January – May 2019

Game Designer and Project Manager

Soapbox is a four-player role-playing game that gives undergraduate students a safe and fun way to practice asking for help and giving advice. I worked in a team of five undergraduate students over the course of a semester to create Soapbox from scratch.

For Soapbox, I conducted user research and playtests. I facilitated meetings, prepared agendas, and led group design exercises. I also contributed to the design of the game and wrote much of the content in the final product.

Soapbox was designed for Geoff Kaufman, a professor and researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, who presented the challenge to create a help-seeking game for undergraduates. Our team designed Soapbox based on extensive user research of Carnegie Mellon undergraduate students, the kinds of problems they have, and how they seek help for those problems. We continued to incorporate player feedback into our design through many rounds of prototyping and playtesting, finally delivering a role-playing game designed to be run by a facilitator, for future research by our client.

Players act out a scene while playing Soapbox.

Project Overview

How can we design a game to help undergraduates seek and provide help with navigating social/ academic challenges?

The goal of our designed game, Soapbox, is to use role-playing different characters, cooperation, and practice to increase students’ comfort when confronting challenges and asking for help. By placing users in the shoes of another student going through a specific problem, the game empowers students to break down their internal stigma against seeking help.


Through user-centered research methods, our team discovered four key insights that drove our game design.

Our team delved into user research to inform our design of a player-centered game to help undergraduates to seek help. We identified three main subjects areas where our project overlapped: game design, the psychology of help-seeking, and the specific context of CMU undergraduates. Through discussions with our client and reviewing game design literature, we were confident that a game can be loosely defined as a playful interaction towards a goal (the first area), and focused our primary research on identifying the problems that CMU undergraduates need help with and how they seek help for those problems (the second and third areas). This research directly informed our later visioning and prototyping process to create our final role-playing game.

Research Methods

  • Survey
  • Experience Sampling
  • Public Data Collection
  • Interviews
  • Literature Review
  • Competitive Analysis

Research Insights

  1. Listening / genuinely being heard is enough to de-escalate emotional hardships.
  2. Even though self-actualization practices are most effective in help-seeking, students resort to physiological practices.
  3. A tangible representation of anonymity prompts people to reveal more serious problems than doing so through traceable means.
  4. Students are driven to seek help not for an underlying problem, but for the emotional turmoil that arises from that problem.
The user journey map chronicles a CMU student’s journey through the help-seeking process, based on findings from all research methods. Most quotes under “thinking” are taken directly from our research.


Through generating of a richness of ideas, we explored different concepts before arriving at a role-playing card game.

Following the research phase, the team jumped into various design thinking exercises to generate concrete ideas within the possible design space. Some exercises we used were Yes And, Sketching, Crazy 8s, and storyboarding. Through the Visioning phase, we were able to generate a broad range of ideas, test an initial lo-fi prototype, and then pivot our project to a role-playing card game that better addressed our goal.

Playtesting and Iteration

Three undergraduate college students sit in chairs while laughing at their phones.

5 prototypes
14 playtests
50 players

Team Reflection

Creating Soapbox was a long, intensive process for our team, and we learned many things along the way. We are still surprised by the amount and intensity of responses to our anonymous public data collection boxes, which not only convinced us of the importance of our game but also suggests possible future directions for our clients’ research and design of Soapbox that incorporate similar anonymous responses. Our research process was key to the design of our game, as was testing and feedback, since that informed our pivot to a role-playing game to overcome the barrier of internal stigma against help-seeking. Speaking of which, an important takeaway from this project is that pivoting a project’s design is not just okay but encouraged, especially if one can identify the problem and pivot  early in the design process

We learned that user research is an ongoing process, as we continued background research as well as playtesting throughout the pivot and design process to ensure that our project was on the right track and to incorporate existing design paradigms into our game (the “Award the Moment” is one example of such a paradigm that we discovered and incorporated late in the design process). Relatedly, playtesting is key to game development, and thankfully the design of our game allowed for frequent rapid playtests to get immediate feedback and iterate on our design.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges we faced is defining and measuring success, faced with the qualitative goal of giving players practice at seeking help, and the always-nebulous design goal of making a game “fun.” However, our client has been delighted by our progress and playtest results throughout the design process and with the final game. By our last playtests, our players consistently said that they had fun and several playtesters wished that they could play again. With that in mind, our team is happy to say that we believe that Soapbox has been a success, and we hope that our client continues to develop it for research and beyond.

The Soapbox team playtests with faculty advisors.

Final Report

The content of this page is taken from the Soapbox final report book. For more details on Soapbox’s design process as well as the final game (including resources to play it yourself), you are welcome to read the final report for yourself below.


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