I’m CEO and founder of Six to Start, co-creator of the world’s most successful smartphone fitness game, Zombies, Run! Other games I’ve designed, like We Tell Stories, have won awards including Best of Show at SXSW and been displayed at MOMA and the Design Museum.
I’m author of the forthcoming book You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All (2022), along with A New History of the Future in 100 Objects (2020). I also write a monthly column for EDGE magazine on games.
Previously, I was Director of Play at Mind Candy from 2004 to 2007, where I designed and produced the Perplex City alternate reality game (ARG). My interest in ARGs began with the genre itself in 2001, when I was a moderator for the Cloudmakers community for The Beast, an ARG for Steven Spielberg’s A.I.; I wrote a detailed walkthrough for the game, called The Guide.
During that time, I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, specialising in experimental psychology and neuroscience. In 2003, I began a neuroscience DPhil at Oxford, but left after a year to join Mind Candy.
I’ve spoken at the main TED conference in Monterey in 2001 (about the human colonisation of Mars), as well as various SXSW, GDC, Economist, and other major tech and gaming conferences.
I live in Edinburgh, UK.
Some of the projects that I’ve been involved in or have created, in rough reverse chronological order, include:
You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All (2022)
Author of a non-fiction book on the perils and promise of gamification, published by Basic Books.
EDGE magazine columnist (2022-)
Writer of a monthly column called Alternate Reality covering “topics that don’t always appear centre stage, including new interfaces and technologies, emerging diversity, borders with other media, and beyond”. Print-only.
Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future (2021)
I contributed a short story about Hong Kong refugees creating an augmented reality performance space for the Edinburgh Festival to this science fiction anthology published by MIT Press. Other authors included Madeline Ashby, Indrapramit Das, Cory Doctorow, Rich Larson, Ken Liu, Malka Older, Hannu Rajaniemi, Karl Schroeder, and D. A. Xiaolin Spires.
A New History of the Future in 100 Objects (2020)
A new edition of my book published by MIT Press. Contains fifteen completely new chapters and three substantially rewritten chapters. The book was published in China in 2022 – but with only 91 objects…
What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon (2020)
Wrote an influential longform blog post covered by The New York Times, Wired Magazine, VICE Motherboard, Axios, and, oddly, Scott Alexander’s Astral Codex Ten.
VR and Smartphone Fitness Game Research Project (2018-21)
A project led by University College London into the efficacy and design of smartphone and VR fitness games like Zombies, Run! This generated several papers of which I am among the authors, including:
- Farič, N., Potts, H. W., Rowe, S., Beaty, T., Hon, A., & Fisher, A. (2021). Running App “Zombies, Run!” Users’ Engagement with Physical Activity: A Qualitative Study. Games for Health Journal, 10(6), 420-429.
- Farič, N., Smith, L., Hon, A., Potts, H. W., Newby, K., Steptoe, A., & Fisher, A. (2021). A virtual reality exergame to engage adolescents in physical activity: Mixed methods study describing the formative intervention development process. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(2), e18161.
- McMichael, L., Farič, N., Newby, K., Potts, H. W., Hon, A., Smith, L., … & Fisher, A. (2020). Parents of adolescents perspectives of physical activity, gaming and virtual reality: Qualitative study. JMIR Serious Games, 8(3), e14920.
- Farič, N., Potts, H. W., Hon, A., Smith, L., Newby, K., Steptoe, A., & Fisher, A. (2019). What players of virtual reality exercise games want: thematic analysis of web-based reviews. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(9), e13833.
The Cultures (2014-)
Co-host of a weekly podcast about technology, art, religion, games, politics, books, movies, and much much more, with Andrea Phillips and Naomi Alderman. Not currently updated.
The Walk (2013, 2018)
Lead designer and producer of this all-day walk tracking game combined with an audio adventure. The first smartphone game funded by the NHS and UK Department of Health, The Walk was recognised with Editor’s Choice on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. In 2018, the audio story became a podcast published by Panoply, gaining the iTunes Podcast of the Week in the US, and reaching #2 in the Top Charts (Six to Start and Naomi Alderman).
