own fault. Games and interactive social experiences like Be Here can help bring down barriers thrown up by technology and encourage low-risk social engagement, as well as provide self-affirming messages from peers.