Brunel University London: Tamagotchi-like accessory could help keep screen addicts off their phones

Don’t Kill Murph encourages users to keep their phones in their pockets by rewarding good screen habits with treats and items for their virtual pet, Murph.

If the user slips and starts aimlessly scrolling on their phone, a dark cloud recedes on Murph, eventually squashing him after 30 minutes of continuous scrolling.

“I was looking at behaviour change models for smokers and other forms of addiction,” said designer James Battishill, 24, from Gloucestershire.

“And while phone addiction isn’t currently seen as a medically diagnosed addiction, there’s a big group of researchers who think it should be, because it has effects like loneliness, lack of self-worth and poor sleep. There are so many mental health disorders that can stem from it.”

Battishill said that aside from the obvious nod to the late-90’s hit toy, the Tamagotchi, Don’t Kill Murph is inspired by gamification theory and the work of Fitbit, which aims to get people moving my rewarding them for hitting a certain number of steps per day.

The designer said that whilst most modern phones now have apps that monitor screentime and usage, they are good for showing a user their screen habits, but do little to help them use their phone less.

“Our phones are designed to be addictive, and that’s the catch,” said Battishill. “So, in slightly paradoxical terms, I’m trying to use some of the techniques the phone companies use to keep you on your phone to get you off it.”

The concept device, which was unveiled at Made in Brunel, the flagship exhibition for Brunel Design School students, connects to an app on the user’s phone via Bluetooth to gather screentime data.

Some apps, such as the Phone app, will be excluded from Murph’s attentions however, so as to not discourage people from healthy habits such as talking to friends and family on the phone.

When the player doesn’t use their phone, their character Murph is awarded coins to build up his city of Murphtopia. They also need to feed their character, who is rewarded with a worm whenever a user goes half an hour without looking at their phone.

However, if the player finds themselves scrolling endlessly on their phone, they risk their Murph being squashed and the game restarting.

“If you look at companies like Fitbit, they managed to use wearables to get people doing stuff that takes effort, like running and walking,” said Battishill.

“People get hooked into that system. They know that they’re playing a game, and their behaviour really can change.”