I just returned from CHI 2011 in Vancouver, Canada where I ran a “big game” conference-wide for 2500 attendees. (If you’re not familiar with CHI, it’s ACM’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the world’s international conference of human-computer interaction.)

The social game is called BackChatter, created by Local No.12‘s members Mike Edwards, Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and Eric Zimmerman. It’s a time-based, massively multiplayer game about Twitter trendspotting that is designed to be played at conferences and other events, like GDC (Game Developers Conference) and SXSW (South By Southwest).

To win at BackChatter, a player must have strategic thinking and socio-linguistic smarts. Really, perfect for human-computer interaction designers :)

This was the first time we played a big game like this at CHI, and my first time running a game this large for thousands of people. Turns out that Twitter is a pretty good gaming platform because it’s using what people are already talking about and what they’re looking at to learn the latest information.

People were pretty stoked about it, and despite the occasional wifi traumas at the Vancouver Convention Center (an absolutely GORGEOUS venue, I must add), we had a lot of excitement and participation throughout the week-long event.

People at the conference told me they had a lot of fun playing it, and they thought it was a good idea — here are a few sample tweets from players:

“Holy crap! I came in 2nd overall in the CHI game! #chi2011 It was super fun, a great idea.” –Jen Fernquist

“Hi, thanks for the Backchatter game, it was a fun exercise :)” –Tom Sommerville

My colleague at the Social Game Lab in Brooklyn set up a server to host our game instance on the poly.edu domain, and ran the game through our “BackChatter at CHI 2011” website, directed by Professor Katherine Isbister who was the co-chair of the Games Committee at CHI 2011. There were 16 rounds in the game, and three overall winners, with @benki scoring an impressive 35,270 points for his chosen words, like “buxton”, “vancouver”, and “artifacts”.

Here’s a quick summary of how to play, but you can read more here.


1. Follow the game by sending this tweet:
follow CHI2011game

2. Pick your first three words by direct messaging the game with this tweet:
d CHI2011game word1 word2 word3


1. Score points and win prizes by guessing what everyone at CHI is going to be tweeting about.

2. Each round, pick three words that you think are going to be popular in tweets marked with #CHI2011.


1. You get points when other people tweet your words. The more players that bet on a word, the less valuable it is each time it scores.

2. Words score each time they’re tweeted. When a word appears in a Tweet marked with the hashtag #CHI2011 it scores its value for everyone who picked it.

3. The more bets on a word, the lower its value. The more people that pick a word for a round, the less points it will give you per Tweet. Less frequently picked words have a higher scoring value.

Note that your Tweets will never score for you. Common words like “the” and “at” don’t count.

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