Koppelkiek — ‘couple snapshot’ in Dutch — is a social photo game designed for the Hoograven area of Utrecht. Players shoot photos of themselves with friends, family or complete strangers and upload them to a website for points.
This project was commissioned by Dutch Design Double, Utrecht Manifest 2009 and the city of Utrecht. It was designed for and played in the Hoograven area of Utrecht. When the project started, Hoograven was one of the more problematic areas of the city, with high unemployment and crime rates, and a large number of people with low income. In short, it was not one of the most-loved areas of the city. Utrecht Manifest is the biennial for social design. Part of the 2009 edition took place in Hoograven, where residents were invited to join in thinking about social design and urban planning. Dutch Design Double is a marketing program for over 20 design events in Amsterdam and Utrecht. The Utrecht program focused on social design, young talent and new media.
We wanted to examine what function game design as a discipline can have for society. We challenged ourselves to design a game for the area of Hoograven which would function as an intervention of sorts. The game would be a short-term event that would hopefully have a positive effect on the neighborhood on the longer term. We aimed to connect residents through light-weight, casual play.
We had little over four weeks to develop Koppelkiek from first concept to running game. We started with generating a large number of options, and selected several for quick tests. Most of these tests were executed in the streets of Utrecht, to gauge public response as early as possible. At the same time, we performed field research in Hoograven, to get a feel for the terrain and discover potentially useful places. We also interviewed expert residents to learn more about how the neighborhood worked on a social level, who the influential figures were and so on. This would come in handy later, when we sat down to develop the game’s challenges.
Once we had settled on a concept, we started playing versions of the ruleset in between work and over the weekends. We did this to make sure we were coming up with something that was fun and worked in a pervasive manner. Towards the end of the project we produced a game website with a backend that included a scoring algorithm and a management interface to review player submissions.
We kicked off the game with a combined final play-test and press event. After this, we were present in the neighborhood over a period of three weeks on wednesdays and saturdays at an old shop. Interested residents could come in, learn about the game and get help with getting started. We wrapped up the game with a party and a award ceremony.
Over the period of three weeks, players signed up for the game on our web site. They could read about the basic rules and the various challenges we had created for them. For example: “Take a photo of yourself with someone else in front of his or her front door.” Players could take photos whenever they encountered a situation that fit the description of a challenge. They could upload them at any time too. We evaluated each submission and assigned points depending on a challenge’s difficulty rating.
Because we felt the game needed to be visible to non-playing residents too, we exhibited all photos in the window of an old shop on Hoograven’s busiest street. The photos were also part of an exhibition at Utrecht Manifest 2009.
The end result was a game that was very easy to get into by people who would otherwise not consider themselves to be gamers. We received positive feedback from all participants, many of whom commented that they were very happy to see something as nice as our game be organized in their neighborhood, which otherwise received only attention for its troubles.