These questions burn in my mind:
How can mobile app experiences get us more engaged with the real world?
How can we create narratives around and through mobile experiences?
And, most importantly,
What do I do for my son's tenth birthday?
Melding Mobile, Narrative, and Play
If you've raised boys, you know that they need physical challenges, and a sense of adventure to grow and thrive. For a fun experiement, I envisioned a narrative with integrated media for my son's tenth birthday.
The basic narrative was this: the DecaLeague – a mysterious group "of extraordinary ten-year-olds" – had kidnapped my son's birthday doughnuts! Potential "candidates" required "evaluation and testing" - a series of physical challenges, spread out over the Portland metro area, culminating with assaulting a mountainside fortress. With doughnuts waiting at the end!
I told him someone had mysteriously hacked mom's iPad, and strange transmissions were coming through...
The iPad "app" (in truth, a Keynote prototype, which looked great!) experience moved the story forward. I simply acted as facilitator (and driver of 9 rowdy boys).
Companion Tumblr Site: The Real-time, Interactive Story Connection
The final key component was a companion Tumblr site. The idea was that the kids had to submit "proof" of their achievements using the Tumblr app, and was also a means for pre-scheduled posts to communicate back to the kids at pivotal moments.
The Tumblr site and app were pretty crucial, actually (though could have been more so, given a longer game). The themed site was where the kids uploaded photos of their achievements in order to “unlock” the next challenge: after uploading, we’d gather them together (“Hey guys, I think I hear a new transmission!”) open the iPad, and tap the screen, which would trigger the “incoming transmission” animation and sound effect (a Starcraft sound the Internets brought me). While I’m sure the jaded preteen doubters knew what was up (my son still…accepts the tooth fairy), the effect was fun and added some suspense.
The Final Challenge
What I liked was the blend of high-tech and physical, high adventure; we wanted kind of a spy theme throughout. At the end they had to collect flour bombs and run a dark forest gauntlet of cousins, pelting them with marshmallows and flour bombs á la The Patriot. They assaulted a bit fast (who wouldn’t?) so we didn’t get the full effect, but boy, they sure loved the finale!
I could see some interesting opportunities here. Adventure trials like the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder are waxing popular, as well as orienteering and geocaching; the geo-location, light weight and media features of mobile devices could come together into a really fun, interactive, physical group experience. As a lifetime gamer, social geek and lover of physical adventure, it would be very interesting to see these movements come together.
Would love to hear what you think!