As CES finishes for another year and people stare at their screens wondering why the hell anyone thought any of the products shown off were a good idea, here’s a card game to play with the new ideas.

It’s based on the TV series Columbo.

New technology, new murders

Columbo is a good series for anyone interested in technology because it uses it so regularly to enable murder (either directly as a weapon or, more regularly, as method of creating an alibi).

In the original run of TV movies in the 1970's, technology included:

  • Video recorder
  • Digital clock
  • Cassette recorder
  • A robot
  • Close circuit TV cameras
  • A long play record player
  • A blender

Here’s Martin Landau murdering someone with that blender.

As well as new ideas:

  • Subliminal advertising
  • Behavioural training

Columbo is a way of discussing how new technology can be creatively misused.

Making a story

You can download the templates for this game from Dropbox. Print them on white card and cut out – there are enough for 5–6 players in one print.

The cards are simply a way of constructing a story in the style of a Columbo mystery.

A murder plot

Columbo murderers are most often quite powerful or privileged people. They are often working in creative industries that use new technology: TV, movies, think tanks, sports, etc.

The murderer need a Victim and a Motive.

Killing for fear of revelation of some historic personal failing or secret relationship underlies many stories. The victim either knows of the historic fact or is the secret lover.

Maintenance of achieved position and fear of social embarrassment or humiliation are key plot lines.

A technology

The murderer uses a new technology to enable either the direct act of killing or an alibi. It is the latter that most often happens.

The murderer knows that the technology will enable them to change their apparent place or time in order to provide an alibi. They could not have committed the murder as they were elsewhere, meeting people, doing something.

The murderer knows that this shift is possible with a small amount of hacking. The technology can be adjusted (temporarily) to provide the alibi.

Sometimes a few technologies are used in sequence to build a narrative alibi.

Columbo solves the murder

There are two main ways in which Columbo solves the murder.

Firstly, by developing a good knowledge of the technology and thus understanding how the murderer committed the murder.

Secondly, by understanding how there is a glitch in other social or technological relationships. The way the new technology enabled the murder or alibi is not understood but how it affects people or things around it can be seen.

Play a game

Print the cards.

Come up with some murderers (remember new creative job types are important source of new murderers).

Look at CES for ideas of new technologies or think about anything invented in last 5 years. The more expensive and exclusive the technology the better.

The key is thinking a good way of enabling a murder.

This is then reflected in the solution.

Tell your stories to each other

Maybe pool the cards if you can’t think of a murder weapon or can’t find the solution.

There is no serious purpose in any of this but knowing how to creatively misuse a product is a good way to think about it differently.

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX