Students Building an Online VR Escape Room for Older Adults
How can video game designers engage older generations with new technologies? How do older adults interact with technologies like VR and online social games?
These are the questions a group of MDM students are exploring in their industry project this semester.
Working with David Kaufman, a Professor of Education at SFU whose research looks at how digital games can enhance the lives of older adults, and his team, the MDM students are working on the ideation, design, and development of an online game aimed at adults 65+ and over.
I sat down with Team Labyrinth—Nicolas Ayerbe Barona (Project Manager), Neil Connatty (Programmer), Apeksha Darbari (Game and UX Designer), Janine Li (UI Designer & 2D Artist) and Melody Wang (3D Artist)—to discuss their project, how users have reacted to the game so far and what they’ve learned about building online games for older adults.
1. Tell me about your project.
Apeksha: We're creating an online escape room for older adults (adults who are 65 and older). An escape room is when you're locked in a physical room and you have to interact with different things inside to figure out how to get out. We're creating a virtual escape room with the theme of Alice in Wonderland that works on the iPad, laptop and Gear VR. The core of this experience is communication. In order to provide a social component to the game, we decided to create an asymmetrical collaborative multiplayer experience. This means that two players on two separate screens have access to different information and they both need to communicate and work together (either online or in-person) in order to get out.
Nicolas: We've made it so that it's virtually impossible to solve the game without interacting with the other person–the intention is to get them to interact socially.
2. Why an escape room for older adults? Most of the time we associate escape rooms with younger generations.
Nicolas: The client came up with the idea of an escape room. When we think of the elderly we think that they don't play games but they actually play offline games all the time—games like crosswords and puzzles—and the escape room idea allows us to put games like puzzles and crosswords in an online environment. The project is a test to see if this idea works for the audience group.
As a team didn't want to be tied down to the classic idea of an online escape room, we wanted to play around, which is why we added the social component.
Apeksha: Also, the client originally wanted the game on a laptop but we initiated the VR idea because we wanted to see older adults interact with VR as well.
3. What problem are you trying to solve?
Nicolas: How to engage older adults in video games and technology in general. Studies show that video games actually help older adults develop cognitively and socially.
Apeksha: Most games and the majority of digital experiences aren't usually designed with older adults in mind. So we’re designing something catered to their needs. We’re also trying to see if we can get them to work together and to use their cognitive skills to solve puzzles.
4. You ran a user test last week. How did it go? What did you learn?
Apeksha: It went really well. It was interesting to see how people interacted with the game. There were a variety of people there— from gamers to ones who had never used an iPad before. Quite a few of them didn’t understand the basic affordances that we’re used to due to their lack of, or limited interaction with, digital devices and interfaces. This test really helped us understand the problem areas and refine the game to suit their needs.
Nicolas: It also confirmed a lot of assumptions that we had. A lot of people have asked us why we chose the Alice in Wonderland theme. Mainly it was because it's in the public domain and it is a classic story and a popular Disney movie. The test confirmed for us that it is a universal story, and that it was a good choice.
Neil: It also confirmed that the core social component works. People liked it.
Nicolas: And the assumption that using games the audience already knows work, like crosswords, cards and colour matching.
5. What else have you learned this semester?
Nicolas: We’ve learned that you have to be careful to not make your game harder than it has to be. 3D pipe plans are way harder than we imagined and we've had to be selective on what to make 3D and not 3D.
Apeksha: We've also been working with the Gear VR and creating a good experience is hard on this device due to its technical limitations. High polygons are difficult to render and it often ends up being a trade off between what looks good and what works well.
6. There’s 4 weeks left in the semester—what will you have completed by then?
Apeksha: By the end of the semester we'll be close to having a complete game. Because we have a really talented team, we've been able to build more than just a prototype. We’re positive that we will have a high fidelity vertical slice of a potentially larger experience.
You can follow Team Labyrinth’s project progress on their blog.