Innovator in Residence London shows how online play can influence gamers’ behavior

By Lauren Kohn
Student Writer

USC Annenberg Innovator in Residence Kati London, who was named one of the Top 35 Innovators Under 35 by MIT Technology Review magazine, held a March 28 discussion in room 204 about how online game play can influence real life behaviors.

London, visiting USC Annenberg from March 28 until April 3, presented an overview of several games she has worked on during her career.

She said that with each game her goals were to encourage new interest and positively change real life behavior through online game play. The games she develops use real life data to influence the encounters during game play. A few of the games she discussed:

SharkRunners:

A game created for Discovery Channel to promote “Shark Week.” Players are captains of their own ships on the ocean in search to tag various types of sharks. The game used actual GPS data tagged by scientists of real sharks. London said there are some skeptics who don’t see the true value and potential that tangible research will provide. But the clients were impressed by the work and are excited by its emerging potential. Robin Bennefield, who oversaw the development for the Discovery Channe, said in a Bloomberg Businessweek article, “The game made sharks personal. It was just the kind of buzz we needed.”

Botanicalls:

In this game model the goal was to educate gamers on the environment and encourage them to develop a deeper interest through the personification of pet plants. She said she found it most interesting to assign specific plants personality traits such as high-maintenance, shy and quiet. The plants would then tweet when they needed to be watered or were not getting enough sunlight. Before alerting the game players, the plants were coded to “communicate” with each other to find out if, for example, none of the plants were receiving sunlight. Then it would be realized it was most likely night and therefore the plant would not tweet. With a laugh London commented, “Actually, I think my plants were online before I was even on Twitter.”

Code of Everand:

Developed for United Kingdom’s Department of Transportation, Code of Everand’s main objective is to encourage children to put existing ideas on road safety into physical practice through online play. The game was developed in response to data showing that children between the ages of 9 and 13 are involved in most fatal auto-related accidents. Its overall design followed that of fantasy massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing games and was free to play. Development began in 2007 and was launched in 2009.

Players play as “Pathfinders,” crossing the world by street but must watch out for semi-trucks, hybrids and SUVS blocking their path and to clear them with spells before successfully progressing to the next part of the game.

Next Events

London will lead a workshop titled “Autonomous Objects & Cities” on March 31 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the USC Annenberg west lobby. On April 3, she will present recent case studies during “Innovative Design, Participatory Experiences: Research Outcomes of Three Civic Games.”

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