Working with Youth To Design Museums of the Future – presentation at 13th Games For Change Festival

“As a parent, I hope this project is expanded. Our family looked at the museum in a different way and they now have interest in learning more about microorganisms!”

This Thursday I and two youth from our educational programs will present at the 13th annual Games For Change Festival.

Our 15-minute talk – Co-Designing Museums of the Future– asks the question: Can games and play create the motivation and mind-set for informal science learning?

G4CMicroRangers.001I will open with a quick overview contextualizing games as a form of museum visitor engagement, and then interview Alejandro and Brielle about their experience participating over two years in the creation of the game.


We’ll also showed a clip from the MicroRangers trailer:

I’d like to use the remainder of this post to highlight what we won’t have time for from the stage: What have we learned since launching MicroRangers?

After nearly two-years in development, MicroRangers received a soft launch on December 14, 2015. The following are some highlights of preliminary findings from our first 20 weeks of MicroRangers being live:

  • Museum visitors value MicroRangers as a way to connect with the Museum. In one survey of general visitors (n=25):
      • 87.5% reported that playing the game was time well spent
      • 93.75% said they would recommend it to their friends
      • 81.25% said they might play it again in a future visit
      • 92.3% think the Museum should offer more experiences like MicroRangers in the future.
“[MicroRangers] really made [the museum visit] interactive and gave a reason for my daughter to do something instead of just look at the dioramas.”
  • Museum visitors felt MicroRangers taught them something new and interesting. In one survey of general visitors (n=25):
    • 100% of visitors report learning new scientific ideas, phrases or vocabulary.
    • 92% report sharing their new learning with others
    • 58% report returning home and doing further research on their own about something they learned through MicroRangers.
“Reading the text by the walls doesn’t appeal to [my child] too much but the game really taught her something.”
  • Early data suggests that an App can drive traffic to the Museum
“My 8-year old daughter made us come back the very next day to play again! She loves it.”
  • Visitors who came to the Museum unaware of the game could integrate it into their planned activities
“It engages visitors in a more interactive way and allows them to explore the museum in a unique way.”
  • We estimate ~4,500 people have played, averaging :14 per session.

And following are some observations from Cooper Wright (in her own words), a graduate student from NYU in Digital Media Design for Learning, who observed 49 missions amongst a total of 115 people playing MicroRangers at the Museum.

Players are hooked immediately by the augmented reality technology in MicroRangers


  • Two American girls who appeared to be in their mid-twenties exclaimed, “awesome!” when the microbe first appeared.
  • A mom and her son from Venezuela laughed out loud when the microbe was activated.

MicroRangers appeals to both adults and kids


  • Ben, an 8-year-old from Connecticut, would read the text out loud while his mom helped him when he got stuck. They played the Case of the Missing Mushrooms, then the Case of the Gassy Grasses and then chose the Case of the Bio-luminescent Blackout. By then, Ben really had the hang of the game. When he was directed to take a picture of a jellyfish, he said, “Ok, so I snap a picture of my favorite.”
  • When a young couple from California were sent to find the Spectrum of Life, she said, “Ooh! Like a scavenger hunt!” Then they raced to the Hall of North American Forests on their first mission to solve the case of the missing mushrooms. When they started playing the first game he said, “Ah! That’s cute. We’re underground.”

Players are able to use MicroRangers to take in a full range of Museum content


  • Two female friends (who looked to be in their early twenties) playing on one device stopped to look at fish and other objects in the dioramas on their way to find the Coral Reef. They took their time. One of them was from New Zealand and was excited about seeing the whale for the first time. Rather than distracting from the Museum experience, it seemed to take them deeper into it. By the time they found the coral reef, they were discussing what they had seen and were very deliberate about what to take a photo of (part of the game).
  • When a family from Indonesia was playing the Case of the Terrible Ticks, the parents were just as involved as the kids were in finding the marten in the diorama. They pointed out other objects as they searched for it, and the whole family was engaged in pointing out and discussing the animals and trees in the diorama, even ones that were not the object of the game.

MicroRangers is successfully focusing players’ attention on science content


  • After playing the game in the Case of the Bio-luminescent Blackout, where you have to calibrate the conditions to make the zooxanthellae return home, Emmanuelle (a seven-year-old) told me that she knew she had to get the temperature.

MicroRangers appeals to young kids as well as older ones


  • I observed a nine-year-old boy with his five-year-old brother and dad. The five-year-old had the phone and was playing the game. Even though the five-year-old didn’t seem to understand much about the game, he was engaged, which seemed to pull his older brother in. Clearly, the older brother would have been more adept at playing the game, but he let his younger brother have the phone. He would go away for a few minutes, look at something in the dioramas that caught his eye, and then come back to help his brother.   When the dispatcher directed them to find a bobtail squid, the nine-year old got excited and ran off to find it in the diorama. Then they played the games in the Case of the Bio-luminescent Blackout together. This is an example of the game engaging two kids of very different ages on different levels; it brought the older one deeper into the museum experience, even though he was not the one holding the phone, and it engaged the younger one through the user experience of the game play.

Parents use MicroRangers to engage in conversations around science


  • Ben, an 8-year old with his mom and younger sister, had graduated the cadet level. He chose the case of the Gassy Grasses when he leveled up. When they got to the Bisons, his mom would elaborate on the science in the text or explain the science in the mini games.

Families enjoy playing MicroRangers together


  • I observed a family of 5 from Indonesia, playing on one device. I started following them after they came up to the cart having completed the cadet level. They wanted directions about how to level up.   They chose the Case of the Terrible Ticks. The kids were 6, 5 and ll. The parents told me they were loving the game. They only had one phone, but the kids were able to pass it around so that everyone got a chance to participate. The oldest took over when needed, but let his younger siblings play when it was easier.



About Barry

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