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Plot Twisters, an online game world founded by Edinburgh Futures Institute student Jenny Liu Zhang, has been awarded $50K in OpenIDEO’s Designing for Digital Thriving Challenge.

Plot Twisters, an online game world for social-emotional learning founded by Edinburgh Futures Institute student Jenny Liu Zhang, has been awarded $50K as one of three Grand Prize Winners in OpenIDEO’s Designing for Digital Thriving Challenge.

Jenny is in her first year of pursuing her MSc in Narrative Futures at EFI (on a three-year part-time track), and is the Founder and Managing Director of the Plot Twisters team: a co-design collective of 22 designers, researchers, artists and technologists based across three continents.

OpenIDEO is a social impact platform which is part of IDEO, a global design and innovation consultancy.

Jenny’s team entered Plot Twisters in OpenIDEO’s call for proposals to the challenge: “How might we design healthy, inclusive digital spaces that enable individuals and communities to thrive?”

As part of the award, the Plot Twisters team will also receive mentorship and network access to several international design and gaming partners: IDEO, Riot Games, Fair Play Alliance, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Hopelab, and Susan Crown Exchange.

Image of 'Twisterland' map from Plot Twisters online learning game. Image courtesy of Plot Twisters founder Jenny Zhang.
Image of ‘Twisterland’ map from Plot Twisters online learning game. Image courtesy of Jenny Liu Zhang.

Plot Twisters: An online game world for self-reflection

Plot Twisters is an immersive online game for nurturing emotional literacy, personal narrative building, and self-advocacy skills in young people.

The name comes from the idea that all people encounter “plot twists,” or challenges and conflicts in life.

The first-person experience game is at the early stages since its inception in 2020, with prototypes of the game’s map (‘Twisterland’), storytelling cards used as in-game reflection prompts, character ideas, minigames, visuospatial metaphors and play mechanics.

The Plot Twisters team will use their OpenIDEO award toward developing the online game’s features for launch, such as Twisterland’s design fiction, game navigation, artwork and soundtrack.

Plot Twisters founder Jenny Liu Zhang is pursuing her MSc Narrative Futures at the Edinburgh Futures Institute.

Learning about Narrative Futures at EFI

Jenny is looking forward to using her learning from her MSc Narrative Futures: Art, Data, Society programme to help develop Plot Twisters.

MSc Narrative Futures is an interdisciplinary programme where students learn how stories are being transformed in a variety of different domains and spheres of social life: from creative writing to game design, from digital markets to religious or environmental discourses, and at the frontier of computational developments in artificial intelligence.

Jenny said:

“The Plot Twisters team, which I’ve been leading for two years now prior to enrolling in my master’s programme, is over the moon and so excited to have more resources to build out our game. My classes at Edinburgh Futures Institute will be absolutely invaluable for the creative and technical journey ahead.

 I’m particularly excited about taking Text Remix and Computational Text Analysis in the coming semesters, since our game will rely on sentiment analysis and social simulation for journaling prompts. Furthermore, I’m hoping to organise playtest focus groups and draw on EFI students, faculty, and staff to help playtest our prototypes.”

 Professor Sian Bayne, Director of Education said:

“I am delighted to hear about Jenny’s success with Plot Twisters, which is a wonderful example of the collaborative and co-designed projects we encourage our students to pursue at Edinburgh Futures Institute. I am sure Jenny’s achievement will be an inspiring story for current and future EFI students.”

Further information

Plot Twisters website

Plot Twisters winning proposal

OpenIDEO announcement of winners for the Designing for Digital Thriving Challenge

 Find out more about Narrative Futures: Art, Data, Society at EFI

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