IGM Interviews (Part 3) – Dr Kelly Page & Matt Adams (Blast Theory)

In recent decades, social media has undergone a ‘Big Bang’ of sorts. Websites like Myspace, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and countless others have made an explosive entrance into our social lives, encouraging us to connect with friends, share our creative ideas, and communicate our innermost thoughts and desires. Humans are social creatures by nature, but how much are we really sharing with the world? Should there be a limit? And more importantly, who is watching us when we do?


In Part 1 and Part 2 of IGM’s Karen interview with Dr Kelly Page and Blast Theory’s Matt Adams, we discussed the creative birth of Karen, her development process, and the details on how exactly she was designed to psychologically profile us. In the final installment of our foray into Karen‘s world, we look at the way gameplay is structured, her underlying message to the world, and the directions technology is heading in.


IGM: Karen is organized into ‘segments’ if you will, where you can only unlock or play certain episodes at certain times. Why did you opt for that organization?

Matt: This is something that we’ve played around with in the past. We made a massively multiplayer game for SMS a few years back. It was 24 days long, and organized into small ‘units.’ That gives it a very particular kind of presence. You know, it’s common to talk about people constantly multi-tasking and so on; lots of games for phones are designed to be played within 30 seconds or 30 minutes. That’s not to say people have an attenuated appetite for deeper experiences, given this trend of shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones where you’re putting in tens or hundreds of hours into story worlds. So, for us it felt like we had an opportunity to do something where the interaction is quite short-each session is five minutes or so, and she’s in your world for at least a week or ten days. She really establishes herself as a presence within your life.


IGM: What was your personal experience with Karen? Did you learn anything through becoming acquainted with her?

Dr Kelly Page: Well it was really funny because I was part of all the Beta tests, and I look at three things when I test: I look at the story design, I look at the experience designs, so from a usability perspective, and as a data scientist, I’m looking at the data designs. So how are we asking the questions, and what data is coming back in for us to play with? The first two tests were really difficult for me because I was looking at it through that lens of testing. But the first test-when I saw Karen, like I knew who the actress was, she read for us and she was fantastic, but when I saw her on screen, and this is where Blast Theory are phenomenal, right? The way they filmed this-you know the point of view, the angles, the richness of the video, and then Claire Cage. When you couple Blast Theory’s Nick and Matt’s expertise in filming and production with Claire Cage the actress, it just really worked.


I remember seeing the very first video and going, “Oh they nailed it!” You know, we still had work to do to develop it, but it was really great to see it come to life. And you need that. I’m a big believer that you can tell stories with data, and code, and statistics, just like we do words, and images and movement, right? Statisticians have been telling stories for years. But what’s quite interesting with Karen is we’re trying to combine that. So you’ve got the video and the images, and the richness of that, we’ve got the technical design, so coding, but then we’ve also got the data design at the back. We’re all thinking in different ways, so how do you get that to work? But Blast Theory are phenomenal with their film production and that level of personalization that they get in digital experiences.


Matt: Well I think we’ve always wrestled with trying to make strong stories and strong forms of interactions. The games industry is full of this, it’s gone on for decades, how to mix those two. And I’ve become increasingly convinced that the interaction has to exceed the story and look at conversation as a model.


IGM: What would you say Karen’s ultimate message is to the world and whoever interacts with her?

Dr Kelly Page: I think when you ask that question of Matt you’ll get a different response. I think each of us on the team came to the project with different ideas, which luckily work together. For me, I think Karen really raises questions around who you’re sharing certain information with, and what they’re doing with that information. As well as the slipperiness with how she does that. So that illusion as I was saying before-you know, she’s very conversational. And if you forget to have a session with her, she will send you a text message to go “Hey, what’s going on?” just like a friend or family would, or she’ll say “Hey I’m waiting for our session”. She schedules sessions, and you don’t get to control that, so that’s quite interesting where you’ll have a session with her and then at the end she says, “Let’s schedule our next session in three days time.” And you won’t hear from her for three days, and all of a sudden you’ll get a text message from her going “How are we doing? Are you ready for your session?”


So I think Karen for me, really there’s that message of starting to think about the strangers and the people we share with through digital technology, and how the design of that experience can influence our sharing. You know, Facebook is designed a certain way, to create a ‘stickiness’ in the system; it’s this notion where you get stuck in Facebook psychologically, emotionally, we have this love-hate relationship. We don’t want to be a member of Facebook, but we’ll miss out if we’re not, right? And that’s all wound up in this social design, data design, the experience design. So for me, Karen is really about raising those questions-What is going on here? Is she really profiling me? Does she really know what she’s doing? Or is this just a creative experience or is she collecting my data? To me, that’s what it’s about.


Karen really raises questions around who you’re sharing certain information with, and what they’re doing with that information. As well as the slipperiness with how she does that.



IGM: That makes a lot of sense considering Karen’s portrayal as a conversational, non-threatening, friendly person who isn’t associated with the government in any way. Or so it seems on the surface.

Dr Kelly: I think that comes back to your other question about why is she a woman, because when you think about the construction around data privacy, you know we talk about Big Brother. We don’t talk about Big Sister, do we? There’s a very masculine context of power. So Karen, she’s very personable, she’s very friendly, she’s quirky, you know she talks with her mouth full. That kind of stuff. She’s as human as we could make her so far.


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