What will you do when disaster strikes? If it’s up to Jenny Gottstein, you’ll take to the streets as a hardened practitioner of zombie annihilation—and execute perfectly practiced disaster preparedness drills along the way.
You'll have learned these skills from the public disaster preparedness event Gottstein produced in San Francisco, with a bit of a twist. Players ran around the city completing various challenges—from CPR workshops and evacuation planning to NERF gun target practice—all while getting chased by actors dressed as the undead. The idea was that players could learn skills they’d use in a real disaster scenario while engaging with their community and kicking some major zombie ass.
The brains have since been swept from the streets, but Gottstein took the interactive game format and ran with it, organizing events for local emergency response teams across California with The Go Game, an SF-based outfit that produces elaborate, interactive team-building and disaster preparedness events for companies and communities worldwide. We caught up with Gottstein to find out more about The Go Game and how a company rooted in playful culture nurtures its own.
IDEO: Where did your love of games come from?
JG: A blood-thirsty lust for victory. Sike! I’m literally the worst person to have on your team because I couldn't care less about winning. I’m way more interested in exploring the ways people interact, negotiate, strategize, and commit. Give me a juicy glimpse into the human condition over a trophy any day. But I think my love of games came from the realization that brilliant things can happen when people are having a good time.
What’s the best part of your job?
JG: Being a professional student! Often I'm enlisted to design games for regions / topics that I know nothing about, which means I have to completely immerse myself and ask a billion questions. I feel very lucky that I get to make a living being curious. Plus, if I’ve done my job well, people become more excited about each other and the world around them, and that feels pretty great.
What does a day in the life of a Go Game employee look like?
JG: Complete pandemonium. It varies widely and sometimes means coming up with new mission ideas, scouting new game locations, writing tons of clues, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, telling terrible jokes to large groups of people and, during the busy season, spending so much time in airports that the vendors start to recognize you.
As a company built to cultivate playful, creative cultures, how does The Go Game maintain its own culture?
JG: We're very decentralized because game-runners are constantly on the road, so finding ways to bring our collective experiences together is super important. That can be a slack convo or meeting announcement about funny moments from a recent project. Company-wide GIF email chains definitely serve as a centrifugal force.
But I think the greatest way The Go Game maintains its culture is by encouraging and celebrating individual creative projects. Folks who have worked here have produced podcasts, started companies, written graphic novels, launched apps, and volunteered with local organizations. Internally, we’re encouraged to design wacky games to serve a cause or idea we feel passionate about. The Zombie Apocalypse Disaster Prep Game was one of those, and in September we produced Play Outside, a free public game to commemorate the National Park Service's centennial and raise funds for the National Park Foundation. Just because!
Where do you see the future of team-building events heading?
JG: I think the future of events in general is the continued blurring of the lines between digital and real-world experiences. I'm inspired by new methods of storytelling that are being pioneered around the world, and I think it’s going to change the way we connect, learn, consume and play.