NYTimes promotes MicroRangers in “Solving Mysteries at the AMNH, Smartphone in Hand”

Sometimes when it rains it pours. Today I am quoted in the New York Times, in two different pieces, each talking about digital games (both articles previewed online – the print versions come out tomorrow and this weekend).

First, the New York Time’s Sunday magazine features a PHENOMENAL article called The Minecraft Generation, by Clive Thompson (whom I’ve interviewed here). Check it out.

The second article is about our work at the Museum, focusing on both MicroRangers and our related event, Game On!, this Sunday. It’s awesome. I couldn’t be prouder of all who worked on it to get MicroRangers to this place – the dozens of students, the app and game designers, the scientists, the writers, graphic designers, the MicroRanger Guides who run the cart, and more. The article is reposted below (don’t take too long to read it – the squid and the bison are waiting!):

Solving Mysteries at the American Museum of Natural History, Smartphone in Hand

By LAUREL GRAEBERAPRIL 14, 2016

If you visit the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday and see young people fixated on their smartphones, don’t assume that they’ve abandoned science for the joys of social media. These visitors are not absorbed in Angry Birds — though they may well be investigating bobtail squids or runaway bison.

They’ll be playing MicroRangers, a new mobile game that’s the museum’s latest effort to use popular technology to fire youthful enthusiasm about the wild and woolly.

“You’re invited to shrink down to the microscopic level and go inside our permanent exhibits and solve science-based problems,” said Barry Joseph, the museum’s associate director for digital learning, youth initiatives. Each challenge involves a microbiome — the world of microorganisms within an environment — that’s out of whack.

“Sometimes it’s because there’s a dangerous microorganism at play,” said Mr. Joseph, who helped create the game. “And sometimes to resolve the problem, what we need is a microorganism, sometimes something as unexpected as a virus.”

On Sunday the museum will introduce MicroRangers at Game On!, an event that will award prizes, ranging from toys to a museum sleepover, for successful completion of different levels of the game. Staff members will advise players, and a telepresence robot — like a video screen on wheels — will roam the halls, showing teenagers (who were instrumental in MicoRangers’ development) dressed as some of the game’s scientist characters, soliciting visitors’ help.

Intended for children 8 and older, MicroRangers can be played by two to six people using one device. After downloading the free app, they obtain a communicator coin from the museum. When scanned, this disc sets the game’s characters in motion, causing a tiny talking hologram to appear, “like the little Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars,’” Mr. Joseph said.

Players become MicroRangers by helping the scientists resolve one of nine possible MicroCrises. The game, for instance, may send them to the Deep Sea diorama to investigate why the bobtail squid has lost its glow (pollution has interfered with its bioluminescent bacteria) or to the Bison diorama to learn why the animals are bloated. (They’ve escaped their habitat and are eating grass filled with gas-producing microorganisms.)

“The game is taking you into the exhibits, but it’s also taking the exhibits out of the glass,” Mr. Joseph said. “The bison get loose.”

Each MicroCrisis takes 20 to 30 minutes to vanquish. At the advanced level, though, the emergencies become interrelated in an accelerating mass extinction, “and the tone shifts from Pixar to Stephen King,” Mr. Joseph said.

But if you can’t make the Sunday celebration, you can still play any day. The squid and the bison are waiting.

(From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Central Park West and 79th Street, 212-769-5100, microrangers.org.)

A version of this article appears in print on April 15, 2016, on page C18 of the New York edition.

About Barry

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