Couples Cards is a board game that cultivates closeness and intimacy in couples using embodied cognition. 

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AFFILIATION

CMU Persuasive Design

TEAM

1 Project Lead
2 Game Designers

ROLE

Game Designer

PROBLEM

How might we leverage persuasive techniques to strengthen romantic relationships between partners?

According to Gottman, building a long-lasting relationship starts with understanding your partner and sharing admiration. These stages serve as a healthy foundation to prevent harmful behaviors in the relationship, such as frequent conflict, poor communication, emotional distancing, and more. My team and I were challenged to design a solution that incorporates persuasive techniques to encourage healthier behaviors in couples.

SOLUTION

A Card-Based Board Game for Couples

Couple Cards is a whimsical card game for couples aimed at bringing individuals closer to their romantic partners. The objective is for the couple to work cooperatively to win (or lose) against other couples by accomplishing four challenges before the other couples do. 

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Game Tasks have Embedded Persuasive Techniques

Embodied Cognition for Togetherness

Several tasks employ embodied cognition. These challenge the couple to perform tasks while physically acting as one, either by holding or hugging. 

Embodied Cognition is a theory that suggests perceptual information we’re exposed to is also responsible for our thoughts and behaviors. 

Embodied Cognition is embedded in the 'holding', 'hugging', and 'sharing' tasks. These challenge the couple to do perform tasks while physically acting as one, either by holding hands or hugging. For example, one of the holding tasks has the couple fold a paper airplane while holding hands. 

Embodied Cognition is a theory that suggests perceptual information we’re exposed to is also responsible for our thoughts and behaviors. 

Priming Words for Romance

Priming is embedded in 'talking' tasks. One partner has to explain a word to their partner without using restricted words. These words have been chosen to prime fondness.

Priming is an implicit persuasion technique that suggests being exposed to a stimulus activates it's associated schemas and influences behaviors. 

Embodied Cognition is embedded in the 'holding', 'hugging', and 'sharing' tasks. These challenge the couple to do perform tasks while physically acting as one, either by holding hands or hugging. For example, one of the holding tasks has the couple fold a paper airplane while holding hands. 

Embodied Cognition is a theory that suggests perceptual information we’re exposed to is also responsible for our thoughts and behaviors. 

Reminiscing on Personal Memories

'Sharing' tasks challenge the couple to remember some of their shared experiences. One partner guides the other partner's hand as they draw to communicate.

The game is made personal to every couple by using shared memories.

Embodied Cognition is embedded in the 'holding', 'hugging', and 'sharing' tasks. These challenge the couple to do perform tasks while physically acting as one, either by holding hands or hugging. For example, one of the holding tasks has the couple fold a paper airplane while holding hands. 

Embodied Cognition is a theory that suggests perceptual information we’re exposed to is also responsible for our thoughts and behaviors. 

Potential for a Suite of Relationship-Building Games

Throughout the development process, we received a lot of positive feedback. While Couple Cards focuses on romantic relationships, there's an opportunity to expand to a suite of games focused on relationship building for families, friends, and even strangers. 

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PROCESS

Exploratory Research, Concepting, Pivoting, Game Design, Play Testing, to a Prototyped Board Game

Secondary Research
Stakeholder Interviews
Speed dating Interviews
Ecosystem Map
Ideation Workshops

Storyboarding
Game Concepts
Prototypes
Playtesting

Visual Design

CASE STUDY

Exploratory Research to Identify Common Behaviors

To identify gaps in knowledge around relationship behaviors, we created an ecosystem map. This helped us identify questions to conduct secondary research and interviews with couples therapists. Our goal was to understand common behaviors around relationship conflict and conflict resolution. 

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DISCOVERY RESEARCH INSIGHTS

Strong foundation leads to healthier behaviors

Couples who build stronger foundations and maintain healthy behaviors every day tend to have healthier conflict resolution behaviors than those who overlook the "small things". 

There are four common negative behaviors

During a conflict, there are four ways individuals can communicate negatively: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. 

PERSUASIVE DESIGN OPPORTUNITIES

Encourage better communications between partners.

How might we help couples better communicate their emotions and moods to prevent unintentional conflict caused by misunderstanding?

Help couples build stronger foundational behaviors.

How might we help couples build stronger connections as a way to proactively address and maintain their relationship before conflict arises? 

De-escalate heated arguments. 

How might we defuse arguments that spin out of control by using nudges to increase awareness of unproductive conflict behaviors? 

Generating Persuasive Design Concepts

Direction 1: Encouraging Better Communication

We chose to design with the goal of encouraging better communication between partners. Our hypothesis was that couples get into conflict because they are unaware of what their partner is feeling. Through brainstorming, we landed on our first design concepts using wearables and ambient devices. We created storyboards to illustrate each concept and then tested the concepts by speed dating with five different partners in relationships.

SPEED DATING INTERVIEWS
GOAL: GET FEEDBACK ON HIGH-LEVEL CONCEPT
Prefer person-to-person communication.

"I want my partner to tell me they feel a certain way, not my phone or some other technology." 

Individuals want emotional privacy.

"I don't always know what I'm feeling. Sometimes I feel a certain way and my boyfriend doesn't need to know."

Negative emotions are hard to approach.

"If we're both in a great mood, it's easy to share openly. But when either of us is upset [especially about each other], we're more closed off"

Direction 2: A Game as a Persuasive Vehicle

From our speed dating, we found that using an intervention around real conflict and emotion is touchy and unpredictable from one couple to the next. So, we decided to pivot from the 'real world' context to a persuasive game. While brainstorming game concepts we evaluated each idea using three main criteria: playability, flow, and balance. After two concepts, we landed on the first version of Couple Cards.

INTERNAL GAMPLAY ASSESSMENT
GOAL: EVALUATE GAME CONCEPT TO REFINE
Playability

Are game objectives easy to understand and enjoyable for players?

Balance

Is the game balance between partner and between teams?

Flow

How easy/difficult is it to win? Is gameplay engaging?

Playtests to Refine the Game Mechanics

To refine Couple Cards, we went through three rounds of play testing with eight couples to land on the final version. For each playtest, we observed gameplay and made rapid revisions to the rules and mechanics.

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PLAYTESTING 1-3 OUTCOMES
GOAL: REFINE GAME RULES AND OBJECTIVES

Streamlined the Task Categories

Categories had multiple types of tasks, this was confusing to players. We simplified the categories to only have one task type.

Added a Game Board to Clarify Rules

A physical game board gave the players important visual cues to indicate each team's progress in the game. 

Kept the Tasks Rated as Most Enjoyable

We had players rate each task by enjoyability. We pruned the least enjoyable and kept the tasks that were most enjoyable.

Creating the Final High-Fidelity Prototype

To add a level of polish to the final game design, we designed simple, fun branding for the game. We updated the look of the cards and gameboard, and created a rule card and cheatsheet for easy game onboarding. 

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RETROSPECTIVE

What I Learned from Designing a Persuasive Board Game

Sometimes the best design solutions aren't digital

While we started by concepting tech solutions, taking a step back to social games is a great reminder that sometimes the best user-centric solutions lie outside technology and in real-life experiences.

Play is a great vehicle for learning and persuasion

Play has the ability to make challenge light-hearted and fun, as opposed to frustrating and uncomfortable. It's a great medium to engage people in learning and positive behaviors.

Game design requires playtesting and many iterations

A good game has flow and balance, aspects that are difficult to nail down without playtesting and constantly tweaking different mechanics and tasks.

© 2020 Radha Nath. All rights reserved.