We caught up with three members of the creative team from Green Shoots – director Katie Day, writer Sudha Bhuchar, and John Sear, game designer & software developer – to ask them about their roles in the project, what they have learned while working on it, and its potential legacy.
JOHN SEAR: GAME DESIGNER AND SOFTWARE DEVELOPER
Tell us about your role in the Green Shoots creative team
My job title normally is a Real-World Game Designer. I used to work in the games industry making Xbox and PlayStation games but for the last decade or so I’ve made games that take place in the real world, away from small screens like console, Xbox and PlayStation screens, often featuring stuff that you carry with you or stuff with technology in the background – some kind of combination between games, technology and theatre. Katie [Artistic Director of TOWW] and I have worked together on a bunch of projects and this is our new venture that has been running for about a year. I have two roles in the Green Shoots project, one is that of game designer and you’ll probably gather from this project all the roles are kind of intermingled so even though I’m the official ‘game designer’- I’m leading that and I have the expertise in that – but everyone chips in. Separately to that I have a software and technology role so I’m also building the software elements of the project and for this that’s for mini websites that participants go to and solve puzzles. So my role here includes building the websites, processing the audio and editing video to put on the websites.
What do you think is new or interesting about this project?
Katie and I started doing something similar to this when we first met about seven or eight years ago which was the idea of a game in a box. Originally the idea was that you were given this boxed game when you went into a hotel; the concept was that you were a secret spy and a package arrived for you and then you played the game in your hotel room. This takes elements of that project, primarily that there’s a physical thing that you take home and play; that was very novel when we started off with this idea eight years ago. It’s become very popular in the past couple of years mainly because of the escape game craze and they’ve now branched out into products you can play from home. For example, you can sign up to a monthly subscription or you can buy a box off Amazon that arrives in the post. That craze has taken off even more in lockdown because people couldn’t get out of their houses! Companies that used to have physical escape rooms in city centres realised that no one would be coming to their rooms for the next 18 months so a lot of them made a product you can either play online or one that you can play physically from a box or a book. The idea of an escape game in a book, which is how I’d describe this project, is kind of novel in terms of the content on climate change, but as a concept it has taken off recently. However, using that concept to address education feels new, as most of the existing games tend to be entertainment products that you would pay for to play with your friends and family. Generally people build their escape games to be played with their young families, or as groups of kids ages 10+ or they build adult experiences, so the fact we’re aiming at a grandparent and a grandchild is quite unique. The motivations behind that are to try and get climate change addressed more in the family unit; the people who can make the most difference in this issue are the parent-aged people in the family, but they need a bit of ‘pester power’ from their kids and their grandparents at the same time. It’s the kids that will be most affected by the climate crisis.
Books coming to life is also our thing, using QR codes or augmented reality. There’s a couple of books that are in production at the moment, in R&D phases, that will be augmented reality books whereby you pick up your phone and put it over the book and it starts animating or something. I would say that’s still quite novel and something we hope to do.
What’s different about this than the way you might work on a more traditional project?
I’ve never made a book before, so that’s a big thing, that’s true for Katie as well, we’ve both come from making theatrical games with technology, so we’re using all of our knowledge from that to make a book. I do build experiences in museums as well – for example when you go around with a mobile phone and scan stuff or things might come to life as you walk around, so there’s elements of that in this. The subject matter is very new for me… I would say I’m reasonably climate change aware, for example I don’t have a car. But the subject matter in terms of the real-world consequences and how it’s affecting people in South Asia is new to me. Another thing that’s different is working with the schools. I’ve done some of that in the past, but we’ve tried to involve schools at a much earlier stage this time, as co-authors. They have done illustrations and bits of writing, as well as allowing us to learn how they play. Everything I build gets play tested quite a lot, but this was much more about involving the kids early in the design phase, and have them play it and change it or make suggestions. We sorted through 60 ideas to see what we want to use. Some of those have made it into the writing which is good but going back to them again with bits of script and seeing the children acting them out was fun.
What do you hope the legacy of the project will be?
To have something that’s passed on. That’s not a normal thing in games as financially it makes no sense to make a game that someone plays and passes on. There have been some indie and arthouse games in this world whereby people have made a game you can play on a USB stick only – so you play the game, it changes the state of the world, and the last action is to pass the USB stick onto someone else. Rather like things were in the old days if you had a video tape of a film you would watch it and pass it on to your friends. I think that’s why this project is interesting, my inspiration for a lot of this stuff is game books which were big when I was growing up. There’s a bunch of Usborne and Famous Five ones, these vanished as digital media and computer games took over, so I think going back to those things is quite interesting. I’m really keen on the idea that the book does some kind of good – it gets families to address some of these climate change issues where they can in their home, or become more aware of it, or have discussions about it, but then the idea is that the book is passed on. We can do that on a project like this because financing is not the main goal, hopefully we get paid for the work that we do, but it would be nice if the legacy is that we can get a bunch of these books into school, perhaps finding some funding for that. But the idea is you complete it and pass it on, so it doesn’t just sit on a shelf – it carries on living.