Challenge 

We want to put the ocean in people’s pocket.

Most people are too busy or too removed to feel a connection with the ocean, much less explore it, which impacts how they perceive and respond to messaging and policy around its study and conservation. Even though the ocean impacts these people’s lives, as it impacts all of our lives, they have no personal connection to, sense of responsibility for, or positive association with the ocean since access to it is limited by locality and privilege. 

Approach 

We propose to tackle this problem by creating a portal for global access to the joy and wonder of the ocean. We will build an app that increases understanding of our shared marine heritage through experiential learning and exploration-based gaming. The outcome of which will be to instill a value of respect and awe for the ocean in our shared global conscience. 

Who is the audience?

The core demographic for the initial version and human-centered design & development of the app will be high school kids in underserved inland schools - those that would have limited access to the ocean or ocean-related content. 

In the long term, we would like the game to have broad appeal and be accessible to the growing global audience of smartphone users. Making the game a mobile phone app already places it on the platform with the broadest and most immediate influence. We would like to reach people the ocean literacy community hasn’t before: beyond affluent, Western audiences that have the time and resources to spend on the ocean. Expansion of the project would involve establishing connections with local partners in underserved communities around the world to adapt the game to a broader swath of ages, working lifestyles, and cultures.

Why a game?

Games facilitate an experience lacking in other forms of experiential learning: they provide agency through repeated choice and consequence. A game isn’t just about following a set of rules or a story, but the unique path that you as a player carve within that framework. In order to tie the ocean to someone’s concept of their identity, they need to craft personal narratives associated with it, which the participatory structure of gaming does better than any other form of media.

A mobile phone game is also something that can be quick to pick up and play, something people can interact with in short spurts on their commute or their break, something that people can come back to and play over and over, which means the activation energy and threshold for entry for people is low.

Why our game?

We want to do for the ocean what Carmen Sandiego did for geography - give it a narrative, make it engaging, and make learning a joy-based experience that people will choose to pursue. By incorporating the insight, expertise, and content from the oceanographic and science communication communities from the outset of game development, we are uniquely poised to create a rich and relevant experience.

What is the game?

While much of the gameplay and design may change during actual implementation and development, the idea we have in mind is inspired by the edutainment series Carmen Sandiego. Rather than chase down an artifact-stealing spy/thief in major cities across the globe, our game will set players as a member of an oceanic research team. A round of play begins with the mission brief for the research vessel, which is steaming out at first light to the first site of exploration. The player, unfortunately, has overslept and missed the boat! Luckily, the player has their own vessel, a submarine, with which they can try to catch up and rejoin the expedition. However, when the player reaches the site, the research vessel has already gone on ahead! Not knowing what site to head to next, the player must explore the site (be it a wreck, or an interesting biome, or oceanographic event) to discover clues pointing to where the ship has gone. There will only be a limited amount of time before the ship finishes its mission and returns to dock. Make it back to the ship before that happens and you win!

Exploration of the different ocean sites will involve scanning through art-based scenes and clicking on different points of interest, which will bring up real imagery, video, and information about the sites. This point-and-click style exploration will also prompt trivia questions and puzzles about the site, which, once solved, will result in the player receiving a clue about the next destination of the research vessel.

Unknowns

Ultimately, the game in concept and the game in reality may diverge. We are, for the most part, scientists and not game designers. The needs and interests of the communities we seek to engage with may diverge from the concepts we have imagined. 

Resources 

We have access to the content and information necessary to support the meat of the game. We have spoken with the MIT Education Arcade and would develop the game as part of an undergraduate summer internship / research project, if funded.

Timeline

Phase 1: Apr - Jun

  • Organize project management and collaborations.

  • Aggregate content.

  • Recruit undergraduate development team.

  • Connect with inland Massachusetts high schools:

  • Assess needs and gaming practices of target audience.

  • Hold inception workshop between development team and target audience for initial design.

  • Create paper prototypes and get feedback from target audience (iterative).

Phase 2: Jun - Sep

  • Build digital prototype.

Phase 3: Sep - Nov

  • Playtesting and debugging.          

  • Deliverable: a usable alpha version of the game to be demonstrated at the National Ocean Exploration Forum at MIT.

  • Assessment of the game and its outcomes (conception of and relationship to the ocean) with target audience.

Team

Asha De Vos

Casey Zakroff

Tim Delaney

Gaultiero Spiro-Jaeger

Benjamin Bray

Raquel Fornasaro

Potential Advisors:

Samuel Liberty - Northeastern University

Wade Kimbrough - Northeastern University

Potential Collaborators:

Eric Klopfer - MIT Education Arcade

MIT Game Lab