MicroRangers To The Rescue! A new mobile app from the Museum brings an invisible world to life

This season’s issue of Rotunda, our Member magazine, features a two-page spread inaugurating the launch of our new mobile game, MicroRangers. You can download it here or read it below (you can also learn more at MicroRangers.org, where you can download the “targets” required to try out the augmented reality).

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MicroRangers To The Rescue!
A new mobile app from the Museum brings an invisible world to life

The world’s most amazing ecosystems are in danger, and it’s up to you to save them! That’s the premise of MicroRangers, a new mobile game for Android and iOS smartphones that uses augmented reality to turn the Museum’s first floor into a series of animated adventures that highlight how microbial life can impact the health and security of larger life forms like towering trees, charismatic animals, and, yes, humans.

“Most biodiversity is too small to be seen without a microscope. But those microbes are just as important as other forms of life in keeping ecosystems healthy,” says Susan Perkins, who advised on MicroRangers and is co-curator of The Secret World Inside You exhibition about the human microbiome.

The game has been in development since 2014, as Museum educators have worked with high schoolers in Museum programs as well as with game designers at Playmatics and Geomedia to create a unique experience based on iconic exhibits and dioramas that many longtime Members know well—but, through MicroRangers, may rediscover in a new way.

“Well-designed games are powerful learning spaces, where players can learn through experimentation and failure, which is the nature of science as well,” says Barry Joseph, associate director for digital learning at the Museum. “They also serve as great tools for collaborative learning alongside friends and family.”

Game play begins in the Hall of Biodiversity, which serves as a sort of home base. From there, players are dispatched to solve science-based mysteries in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, Hall of North American Forests, and the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals, with directions, clues, and three-dimensional animations popping up on their phones.

Nine levels, each posing different challenges and introducing different lessons based in the Museum’s halls, create new and interesting connections that offer a different way to interact with even the most familiar exhibits.

One challenge in the Hall of North American Forests, for instance, pits players against the scourge of chestnut blight. Using their phones, players eliminate the devastating fungus from trees that spring to digital life all around the hall. Augmented reality coins, available at the Membership desk in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, help bring characters in the game, like the animated scientists you meet on missions, to life.

“The way we’re using augmented reality will mean the game is all around you,” says Hannah Jaris, a senior coordinator who helped lead the development of MicroRangers.

With scientist characters guiding players through a diversity of ecosystems, newly minted MicroRangers will also be able to learn about the tools and techniques researchers use to study life in forests, on coral reefs, and everywhere in between.

Many players will play just the first level to get a taste of the game—it takes about 20 minutes, Joseph estimates—while others could play through to completion, exploring all three halls in depth over the course of several hours. And frequent visitors like Members can play over the course of multiple trips to the Museum at any pace they choose. Whichever way visitors play, says Joseph, MicroRangers feels like a full game experience for both casual players and more dedicated gamers.

Museum educators collaborated on MicroRangers with teenagers, the app’s natural audience, on everything from content and game design to early voice-overs for the game’s characters—in large part, Joseph says, to show that the Museum is not just a place youth can come to learn, but one where they can contribute.

“From the very start, we wanted young people to be not just participants in a focus group, but co-designers of their own science education,” says Joseph.

And while MicroRangers has already been a learning experience for the youth and staff who helped develop the game, designers say the ways people play the game will provide design lessons for the future. How users are playing the game and what activities and interactions they embrace or ignore will help to shape the experiences offered by future Museum games.

“The ideal Museum visit is also the ideal game,” says Joseph. “You connect with exhibits, connect with the people around you, and learn something new.”

MicroRangers is free and available to download from the iOS App Store and Google Play. To learn more, visit amnh.org/MicroRangers, and visit the Membership desk in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda to pick up augmented reality coins to play the game. (Limited quantities, while supplies last.)

MicroRangers is generously supported by a grant from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

About Barry

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