Go-Go Biome

A digital game that employs unstructured play involving real-world activities for gut health engagement and reflection.

Overview: Go-Go Biome is a PhD case study that explores the design of unstructured play to engage users in real-world activities that can influence gut microbial diversity. Through a mobile application and interactive game features, users are invited to explore various activities that support gut health, categorised under four activity decks: Go Green, Get Active, Get Social, and Get Zen. Through playful visualisations, the game informs users about the increase in their friendly biome population on the home screen, encouraging them to engage in as many diverse activities from the four activity decks as possible. By completing these activities and documenting them on the app, users increase their friendly biome population and decrease the unfriendly biome population, ultimately reaching a state of balance or homeostasis in the game. The game features a map in the form of a gut trail, where users can help the friendly biome progress forward, while slaying the unfriendly biome along the way and gaining energy for each completed activity.

With a reset in the biome population every night, users are encouraged to engage in diverse activities every day to maintain a healthy gut. Player engagement in diverse activities allows them to change the game’s background scene moving from a dull eerie space to a vibrant space filled with friendly biome. Players also unlock new friendly biome the following day based on the diversity of their activities each day.

Game Objective: Engage in diverse activities to balance Bugsy’s (friendly biome) and Minion’s (unfriendly biome) population to a ratio of 85:15. Help Bugsy find new and diverse biome friends along the way.

Game Narrative: The story behind Go-Go Biome is one of harmony turned to chaos. Bugsy, the friendly biome, and Minion, the unfriendly biome, once lived in peace on a beautiful gut trail. But due to human factors, Minion’s population increased, destroying most of Bugsy’s friends and ruining the once-happy trail. Now, the trail is dark and eerie, with minions lurking around every corner. The user’s mission is to help energise Bugsy and restore the balance between friendly and unfriendly biomes, bringing Bugsy’s friends back and creating a happy, healthy gut. By engaging in diverse activities, users can increase the friendly biome population and decrease the unfriendly biome population to a ratio of 85:15, depicting a state of balance and homeostasis.

Features: Go-Go Biome has several primary features designed to engage users in real-world activities and support their understanding of gut microbial diversity and its importance. The Biome Energy Status represents the needs of the gut microbiome which is for the users to engage in diverse activities surrounding environmental interaction, exercise, social interaction, and mindfulness. Users can increase their biome energy status across four levels, with the highest status being “super diversity”. Engaging in diverse activities allows the player to increase their friendly biome population and helps the friendly biome gain energy to move it on the game map. The Activity Card Decks provide a range of activities to choose from. The User Activity Cards feature allows users to document their completed activities with a preset template, while the Friendly Biome Population and Unfriendly Biome Population features display the progress towards balance on the home screen. Finally, the Game Map allows users to progress forward on the gut trail by gaining energy from completed activities.

In addition to these primary features, Go-Go Biome offers several secondary features that enhance the user experience. Biome Connect flashcards and emojis are designed for provocation, inviting players to think about their friendly gut microbiome, and its needs. The User Activity Card Stack allows users to review their completed activities and repeat them if desired. The Activity History feature displays a record of past activities, while the Liked Cards feature allows users to save their favourite activities. The Shuffle feature provides a randomised selection of activities for added variety, while the Friendly Biome Characters and Biome Garden features add a playful element to the game to build a closer connection with gut microbiome.

The game extends player engagement beyond the digital space and into the physical world by inviting them to engage in real world activities as part of the gameplay. Such pervasive play is enabled through a set of features involving activity decks, activity journalling, monitoring biome energy status, game map, and the biome garden. Players engage in one or more activities from the activity decks namely, Go Green, Get Active, Get Social, and Go Zen. The game is built on the theory of unstructured play that offers agency to the players to interact with the game based on their real world spatial and temporal conditions. The gameplay unfolds in a generative manner based on the player’s interaction. These features were built using some of the popular game design frameworks such as the Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics (MDA) framework by Robin Hunicke [1], and a deck of lenses by Jesse Schell [2]; in addition to some of the previous principles and strategies used in designing for reflection within HCI [3, 4, 5].

Customisation: Users can also customise their Go-Go Biome experience by setting a name for their Biome Land, choosing friendly and unfriendly biome names, and selecting a primary biome character. Users can also set their waking and sleeping hours for personalised reminders to engage in activities.

Conclusion: Go-Go Biome is an innovative, and informative game that aims to invite users to explore activities that support gut health. The game extends player engagement beyond the digital space and into the physical world by inviting them to engage in real world activities as part of the gameplay. The Go-Go Biome system has been designed to help users understand the relationship between gut microbes, gut health, and the real-world activities that affect it. GoGo-Biome extends its focus beyond dietary aspects and brings attention to a wider set of factors that influence gut health. The game leverages design fiction to make the concepts relatable and attempts to create a space for reflection on everyday habits that can influence gut health and one’s understanding of it. It is a unique game with the potential to transform how people think about their gut health while driving the importance of engaging in diverse activities to support it.

[1] Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek. 2004. MDA: A formal approach to game design and game research. In Proceedings of the AAAI Workshop on Challenges in Game AI, Vol. 4. 1722.

[2] The Art of Game Design- Jesse Schell

[3] Khaled, R 2018, ‘Questions Over Answers: Reflective Game Design’, in D Cermak-Sassenrath (ed.), Playful Disruption of Digital Media, Springer Singapore, Singapore, pp. 3–27.

[4] Sengers, P, Boehner, K, David, S & Kaye, J ’jofish’ 2005, ‘Reflective design’, in Proceedings of the 4th decennial conference on Critical computing: between sense and sensibility, CC ’05, Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, pp. 49–58.

[5] Bentvelzen, M, Woźniak, PW, Herbes, PSF, Stefanidi, E & Niess, J 2022, ‘Revisiting Reflection in HCI: Four Design Resources for Technologies that Support Reflection’, Proc. ACM Interact. Mob. Wearable Ubiquitous Technol., vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 1–27.