Get Kids Moving Again: Landscapes of Imagination in Biba

Biba is a mobile game project that aims to blend digital and physical play. We worked with one of the world's biggest playground equipment manufacturers to build a system of scannable tags that allow mobile games to facilitate various forms of play. The blue sky vision includes games like: a digital tower defense game played by running around and defending your real-world tower.

While the initial product development was a great pitch, the production phase revealed design challenges that ultimately led to a re-design of the core design philosophies and experience pillars.

The original pitch had kids hanging off monkey bars and scanning QR codes. Clearly, parents were never going to hand off their expensive phones, and we have to be careful with motivating kids to do dangerous things in gameplay. This was confirmed through our focus groups and research. 

So, we rebuilt the gameplay model around a joint parent-child experience where the parent holds the phone, the child engages in a variety of activities on the playground, and the digital game merely provides a magic circle: just enough scaffolding to support the child's imagination and motivate them to use the playground.

At its core, Biba became about transforming playgrounds of steel and plastic into "landscapes of imagination": to provide a simple but compelling narrative framing inside which the child's imagination can thrive and drive gameplay. After all, kids are pretty imaginative little creatures on their own. 

For example: Biba Drive. The game is the scaffolding of a race game that encourages the player to roleplay a vehicle while they run around a playground. They return to the parent for periodic pit stops and engage in quick, fun activities that support the "I'm a race car" narrative: the player has to clean bugs off the windshield, or blow out an engine fire via the microphone. Some games are more physical using the accelerometer or gyro - embodied play that supports the magic circle. We aimed to find as many embodied play mechanics as we could, using the phone in imaginative ways. 

The child doesn't play on the phone, they play THROUGH the phone. Senior Product Designer Nis Bojin put it best: "Simon Says meets Wario Ware"