‘Bear hunt’ is a concept derived from the 1989 children’s book, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ by Michael Rosen.
The purpose of the game is to bring people together. The coronavirus pandemic has meant many of us have become more isolated but on many occasions, we have escaped the lonely reality through play and games.
I moved to a small country town, Hamilton, in south-west Victoria just before Covid-19 began. Members of the community started putting up bears in their windows, so families could drive around the town (uphold social distancing requirements), it gave Children something to look forward to, among days filled by being home-schooled by parents/carers. Expanding on this idea, I thought, what if we incorporated a micro-chip into these bears that uses a Bluetooth signal to connect with smartphones. By gamifying the original idea, when the app is open it connects with bears that are found by the user. Once 40 bears are collected, the user is accepted into a monthly challenge. This monthly challenge is held in every suburb/town Families participating together are allocated to the same group which is made up of 15 people. These groups compete to find three bears that have been hidden by organisers around the suburb or town.
This is a multi-player interactive, treasure hunt game. It follows an ‘emergent narrative’ (Jenkins, n.d.). along the traditional novel’s story line, ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’.
Values at play as outlined by Flanagan and Nissenbaum (2014 n.p), “may emerge in games whether designers intend them or not.” The intended design of the game is to bring people together in two ways, first among the family and secondly with the public. It provides a space where cooperation and for younger players, imagination can thrive. Unintended consequences of this game, as with any competitive game can result in greed or obsession.
The beauty about this game is that it incorporates real life adventure and technology means players can immerse themselves in an activity that gives them data-like feedback of their efforts and constant attention. (Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014 pp.4-5). “Beyond merely telling stories as traditional narratives do, digital games allow for enactment and provide a systems-level rule set for the story’s logic.” Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014 p.5). In a world full of chaos, finding a bear could serve to relieve our need for control, without even knowing it. This is why, although I’ve designed the game with children in mind, adults can enjoy it as well. Janet Murray notes, games give us “a chance to enact our most basic relationship to the world—our desire to prevail over adversity, to survive our inevitable defeats, to shape our environment, to master complexity, and to make our lives fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.” (Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014 p.143).
If I could improve the game, making it more interesting, I would have incorporated clues to pop up on the screen of the player’s phones, when they are nearing a bear. This could serve as both a tool or an obstacle. The clue may or may not be helpful so if the player understands what the clue says, it’s up to them whether they follow it or not. Incorporating this ‘abusive game design’ (Sicart 2015 p.101) may allow the user to find the bear faster or slow them down. This would allow the user to, “…focus more on the situation of play than the object we play with.” (Sicart 2015 p.101). This embedded concept could give way to Huizinga’s famous concept of the ‘magic circle’ as the notion of making a decision in collaboration with others becomes even more important. (Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014 p.5). However, I did not think it would be a good idea considering the time of the release of the game (in the midst of a global pandemic) and it’s ‘moral code’. Hence, why I didn’t include this in the design, even though it would make it more interesting.
Nonetheless, if I designed the game again, I would make sure that the username of each player is clearly displayed. The winners of the ‘Big Bear Hunt’ would be granted a tick beside their name. Similar to a verification tick that you see on Instagram or Twitter. This would not only encourage more people to engage in the ‘Big Bear Hunt’, but also establish a hierarchy, making the game more competitive.
This course taught me that “…games can be a real solution to problems and a real source of happiness.” (McGonigal 2011 p.13). Integrated throughout the design in ‘Bear Hunt’ there are a number of ideas presented through the course module. Seth Priebatsch’s incorporation of the “social layer” (Priebatsch 2010) is deeply embedded in the construct. The inclusion of an email set up to the game’s admin to ensure bullying doesn’t exist within the chat room comes from Lilian Chen’s (2015) Ted Talk about her experiences online and the need for designers to consider bullying in modern games.
I tried to make sure the game was not culturally or gender specific. In my opinion the game ticks all the politically correct boxes of game design, which was my intention. However, I learnt through the course readings there is a time and a place to challenge these politically correct constructs. Dark play is an important concept that can teach the user important lessons and challenge them as Sicart points out.
Humans initially designed technology so we could connect more people together. Despite its plethora of flaws, the integration of it has allowed us to remain connected, while staying apart. Zoom and social media especially, has connected us to our workplaces, families, friends, strangers and so too has games. ‘Bear Hunt’ provides an opportunity to stay connected, during isolation and after.
Chen, Lilian. (2015). Ted-Ed. ‘How I responded to sexism in gaming with empathy – Lilian Chen’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orOa-yRL4NI. Accessed on 14 December 2020.
Jenkins, Henry. (n.d.). Game Design as Narrative Architecture. Available from: http://web.mit.edu/~21fms/People/henry3/games&narrative.html. Accessed on 14 December 2020.
Flanagan, Mary, and Nissenbaum, Helen. Values at Play in Digital Games. Cambridge: MIT, 2014. New York: The MIT Press.
McGonigal, Jane. (2011). Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin.
Sicart, Miguel. (2015). ‘Darkly Playing Others’ in T. E. Mortensen, J. Linderoth and A. M. Brown (eds) The Dark Side of Game Play, New York :Taylor & Francis Group. Pp.
Murray, Janet Horowitz. (1998). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Priebatsch, Seth (2010). Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world. YouTube. https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_priebatsch_the_game_layer_on_top_of_the_worldAccessed on 14 December 2020.