New Science Gaming Programs: Killer Snails, MicroRangers, & Playing with Dinos (oh my!)

In 2015, within the Museum’s Youth Initiative Winter offerings, there will be three (count them – three!) different science programs that explore science-based games in completely different ways.

Each draws from science topics of interest to the Museum, explores how games-based learning can enhance both our after school programs and Museum visits, and builds on our previous explorations collaborating with youth to create Museum-branded educational products (such as Pterosaurs: The Card Game).

And each program is offered for free to interested high school students (registration opening shortly).

In short, youth will have the opportunity to collaborate with scientists, science educators and game designers to create:

  • MicroRangers, a site specific, augmented reality game about microbiology for Museum visitors to play within our halls. (This will be developed through a two-day a week after school program, running from February until the end of the school year.)

Registration status: Open. Register here.

  • Killer Snails, a Pokemon-styled deck building card game that will be distributed by the Museum to teach about poison and the surprisingly deadly Cone Snails. (This will be developed through an intensive February break camp.)

Registration status: Open. Register here.

  • Playing with Dinos, a prototype for a new way to engage Museum visitors with our Halls (specifically our dinosaur Halls) and each other, inspired by Tiny Games.

Registration status: Open. Register here.

By the end of this school year, we hope a wide range of youth will have learned a lot about science (microbiology, killer snails, and paleontology) and educational game design while helping us develop:

  1. a prototype for Playing with Dinos,
  2. a Killer Snails game that will be on the Museum store’s shelves, and
  3. a strong early draft of MicroRangers that, after further iteration, will be released to the public by the end of the calendar year.

It is going to be an exciting (and playful) season and we look forward to meeting all the youth who will be joining us on these adventures.

Below is more detail about each program.


Last spring we offered the MicroMuseum program, which was dedicated to exploring life at the microscopic level and how the complexity of microbiomes affect all life at the human scale. Working with AMNH scientist Susan Perkins, a prototype for MicroRangers was produced, which turns a microscopic eye on the Museum’s permanent exhibits, such as the brain coral in the Hall of Ocean Life. Within the game, players take on the role of MicroRangers – like Park Rangers, but working on the microscopic level to keep the fictitious microbiomes WITHIN our Hall exhibits healthy and diverse.

Six months later, we are excited to share that, with support from the Kellen Foundation, we now have the funds to develop the prototype into a final product. Participants in the upcoming MicroRangers program will play a key role in that process, developing content for the game, learning how to iterate its design, and more.

To learn more about the prototype developed last Spring, and what the youth co-developers learned in the process, you can watch this video from their final presentation:

Cone Snail Shells, Poison ExhibitKiller Snails: A Game Development Program With a Deadly Touch

Did you know that something as small and beautiful as a cone snail is also a silent assassin of the sea? In this week-long program in February, high school students will learn all about the wicked and deadly punch of cone snails from AMNH Research Associated Mandë Holford. Then, working with a professional game designer, the youth will develop a card game that will be distributed by the museum. Below is the latest promotional language:

Watch out, Pokemon! Move over, Magic! Here come… the Killer Snails!

Come join AMNH Research Associate Mandë Holford and a professional game designer to create a new game about cone snails (Conus), beautifully small marine packages that have a wicked, deadly punch.

Cone snails are silent assassins of the sea, using venom delivered through a hypodermic needle-like tooth to attack its prey. Their nerve toxins are so powerful they can rapidly paralyze a large fish—or kill an unwary person. Yet in a surprising twist of nature, deadly venom toxins can become life saving drugs! Toxins from cone snails have already yielded a useful pain drug.  Future cone snail medicines could potentially be used to fight epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Last year Cone Snails were featured in the the Museum’s special exhibit, The Power of Poison. Now, you can help develop their next role, starring in an “intoxicating” card game to be distributed by the museum. During this 2015 Winter Break week long full-day program, learn about venom toxins, game design… and killer snails.

You learn more about Cone Snails and Mandë in the following video (starting at 2:48!):

Playing with Dinos

MicroRangers is a digital game. Killer Snails is a card game. Playing with Dinos is something else, something in-between. Inspired by Tiny Games (see video below), our new mobile app will help a group of visitors quickly, and playfully, learn a fun game they can play WITHOUT the app. The game should help them have fun while learning something about the dinosaurs around them, and possibly the people they are with. And when they are done, the app can help them find their next game as they move through our Halls, playing with dinosaurs. This program will run for three days during the last week of January, during the Regents break.

Here is a video about Tiny Games, before the app was released (you can now get it here):

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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