“Excuse me, do you have some gum?”
So, a stranger approaches you and asks you this simple question. What's next? You might offer the person some gum, you might just say "No, sorry, I don't". Either way, you're halfway into a completely new social exchange that could lead to something else or end right there. This is the kind of exchange we experience all the time when we are kids, but is getting increasingly difficult to find once we get older. But such a simple start to a new contact might just be what we need the most once we're out of school.
Loneliness seems to be most prevalent in adolescence and early adulthood (Heinrich & Gullone, 2006), because having a large social network might lose some of its importance over time. There are many young adults who want to make simple, new social connections; but for some reason it is just very difficult. While multiple explanations could be considered for these difficulties, there is one theory that provides a very powerful model for the disconnection of what we want and what we have.
The theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) assumes that intention for a certain action can be explained by the attitude towards this behavior, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control. Even if you think that recycling is essential to protect the environment, recycling gets very hard if there is some social pressure to just don't care or if you feel that recycling might be out of your control. The same goes for social connections: If you want to meet people and just talk to strangers, there are still some burning questions: "But is it acceptable behavior to just talk to strangers? Can I even do it?"
In my experience, there is a lot more intention of talking to strangers than there is actual talking. Many people want those simple childhood conversations back, but something is holding them back. But if somebody wants to form new meaningful connections, they have to start somewhere. And if thoughts and doubts of norms and the own control prevents them, then maybe there is the need for something that nudges them in the right direction. Sometimes the only thing we need for our proudest moment is a friend who says: “Do it!”
Lia is designed to be this little nudge that gives you more incentive to really intend social connections and helps you to actually do what you want to do. She is a social game in the sense that she provides you with situations that force you to interact with other people, but she is also a very social game and loves to interact with you herself.
That is the first thing you will hear from her and that is pretty much everything she stands for in the beginning. She thinks of herself as a little party game, something that you can try out with your friends and may or may not like. The whole process of the game is your way to form some new acquaintances and she will help you by providing situations where you have to go and talk to strangers. After a time, she will even communicate what she thinks about your personality and how much she likes you.
We wanted to create a game that fills the missing pieces between forming an intention to be in more social situations and actually doing new social things. She can also provide great conversation topics and party games for friends. She wants to help out in the social game, without the need of real pressure. She does not tell you what to do, she only tries to bring out what is already there. And she follows you in your personal journey to change some habits.
Her design comes from HAL 9000, the famous AI from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. It is a movie that gets more and more relevant with each day and has a fantastic way of presenting real emotions in otherwise motionless machines. Both Lia and HAL start with a human made purpose and try to find themselves in their own way. Of course - there is no need to worry that Lia would harm anybody. All she wants is to connect.
Written by Maximilian Croissant