Project Type: Game Design, Interactive Applications

Zoara, my ITP thesis project, is a massively multiplayer online game for teenagers. Players take ownership of and develop the virtual world by building physical infrastructure as part of a society of interdependent peers, which fosters community and stronger relationships.

Zoara began as an attempt at creating a “game for learning” to teach teenagers empathy and better social skills in a virtual setting. I believed the Facebook cyberbullying epidemic was brought about by a lack of empathy and a cognitive gap between actions in cyberspace and their unseen consequences in the physical world. (However, I was never interested in creating a problem-solving tool for specific incidents.) Over time, the project became less about empathy as the immediate goal, and more about community-building and immersion.

My hypothesis was—IF: teens have a virtual world that they can take ownership of, that immerses them, and where they feel they can escape to, THEN: they will have a safe space on the Internet where they can grow and explore their own identity, they will develop stronger relationships, they will learn better social behaviors which they will reward and police themselves, and ultimately, they will develop a greater sense of empathy.

While the game's website (ZoaraGame.com) will be online indefinitely, the game server itself has been taken down because I've run out of my free Amazon Web Services credits and cannot afford to maintain the server space.