Cipher Cities

Cipher Cities is an authoring tool that allows anybody, anywhere to create, share and play location-based games.  At its core, Cipher Cities is a game builder, with social networking and content distribution scaffolded around it to encourage content creation. Cipher Cities invites people to see their environment as a muse, inspiring opportunities for game design and game play. The game builder provides users with a simple storyboard process for building, editing and distributing games.  Cipher games can be authored to suit a wide range of game types, from simple orientation games and question and answer quizzes to narrative rich investigative and code breaking  challenges.  Every game is instantly accessible on mobile phones to be played exclusively by a group of friends, or openly available for anyone anywhere to access, depending on the game designers wishes.

In the Cipher Cities project, mobile phones are the key facilitators in allowing far reaching participation.  From previous research into LBGs we have become aware of the value in exploiting attributes of mobile phones for creating and playing LBGs.  While it is almost superfluous to note, the ubiquitous nature of mobiles allows almost anyone, anywhere, anytime to create and play LBGs.  However, it is important to note that we found that in Australia the uptake of mobile technologies and services is limited. SMS and, to some extent, MMS were the only technologies that we could rely on if we were to be as inclusive as possible.

In a Cipher Cities context mobile phones also facilitate three key functions which will allow the Cipher system to grow in future:

  • Content collection
  • Content reception
  • Content distribution

When designing LBGs, note taking and camera features of mobile phones allow people to collect information and images for their game at the “point of inspiration” [6].  Mobile phones are also devices for the reception and distribution of game content.  Games created with the Cipher Cities system are predicated on SMS messages that convey the quest, narrative, and orientation of the game.

Learning from Digital Social Networks

Existing Digital Social Networks such as MySpace, Flickr or YouTube are exemplars for content creation aggregation and motivators for socialisation. As such we conducted a critical analysis of a number of these networks as well as relevant literature.

Community Building

From our analysis we identified four principal dimensions of the sense of community experienced in DSNs:

  • Feelings of Membership
  • Feelings of influence
  • Integration and fulfilment of needs
  • Shared emotional connection

Linked to these dimensions of community, we identified five key functional elements that facilitate the creation of DSNs:

  • Synchronous/asynchronous communication
  • Interest Groups
  • Tools for content creation and presentation
  • Identity Representation
  • Status Representation

Our task in designing a UI around the creation of and participation in LBG events was how we could embed these elements in an interface that not only fosters socialisation but also provides motivation for creating content as complex as a LBG.

As noted earlier effective UI design is a critical factor in the creation of DSNs.  The UI must be designed so as to provide tools for community building and content creation by seamlessly integrating aspects of functionality, aesthetics, and usability.  In the context of DSNs, as pictured in Image 4, community building and content creation exist in a cyclic relationship, each providing motivation for the other to occur.

These images were taken during early trials of the system with families and school students. The bottom right images is of an early iteration of the Cipher Cities interface.