Creating a card game from scratch

Creating a card game from scratch

Where's My Data?

Jan 17, 2024

Illustration by Neema Iyer

This week, my dear colleague, Phillip Ayazika, Director of Programs at Pollicy and I discussed the card game “Where’s My Data?” that we co-developed last year. 

At Pollicy, it’s been a tradition to play Otyo, a Uganda-specific Taboo-like game at all our gatherings and retreats, where things often get heated and hectic. We have experimented previously with creating online interactive fiction games, but this was our first foray into developing a physical game. 

I firmly believe that games are a wonderful tool for distilling complex topics into accessible and engaging experiences. Games have a unique ability to dismantle barriers that often come in the way of meaningful conversation and discussion. In the context of data privacy and protection, a topic bogged down by technical jargon and intricate regulations, the need for clear and relatable communication is more important now than ever. Come along for our chat on how we developed “Where’s My Data?”, the response to the game and our next steps!

Neema: What were the origins and motivations behind developing the "Where's My Data?" game? Who was your intended audience for the game?

Phillip: With my background as an educator, my motivation for working on this game stems from my passion and commitment for curating effective learning experiences that go beyond just learning but making it as fun and enjoyable as possible. Within our communities and schools, play and game-based learning has always been an effective mode of teaching and learning “complex” concepts while helping learners navigate uncertainty. Being Part of Pollicy, we have been exploring game-based tools to ensure people from all backgrounds have access to the now very vital knowledge and skills on data and digital rights to improve their user experiences as they navigate and experience the world of digitalisation that may come with digital threats as well. 

Designing the “Where’s My Data” game, the motivation was to raise more awareness about data privacy and protection. The intended audience for this game is pretty much any internet user but most importantly, we wanted to get more people especially those communities with low internet connectivity as well as those who rarely get opportunity to attend trainings on data protection and privacy, most of which are still invite-only and possibly pricey, to get a chance to learn about the  concept in a fun and sometimes competitive way. 

“Where's My Data” is an interactive card game designed to raise awareness about data privacy and security. The game revolves around navigating through various data privacy and security challenges to reach the end of the stack. It aims to educate players about potential risks and best practices related to their personal data. 

The objective of the game is to be the player that makes headway by successfully navigating through the challenges and making wise choices to protect your data. The game serves as an educational tool, promoting discussions and understanding of data privacy issues, while encouraging players to adopt good data protection practices as well as fostering a sense of control over their personal information in an increasingly digital world.

Phillip: As a co-developer, who was part of the game design process, what were the key considerations to make it fun (engaging) but also educational? 

Neema: When you first brought the idea to me, I loved the challenge. We’ve worked on two interactive fiction games in the past, on Choose Your Own Fake News, which is related to disinformation, and Digital Safetea, which walks the player through different digital safety scenarios. This would be our first time developing an IRL game and we initially conceptualised it as a board game that could be played by 2-4 players. 

The main considerations at the start were that it should be social in nature. So, it would require 2 or more people coming together to navigate through different scenarios. Secondly, it should be competitive in nature. Someone should win and someone should lose, as this gets more people emotionally and mentally invested in the game. Lastly, the game's scenarios should be realistic and relatable, resonating with experiences that a typical user might actually encounter.

Neema: We had originally envisioned creating a board game. What made you switch to a card-based game?

Phillip: We switched from a board game to a card-based format to improve the game's usability. This decision was made after several rounds of iterative development and extensive playtesting with various groups. It became clear that a board game comes with a variety of components including a game board, dice, player tokens and cards and in the event that one of these was missing, the game would no longer be playable. Additionally, it’s often more complicated to explain the rules of a board game compared to a card game, and we found that sticking to cards kept things simpler overall.

Phillip: What scenarios do you find particularly interesting and how do these relate to our real life navigation of the data privacy world? 

Neema: Love this question. There are so many. In general, I find that talking to an everyday internet user about privacy and data protection can be very boring. As you know, at Pollicy, we’re all about taking concepts that at times can be complicated or jargon-ridden, and making this knowledge accessible and interesting to different audiences.

I find scenarios around scams particularly interesting because the stakes are often very high. There’s both the potential for real physical loss in terms of money like life savings, or the mental anguish and embarrassment of becoming a victim of a scam. But it can happen to anyone. People are becoming more aware of the possibility of scams and the importance of protecting their private information, but the scams are also always evolving and it can be difficult to stay ahead of the game. I do not believe that any country is adequately addressing this issue. Here in Australia, telephone scams, especially aimed at the elderly, are absolutely rampant. Perhaps another interesting project for Pollicy to tackle?

Other ones that I find interesting and relatable are around phishing, using public Wi-Fi, biometric authentication and basic digital hygiene like strong passwords and 2FA, because I myself struggle with these things. 

Neema: So, let’s tell our readers about the rules of the game. How is it played? Where did you test out the game and what was the response to it?

Phillip: In the game, players use two sided cards, similar to the well known “Matatu” card game. One side presents a scenario, requiring players to determine the most suitable course of action to protect their data. The other side shows  the recommended action and explains why it's the ideal action. There are also cards that show stand-alone events and scenarios related to data privacy and security, adding more challenges to the game.

Players then take turns drawing an event card and are faced with a data privacy or security scenario each time. The players must make decisions or take actions based on the scenario before turning the card around to look at the recommended action. Based on their decision, they either move forward or backwards on the scoreboard. These scenarios are simulations of how someone would make decisions in the real world that could lead to financial loss or a data leak or hacks or stalking or even dealing with government surveillance.

The response has been fantastic. In every session that we’ve run the game, participants became engrossed in the game and wanted to continue playing, even when we ran out of time. It’s also a great icebreaker, to bring people together from different backgrounds, as we did at our evening rooftop event in Dar es Salaam. 

Phillip: What value can game-based learning bring to the internet governance ecosystem and how do you envision it contributing to digital rights advocacy work.? How do we get there? 

Neema: Over the years, my experience in the internet governance space has made me feel that as civil society, we’re in a bit of an echo chamber, talking to one another. Because the internet has such an immense global reach, the audience for digital safety and digital rights advocacy is massive, in the billions. Furthermore, new technological tools become available and the community rules and guidelines are set by private companies, meanwhile malignant actors become more sophisticated. Not to sound alarmist, but there is a need and an opportunity to educate people on staying safe in online spaces. This year, many people will be coming online for the first time. What resources are there to onboard them? Thinking about the Ugandan context, for example, I don’t believe that the school curricula have kept up with these technological advancements, and once you’re out of school, the opportunities for an average user to learn about digital safety are almost non-existent.

Meanwhile, attention spans are plummeting. So, to get back to your question, I believe there’s a huge potential. It’s a fun way to have discussions around data privacy, for example, without coming across as condescending - a young adult teaching their stubborn elderly parents. Maybe the next step is once again to reiterate on the game with the feedback we’ve received from the Africa IGF held in Abuja and the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa held in Dar es Salaam, and release a final version of the game for mass purchase. Or to encourage other game producers to make their own versions of board, card or video games that bring people together to discuss, learn and grow about different aspects of digitalisation.

Either way, I love the positive feedback you’ve received so far on the game and it’s a clear sign that there are fun and simple ways to engage with our communities on serious topics. And of course, I’d also love to shout out to our always impressive design team, Wilson and Timothy, who took our concept and made the designs a reality.   

Big thanks to Phillip for this conversation and for spearheading the game! 

Here we are, on a food tour in Bogota! 

Would you like to play “Where’s My Data?” at your next event? Get in touch with Phillip and I via the Contact Form.