Nick, a game design intern, and I teamed up for this term’s metadata game design challenge. Our assignment was to create a game designed to collect metadata to be associated with audio files, in order to make these files more accessible and retrievable via search engines. For this task, Nick and I (mostly Nick) designed a “Words-with-Friends”-style smart phone game, called Lost In Transmission, in which players are presented with segments from two sound clips: 1 “solution clip” (for our initial prototype of the game, we used the audio from an old school Chevrolet commercial) and 1 trash clip (for our prototype, the audio from an old coffee commercial). These clips were chopped into segments, scrambled, and divided randomly among players. By assigning tags to their segments, sharing them with each other, and collaborating to differentiate the “solution clip” from the “trash clip” and place the “solution clip” segments in the proper order, players work to accomplish the tagging required for providing accurate, quality metadata.
Once Nick and I had settled on our idea, we ran a paper-prototype of the game, with play-testers set up in separate rooms, and Nick and I standing in for the “digital user interface.” The sound segments were distributed to players via Dropbox, and the game began. As Player 1 attached descriptive tags to sound segments, Nick would “transfer the tags” to Player 2 in the other room. Eventually, players would use their move to place the segment in a solution space, or to trash it. If a player used their turn in one of these ways, the opposite player was required to approve or block the move before Nick and I registered it. I did the same for Player 2, carrying the tags to Player 1, or soliciting the approval or rejection of Player 2’s segment placement. This process continued until the solution segments were placed in the proper order, and the trash clips were appropriately discarded.
From our first playtest, we gained an intimate understanding of the game’s potential functionality, and insight into the flaws of our design and execution. Nick and I noticed that our valiant playtesters had a tendency to abuse their tagging abilities. For instance, at multiple points, players placed tags on segments that referred to other segments in circulation, and/or shared thoughts relevant to things other than the segment being tagged. To further inhibit players’ abuse of the setup, Nick and I decided to eliminate the use of punctuation in the hopes of discouraging players from using parentheses, slashes, or question marks that would mark a rogue message–a tag that could muddy the data being generated by the game. The exception to this rule was the use of commas, which we hoped players would use to group words into “metadata-esque” tags. After making these changes, the second playtest met with greater success.
Altogether the game generated strong metadata about the solution clip, including general descriptor tags such as “new car,” “advertisement,” and “Chevrolet,” as well as more detailed quotes from the sound clip. Unfortunately, the metadata generated for the trash clip was…well…trash. As far as user experience goes, our playtesters stated that the game itself was indeed challenging. However, playtesters also reported that our game was most definitely enjoyable, citing the novelty of listening to audio as an integral part of gameplay. Look out for Lost In Transmission in our next lineup of games coming soon!