The first season of Cartegram
  • Len Kendall
  • The first “season” of Cartegram

Smartphones have become an incredibly diverse platform for game designers, but most don’t go beyond the screen. The result? Lots of people looking down at their phones rather than out at the world around them. Local game designer and digital strategist Len Kendall wanted to create a new way for smartphone users to incorporate apps like Instagram into a game that would require people to explore their surroundings and to share their discoveries with friends and fellow players. As Kendall points out in a promotional video, the game, called Cartegram, is sort of like Choose Your Own Adventure, but for the digital age.

“I want to encourage people to look up and see what’s around them,” he says of being inspired to create the game, which he’s currently attempting to fund through a Kickstarter campaign. “Chicago is such a beautiful city—I hope this gets people to appreciate it.”

Here’s how it works . . .

Players receive a notebook (each notebook represents a “season”) with a variety of photo prompts—for example, find a place with no man-made objects within 500 feet, or construct an object from things you find outside—which they complete by attaching a biodegradable sticker to a place or object, then taking a photo and posting it to Instagram with the appropriate hashtags ( e.g., #cartegram and #1×2, for first “season,” second prompt). Each book, or season, makes up a “self-guided city tour,” according to Kendall, and as photos accumulate, Kendall hopes a community will form in the physical and digital world.

The games aren’t terribly alike in terms of their mechanics, but Kendall says Cards Against Humanity was an influence. “In an age of mobile games, they made something physical, tangible, and superfun,” he says.

Kendall knows a bit about making things sticky on the Internet. A cocreator of CentUp, a donation platform for blogs that splits revenue between charities and publishers, the former digital marketer and strategist put his skills to use by proposing to his wife via Buzzfeed home-page takeover in 2012 (the company now uses the story as a case study). Cartegram is one of his many side projects.

With about three weeks left on the Kickstarter campaign, Kendall has raised $1,165 of the $1,500 he set out to, so it seems pretty likely he’ll reach his goal and the game will be a go. But will people play? His friends, to whom he sent prototypes, expressed some anxiety about putting stickers on objects in crowded spaces, but they’re starting to get with the program, and the Cartegram community is already taking shape.