Teenagers sleep. A lot. I would know — not too long ago, I was one of them. Saturdays mornings (and afternoons) were meant for catching up on REM.
The Glasgow, Scotland-based developer Chunk and Channel 4 Education released a free mobile title called Zeds today on the U.K. App Store. The release is due in mid-May in the U.S. It gives teenagers — or people of any age — a way to turn their own sleep patterns into an interactive, unique game level.
It works like this: Players set an alarm and place their iPhone or iPod Touch at the corner of their bed when they sleep, and Zed records their sleep data while they’re snoring away.
“In normal sleep, people will go through sleep cycles, from light to deep and back, every 90 minutes,” Chunk owner and founder Donnie Kerrigan told GamesBeat. “The app detects movement and noise, which is out of [sync] with the cycle, and graphs it accordingly.”
In the morning, players can stop tracking and check the app to learn what the graph means. Then they can play through what’s essentially a reproduction of their night of rest.
How well — or poorly — you sleep shapes the level. If you wake up or your sleep fluctuates from shallow to deep, those changes manifest in the game. Spikes in activity can lead to more dangers, for example, while calm periods might produce more Zs, collectible power-ups that grant temporary invulnerability or other bonuses.
“The game itself plays like a runner,” said Kerrigan. “You have a team of Zeds who you need to get home safely by destroying the bad guys and leaping chasms with swipe gestures.”
Players must perform the correct action to eliminate enemies on the path before they attack. Kerrigan said, “As you complete levels, you level up your Zeds and add more to your team — giving you the chance of bigger scores.”
Chunk and Channel 4 hope that teens will use the game to become more aware of the impact sleep has on their lives.
“Anything that increases the awareness of the importance of good sleep practices, especially for this age group, is very important, and I’m very supportive of it,” said professor Russell Foster, who teaches circadian neuroscience at Oxford University, in a press statement. “People underestimate teenagers, but if you explain to them why they need more sleep, many will respond — but if you force them, they won’t do it. So anything that helps inform that view of the world is very important.”
Channel 4 thought that teens would relate to this kind of education better if it were presented in a way that’s familiar to them. That way, they could “come to their own conclusions about their sleeping habits and how it affects them,” said Kerrigan. And kids today carry smartphones everywhere. (So do we adults.)
The issues that disrupt their sleep are age-centric, too. Exams and studying can cause stress or lead to all-nighters, and technology like computers or social demands can alter sleep schedules as well.
“If you don’t sleep properly, your ability to think creatively, to solve problems, your sense of humor — everything that makes us special human organisms — is lost,” said Foster. “Sleep needs to be at the center of our world.”
“We wanted to encourage teenagers to both switch off from their gadgets and help them understand the benefits of doing so,” said Faraz Osman, the editor of education at Channel 4. He added, “We wanted something that could alter that perception in an intelligent way.”
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award-winning team at The Brothers McLeod in Warwickshire, England, is handling animation for the game.