Humblebrag: A Game of Influence

A game that uses satire to draw attention to narcissistic behavior in the digital age and invite self-reflection.

Kathy Mueller
Assistant Professor
Temple University

A national study found loneliness to have reached epidemic levels in the United States, and found Generation Z to be the most vulnerable. While built with an intention of creating meaningful connections, social media may accomplish the opposite. Studies have found it increases social comparison and envy. It is especially pertinent for young people, entrenched in behavioral norms of the digital age, to think critically about how they contribute to culture. Humblebrag is a game that uses satire to draw attention to narcissistic behavior in the digital age and invite self-reflection.

In this easy-to-learn strategy card game, 4–6 players compete to earn the most social influence. Players collect influence with point value cards such as “check-in at the gym” and “craft the perfect effortless look.” To get ahead, players must keep others down through the use of action cards, such as “Backhanded compliment,” that steal influence from other players. Five cards in a bank closes the round, and the player with the highest influence wins.

The game uses entertainment to engage with themes of narcissism, selfishness, envy, self-esteem, and empathy. Presenting the behaviors outside of their native digital context exposes frivolous aspects of influencer culture. The presentation will discuss the work-in-progress, spark critical conversation, and examine outcomes—such as a potential shift in awareness, measured in a survey before and after Humblebrag game play.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.3: Merrimack College on March 30, 2019.

Not Just Playing Around: Game Design In The Interaction Design Classroom

Liese Zahabi
Assistant Professor of Graphic/Interaction Design
University of Maryland, College Park

The act of play is key in the art and science of Interaction Design. A sense of fun, wonder, and the unexpected help shape the games we interact with on our computers and phones, but also the interfaces we wouldn’t associate with games: working out with Fitbit, learning code with CodeAcademy, managing our money with Mint. By utilizing principles from games, designers can help motivate, engage, and teach users.

This presentation will highlight the work of graphic design students across two separate semesters. As part of an Advanced Interactive Design class, students were charged with designing, prototyping and play-testing games. Students chose a topic and target audience, and conducted initial research to help build the concept and content for the final game prototype. The students conducted play-testing to help them shape and revise their game designs, and had five weeks to complete the project. The resulting games ranged from phone and iPad apps to board games and card games. Students explored a myriad of topics: endangered animals, Crohn’s Disease, alternative energy, humility, empathy, packing gear for a music gig, constellations, and many others.

Engaging students with games has achieved many positive outcomes, often enabling them to understand the material, and the design process, more deeply. A sense of fun and exploratory play permeates the classroom, energizing students and encouraging true collaboration: you need players to play games, so students enlist each other for that purpose. Games are also little worlds—suggesting systems-based structures, the creation of rational rule sets, and demanding a focus on both design details and overall game experiences. Asking students to build and design games allows them to explore all these aspects in a contained and creative way, and helps to make them better designers and thinkers.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.2: Parsons Integrated Design on Thursday, Feb 16, 2017.

Worry Quest: Adventure Games for Fighting Anxiety

Matthew Bambach
MFA candidate, Graphic Design
Maryland Institute College of Art

Worry Quest is an app that helps fill gaps in mental health care experienced by young adults. It uses joy and technology to combat anxiety with simple, proven, psychotherapy techniques. The app lets youth envision themselves as a hero and their anxieties as a personalized monster. From there, they can choose between three different therapy adventures to “defeat their demons,” depending on how they prefer to cope with their own anxiety. Users are directed through a rousing dialogue with their “anxiety demon” and are rewarded along the way with pleasant visuals, sounds, and animations upon completing both tactile and self-reflective activities.

Activities in the app have been conceptualized from participatory research prompts, and are backed by approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy, humor and mindfulness practice. The app continues to be developed in consultation with public input, beta testers, and mental health professionals. The app blends information design, interaction design, motion design, game design, user research and cognitive science—accessible through a device that nearly every millennial uses every day. By doing so, Worry Quest will help youth contextualize negative thoughts in an empowering way that affirms psychological agency and encourages positive self-care.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 2.5: Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) on Saturday, March 12, 2016.