A History of the Future in 100 Objects (2013, 2017)
Author of a sci-fi book from the perspective of a historian in 2084 writing about the hundred most important objects of the 21st century. This book became the subject of a 2017 exhibition with artist Chen Xi for the Shanghai Project, curated by Yongwoo Lee and Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Zombies, Run! (2012-)
Lead designer and producer of the world’s bestselling smartphone fitness game where you’re chased by zombies in the real world amidst a gripping audio adventure. Nominated for the Design Museum’s ‘Design of the Year’ award (Six to Start and Naomi Alderman).
Balance of Powers (2011)
Co-author of this Cold War alternate history serial funded via Kickstarter and written by Andrea Phillips, David Varela, Naomi Alderman, and myself.
The Code (2011)
Lead designer and producer of an online treasure hunt and ARG accompanying the BBC Two maths documentary, The Code (Six to Start).
Transmedia London (2011-13)
Co-organiser of a meetup group sharing case studies and experience about transmedia projects, with Rachel Clarke. Hosted at BAFTA London.
Technology Columnist for The Telegraph (2010-13)
Wrote a fortnightly column about technology and intellectual issues. Mostly online but some pieces were published in the newspaper.
Lead designer and producer of an immersive online educational game about internet privacy and security. Won SXSW Best Game (Six to Start).
Hive Mind Challenge (2009-)
Co-creator of a pub quiz where you’re allowed to cheat and use as much technology — and as many friends — as you want, with Philip Trippenbach.
We Tell Stories (2008)
Lead designer and producer of these six classic stories retold for the internet by top writers including Charles Cumming, Toby Litt, Kevin Brooks, Nicci French, Matt Mason, Nicholas Felton, Mohsin Hamid, and Naomi Alderman. Commissioned by Penguin Books. Won SXSW Best of Show, displayed at MOMA (Six to Start).
Let’s Change the Game (2007)
Founder of a competition for teams around to world to design a game to raise money for Cancer Research UK.
After Our Time (2007)
Creator of a weblog, wiki and forum about Radio 4’s In Our Time panel discussion programme.
Perplex City (2005)
Lead designer and producer for the first ever self-funded ARG, with a £100,000 prize and hundreds of thousands of players. Also the longest-running ARG. Perplex City was the subject of a 2022 NHK documentary, Finding Satoshi, about one of its longer-lasting puzzles; I was interviewed.
Mind Hacks (2004)
Contributed a chapter to Mind Hacks, a neuroscience book published by O’Reilly.
Two Weeks on Mars (2002)
Wrote a weblog of my time at the Mars Society Desert Research Station.
First Words (2002)
Created a competition to raise funds for the Mars Society, asking entrants what they thought the first words on Mars should, or will be.
Mars Maps (2001)
Designed the first full colour poster-size map of Mars to be sold worldwide. No longer for sale.
New Mars (2001)
Editor and administrator of New Mars, the Mars Society’s official online magazine and forum.
Archive of my older personal websites including essays, art and photos.
Astrobiology: The Living Universe (2000)
Co-creator of this NASA award-winning educational website about astrobiology.
Museums are among my favorite places in the world. I’ve done a lot of work with them, including:
- A History of the Future in 100 Objects at The Shanghai Project, with Chen Xi, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist (2016-17)
- Games that Make Your Heart Race talk at National Museum of Scotland Lates event (2015)
- Zombies, Run! at the V&A Crowdfunding Lates event (2015)
- A History of the Future in 100 Objects event at the Long Now Foundation (2014)
- A History of the Future in 100 Objects internal talk at the V&A (2014)
- Advised Bletchley Park on grant funding (2014)
- Zombies, Run! at the Designs of the Year exhibition at the Design Museum (2013)
- Zombies, Run! at the Science Museum Lates event (2013)
- A History of the Future in 100 Objects workshops at the British Museum (2012)
- Games consultancy at the British Museum (2012)
- We Tell Stories at the Talk to Me exhibition at MOMA (2011)
There’s some more information about me at my main personal website, www.vavatch.co.uk. You can also see the archives for my previous weblog which date back to the beginning of 2000. I also have some photos on Flickr.