Kinda Human / Private Conversations

Dates: April 2019
Team: Scott Dombkowski
Advisors: Stacie Rohrbach and Molly Wright Steenson
Work Type: Academic

Private Conversations is a game for a person and their partner to enact strange hypothetical conversations a couple might have without real-life consequences.

Private Conversations Concept Video


The game was designed for people to amuse and enjoy themselves while having a variety of different conversations that are engaging in various ways. The conversations were also designed to engage a variety of partners who are at different points in their relationship.

The specific conversations were designed to help a couple uncover topics that could potentially cause conflict later in their relationship. By simulating a conversation now, a couple may avoid having a damaging or uninformed conversation later in their relationship.

Design Approach

Numerous decisions were made when designing Private Conversations to help an intimate couple build appreciation and understanding for their partner.

  • The Types of Conversations AvailableEfforts were made to vary the types of conversations available on Private Conversations. While some conversation topics took a serious tone, I made sure that some of the conversations were more playful in nature. I decided to depict a conversation that focuses on in-laws, because it is a topic that numerous couples struggle with. In addition to crafting the conversation to aid meaningful discourse, it also provides a space for comical relief.

Users have a diversity of conversations to choose from

  • The Form of Feedback a Couple Would ReceivePrivate Conversations is designed to take a similar approach to Intimately, in that the couple's decisions would affect the next stage of a game. Other forms of feedback, including notifications with pieces of advice and strategies, were included in the game to provide frameworks and concepts for an intimate couple that may be unfamiliar with them.

Users receive feedback related to conversation

  • The Device Couples Would Use to Play the GamePrivate Conversations was designed for a couple to work together. Mobile phones are not well suited for this, since the phone limits the amount of detail that can be displayed on the screen. Instead, a tablet provides an alternative that has ample screen space, while also enabling that couple to engage with the game at a variety of locations and points of time.
Delivery of Study

To test Private Conversations, I created a video of a couple playing the game. From a first- person perspective, the video portrays a couple opening the app, selecting a conversation, and then enacting a conversation.

Users are introduced to the couple and situation they will enact

Users choose which side to enact

The video portrays as life-like of an app experience as possible (i.e., elements were added to replicate a typical iOS experience). I selected in-laws as the topic of the conversation because a significant amount of respondents in the Mechanical Turk study noted conversations about their partner's parents as those that tend to be difficult to conduct.

Study Outcomes

Insight into user's sentiment of Private Conversations was much more positive than negative. Research participants found the intervention valuable because of the variety of conversations it enabled them to enact and the insight it could provide. At the same time, some participants did not believe that Private Conversations would create a "safe space" for a couple. Others saw the game as "empowering" to some, in that it gave a user the tools to navigate tough conversations with their partner. Other insights include:

  • Private Conversations could confront challenges affecting behavior change.Similar to Intimately and Curb, lessons learned when interacting with Private Conversations may not be easy to implement and practice in real-life. To address this challenge, Private Conversations might explore ways to engage a couple beyond its core interaction (i.e., enacting a conversation).
  • Private Conversations could explore alternative game mechanics (i.e., instead of partners being on the same team, could they enact a conversation with each other).In its current conception, Private Conversations enables a couple to work together to enact a conversation. While beneficial, some couples might find it more constructive if they were on different sides of a conversation or playing against another couple. The introduction of such mechanics could provide very different insights to an intimate partner.
Study Synthesis

Private Conversations enabled me to consider whether simulations in the context of an intimate relationship could be a tool for amusement and learning. While also providing an environment to experiment with different forms of feedback. What follows are principles collected when testing Private Conversations.

  • Private Conversation should afford numerous opportunities for reflection.Like some of the other concepts, Privates Conversations should integrate moments of reflection throughout. These moments will allow a user to recognize the different possible paths a conversation could take and the effect their decisions had on that conversation (i.e., if I said this, instead of that, in what direction would this conversation go?).
  • Private Conversations should allow a couple to enact a variety of conversations.Part of the beauty of intimate relationships is the diversity of their makeup. While it would be easier not to avoid representing that diversity, Private Conversations should do it best to convey a complete representation of the conversations an intimate couple can have. This way individuals and couples from all walks of life can benefit from the game.
  • Private Conversations should employ a variety of feedback mechanisms.Similar to what was seen with Bedtime Visions, it is essential that Private Conversations evolves the ways it provides feedback as it becomes more familiar with a couple (i.e., if Private Conversations finds that a couple is not responding to a form of feedback, it should modify the way it provides feedback to that couple). By not evolving, the game will not be able to create a constructive environment for that couple.
  • Private Conversations agent should be viewed as passive participants.If Private Conversations were to provide a continuous stream of commentary to a couple, that couple would most likely find themselves oversaturated. For this reason, Private Conversations should employ artful methods of encouragement (i.e., if Private Conversations finds that a couple is overly focused on one aspect of a conversation, the game could guide the conversation in a totally different direction).
  • Private Conversations should take several different forms.By enabling a couple to enact conversations intimate couples have, a couple can build a greater understanding of how to have a constructive conversation instead of a deconstructive conversation. Thus, enacting those conversations on an iPad is not right for everyone, making it necessary for Private Conversations to live on a variety of devices.
Unfavorable Directions

Storyboards depicting potentially unfavorable directions that involve Private Conversations focused on the following situations:

  • Private Conversations inadequately representing the diversity of intimate conversations.
  • A couple that is uneasy simulating a conversation on a tablet.
Considerations for the Future

Themes found in these storyboards include the need for diverse representations of intimate relationships and channels that enable a couple to engage. A consideration of the experiences that Private Conversations depicts is needed to ensure that it functions well for a diversity of couples, and serves couples participating in unconventional practices. Further attention must be paid to the various mediums an intimate couple will use to interact and converse.