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A Quick Guide To Gaming Teen Interest In History

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By Effie Kapsalis, Smithsonian Institution Archives, USA, Kellian Adams, Green Door Labs, USA

How do you get teens interested in history, especially the history of a 171-year old organization like the Smithsonian? With games, of course! We knew we were underserving teen visitors to the Smithsonian’s iconic “Castle” on the U.S. National Mall which was mainly viewed as a pit-stop before visitors moved on to the museums and national monuments. We also knew there were wonderful stories of our history which spoke to early America, innovation, and discovery. But how could we make whatever we developed resonated with teen visitors?

With a small grant of $18,000, two staff members (one from the Smithsonian Institution Archives and one from the Castle Office of Visitor Service), and a paid intern, we had less than 5 months to come up with something to launch in Summer 2017. We partnered with local teens to co-develop the experience, and landed on two components of the program.

One, an interactive game or experience to involve and excite younger visitors about history overall, as well as the history of the Smithsonian. Two, a teen docent program to bring on local teens to run whatever interactive experience we developed. Our goals were to provide teens with a more engaging experience at the Castle, and to spark their interest in history.

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A Quick Guide To Gaming Teen Interest In History

  1. 1. 1 TheMystery oftheMegatherium ClubMustaches and Mayhem
  2. 2. 3 HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGNWORKSHOPS HOW WE BUILT THE GAME! We didn’t know what teens wanted to do at the Castle, so what better way to find out than ask them! We held two human-centered design workshops and asked them what they wanted to do in that space, and what bits of the Smithsonian’s history resonated with them. In the end, we felt much more sure of the game design and story choices we made.
  3. 3. 4 • Engage teens with history • Create something fun for teens to do at Smithsonian Castle • Use the history of the Castle • Motivate visitors to explore unique architecture & history of the castle • Build something that could scale in the future, a prototype for other projects • Intern to help with extra visual design, website, logos • New teen docents to help run/reset game • Visitor Center desk is a central location • Castle curator is willing to help out with lots of details about the space • We have iPads to pass out GOALS RESOURCES RESTRICTIONS • limited budget • Very quick turn-around time (less than 3 months) • Game designer is not on-site • Will only run through August • People can only play for 60 minutes • We’ll have to schedule visitors DESIGNPARAMETERS HOW WE BUILT THE GAME! We had three months and a limited budget to get a working, playable prototype for the summertime but we were able to get a great sense of “magic” by using an unexpected storyline, puzzles and antiques. Drilling down on our goals, resources and restrictions helped us to get the most out of our design parameters!
  4. 4. AGAMETHATINCLUDES MANY ELEMENTS OFPLAY: HOW WE BUILT THE GAME! 5 Escape Room Scavenger Hunt Digital Tour To meet these goals, resources, and restrictions, we designed a game that combined elements of an Escape room with elements of a traditional digital mobile app-based tour— and a scavenger hunt! The result was a unique kind of gameplay. The game let visitors truly explore the physical space of the castle with hidden boxes in unusual places and puzzles that could only be answered by looking closely at the Castle. The on-location part of the game let us include physical items, letters, drawings and pictures that gave the game a fun, tactile element. Scavenger Hunt The teen docents played a major part in this game as Gamemasters who, like in an escape room, follow each group and give hints and clues. This allowed a guided part of the game and engaged the teens in a really meaningful way Escape Room Using the Edventure Builder, we were able to include historical interviews and digital files from the existing mobile guide. The digital interface let us deliver extra nuggets of the history of the Castle with images and quotes. Digital Guide/App COMBININGMULTIPLEELEMENTS OFPLAY
  5. 5. FASTFACTS 6 A combination of digital clues and real objects will guide players around the castle to solve puzzles and unlock the mystery! The game can only be played on-site. Playing off of the popular “Escape Room” trend, players find hidden objects and solve puzzles to uncover a hidden story. Teen docents work as the Gamemasters to give hints and watch the players! Players are informed that they’re about to delve into a story with historical fact AND fiction- and to keep en eye out for both. The end-of-game debrief gives players and docents the chance to discuss what was real. Players leave with a pamphlet on the real Megatherium Club and history of the castle The Megatherium Club is an interactive fictional story and puzzle hunt based on the true history of the Smithsonian in the 1860’s. Players help the Smithsonian solve a mystery the infamous Megatherium Club left behind for future explorers. They spend an hour with friends or family investigating, solving puzzles, and following clues hidden by these mischievous former inhabitants of the Castle. Digital-Physical Game 5 People, 60 Minutes Real History… Real Fiction WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WHEN A GROUP OF YOUNG SCIENTISTS HAS FREE REIGN OF THE CASTLE IN 1860?
  6. 6. 7 Geared toward teen visitors, The Mystery of the Megatherium Club is a new live-play mystery game based on the historical group of young naturalists who lived in dormitories in the Castle. Guided by Smithsonian Teen Docents, the game runs daily July 8-Aug. 27. Comeplay thegame! RUNNING DAILY FROM JULY THROUGH AUGUST
  7. 7. PLAYMAP The challenge was to navigate visitors up to 6 around the entire castle over the course of 60 minutes. Since many parts of the castle don’t have exhibits, we needed to use the permanent fixtures and architecture to tell the story. We included hidden boxes and the digital platform of the Edventure Builder to deliver more information and move the story along. 8 East Wing Introduction 1 2 3 4 56 Introduction: Docents meet visitors to give rules and set the stage 1: Off to the East Wing to look at a map of the castle 2: Explore the North tower and learn about the Children’s Room 3. Go to the Crypt, when was Smithson born again? 4. Find a secret case in the Great Hall. What’s changed here? 5. Secret messages in Schermer Hall 6. The commons holds the KEY! FINISH: A mysterious message- how did that fire start? Finish HOW WE BUILT THE GAME!
  8. 8. 9 Families with teens and pre-teens seemed to find the game the most valuable as it gave them a way to engage with teens that most activities don’t offer! With multiple playtests, we ended up scaling the game back from its original vision to make it shorter and easier for people to play. Average escape rooms have a success rate of 25 to 50% but this “Escape Room” will have a success rate of closer to 80 or 90%. For visitors who are having a hard time, docents give lots of hints to move them along. Teen docents really responded to the game and enjoyed their roles as Gamemasters. Visitors have reported that their “docents are great” so the game is giving teens a strong role and ownership in the program Visitors are also responded well with most weekend games already booked through the end of the summer. The Release and Result HOW DID IT GO? “This is the most engaged outing I’ve ever had with my pre-teen nephews!!” “It was fun! We loved the pencil message puzzle and the black light.” “I liked how all the puzzles connected with the SI content and architecture of the building.” “It made me realize activities like this would be a way to bond with my kiddos when they are older."
  9. 9. LETTHEGAMES BEGIN!

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