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Outdoor Learning - Park Quest

A major outcome of the “Let’s Go Outside” youth event was the successful pilot of the mobile media learning game Park Quest, funded by Target District 444 stores.

Children learn about the Park Quest projectA design team of Ohio University graduate students developed Park Quest as a means to most effectively engage the interest of minority, urbanized youth with unfamiliar natural resource topics.  Ultimately, youth engaged in this manner would not only develop relationships and familiarity with natural resources, but consider pursuing careers in related fields.

The Let’s Go Outside event was the first attempt by Ohio University students and event organizers at trying mobile media as a learning tool.  Ohio University game designers sought to incorporate both the event coordinator’s and sponsoring organization’s  learning objectives (map use, basic animal biology, soil and water conservation) while also supporting positive dispositional development (helpfulness, teamwork, organization, and curiosity). The mobile media learning experience addresses these objectives in a uniquely creative way by using digital technology (iPhones or iPods and wireless hotspots).  Digital information, including a GPS map-based navigation, gameful traffic direction, basic animal biology, and soil and water conservation concepts helped the youth complete their Park Quest.

The Game

Let’s Go Outside event organizers wanted youth to “see nature” and have attempted to achieve this at past events.  Inspired by John Martin’s Mystery Trip piece in the last MML book, Ohio University students wanted to test ‘off-trail’ directions with a different demographic of players. They proposed the Park Quest concept to the event organizers as a way to help youth “see nature” and demonstrated a rapid prototype of the game using the ARIS editor.   

The Park Quest game uses a map interface while introducing the player to characters, items, and places that are part of a larger storyline. Players learn navigation by following a moving blue dot, which represents their location on the map, as they walk toward the next quest, character, or element in the story.  Animals, which portray characters in the game, share basic tidbits about their biology from the ‘first-animal’ perspective, and players meet real-life experts as they explore natural areas of the park.

Animal Storytellers

The Ohio University student design team consulted with organizers to get a feel for their objectives.  They then created a paper prototype of the game and shared it with the organizers. The original narrative had their mascot ‘Frog’ looking for tools that he suspects ‘Mr. Snake’ stole. When the player visits Mr. Snake, the sneaky critter readily admits the theft, leaving the player with a variety of animals that were too big for Mr. Snake to eat. The player then must explore a nearby wooded area to gather the tools from digital animals. The tools involve digging a soil pit with the help of a real soil conservationist who then explains the purpose and use of the tools.  Students finish the game at this ‘station’.  

To the excitement of the event organizers, the players loved the game, which is now in iterative production.  April 10, 2014, the game designers will present the “Park Quest” game at a national mobile gaming and digital media education conference at Ohio University.