Routes was a transmedia educational thriller
commissioned by Channel 4 Education
in the UK, with additional funding from The
Wellcome Trust. It was
produced by Oil Productions. Routes launched
on Jan. 29, 2009 and ran for eight weeks.
The goal was to engage teens, particularly teen girls, with science content.
The experience revolved around a central portal site, RoutesGame.com, as well as several
other blogs, websites, and social media networks. The project consisted of four major pieces:
minigames demonstrating scientific processes like heredity and the spread
of an infectious disease through sneezing.
documentary piece following
award-winning comedian Katherine Ryan as she had a DNA test performed and
grappled with what the results meant for her and her future children.
- An alternate
reality game that allowed players to help teenager Rachel Burren and
journalist Matt Blacker solve the mystery of why bioscientist Marcus Schoenberg
– Rachel’s uncle – was murdered.
recap webisodes covering the events in the alternate reality game to make
them accessible for a wider audience.
a million unique viewers to date
of players were in the target audience (teens in the UK)
production budget was £800,000
AwardsRoutes has taken home a number of awards:
Gold in the Web 2.0 category
2010 IVCA Grand Prix
in the Interactive - Content category
Routes has also been shortlisted or nominated for several
- 2010 Rockie
Award for Original Online Program (not yet awarded)
- The Prix
Jeunesse International 2010 Interactivity Prize (not yet awarded)
- BIMAs in
the categories of Online - Website, Informational, and Children's - Interactive
- 2009 BAFTA
for Best Children's Interactive
- 2010 MediaGuardian
Innovation Award for Use of Web Platforms
- UK Writer's
Routes was launched as a traditional games portal and documentary.
The characters of Matt and Rachel attended the launch party in-character;
they each had a web presence established well before the run of the game.
During the party,
Rachel discovered that her uncle, Markus
Schoenberg – one of the science advisors for the Routes game portal – had
been murdered, launching the murder
mystery component of the experience.
In real time and via
several media, Rachel and Matt investigated Markus’s death. The community of players helped them translate
Portuguese police reports, infiltrate an unscrupulous private security company,
help an informant escape kidnapping, and more.
Ultimately, they pieced
together the facts: Markus had stumbled on a plot in which the Prometha, a
bioscience company, was paying a field agent to obtain illegal DNA samples of
protected plants and animals from Brazil. This agent’s actions inadvertently
wiped out an indigenous tribe, the Murutaibo, by infecting them with measles.
When Markus found out, he was killed to
keep the secret.
In the experience’s finale, players participated in live chat and watched security camera footage in real time as the characters and a select few players broke into
Prometha’s labs to obtain concrete proof.
Routes made heavy use of blogs, websites, email, and social media to tell the story. Characters had a social presence on
Facebook, Bebo, and YouTube, and
responded to comments and emails – usually within
a few hours. A few sample links
and sites include:
- The main website: http://www.routesgame.com
- Rachel Burren’s weblog: http://www.rachcon1.com
- Matt Blacker’s website: http://www.mattblacker.co.uk
- DEPAA, a fictional environmentalist group: http://www.depaa.org
- Prometha, a fictional pharmaceutical company: http://www.prometha.co.uk
Several Levels of Participation
Throughout the experience, players were given the
opportunity to engage with the content
and story on several levels, as much
or as little as they chose.
- Watching the weekly documentary and ARG recap webisodes
- Playing minigames
on the main portal site
- Helping and communicating
with several characters as the story unfolded, even becoming another
character in the story
- Exploring online content by following clues and discovering new websites
live events, including a launch party and a comedy show
both online and on location with a finale raid on a bioscience lab to
obtain evidence of the murderer’s crimes
My role in this project was lead interaction designer. In this role, I performed several key tasks:
the structure of the interactive experience
- Designing specifications for the games portal and minigame mechanics
- Scripting the flow and sequence for all live events
specifications and copy for websites
- Defining all
social media elements
to player activity across all social media
audience response to fine-tune the experience as necessary