Visitors can fight off invading armies, run restaurants and find missing treasure at Red Butte Garden this spring, all with the help of a smart phone.
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The garden released the first two of its five interactive video games at the beginning of the month. These fantasy-like games, which can only be played on their grounds, combine virtual storylines with specific areas of the garden to create new ways to learn about Red Butte. This is part of a larger goal to develop technology that gets older kids more interested.
During a conference for the American Public Garden Association, members of Red Butte met people from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology who were looking for locations to test out TaleBlazer, the platform through which these games are available. This project, funded by the National Science Foundation, includes other similar institutions, such as the San Diego Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Melissa Stamp, an education assistant, said the video games are a spin on, but won’t altogether replace, traditional tours.
“It’s meant to be interactive, so you’re not just staring a screen,” she said. “Games are a great way to learn, to stay engaged, to remain motivated, and it’s fun using fantasy and imagination that you don’t necessarily get from a tour.”
In the game “Lady Nightshade and the Invaders,” users learn about native plants and invasive species while exploring Red Butte’s water pavilion. While the games are targeted to kids in their pre-teen years, Stamp said many of the garden’s staff and university students have also enjoyed playing them.
Ian Sohl, a junior in physics and computer science and an avid gamer, said he thinks the games are a great idea as long as they educate users about the nature around Red Butte.
“There’s this incredible stimulation happening that happens in games that a lot of traditional museums aren’t taking advantage of,” Sohl said.
Stamp said the garden has received some negative feedback from parents about the introduction of these games, which she understands.
“If I’m at Red Butte, I don’t want my head looking at a screen,” she said. “I want to enjoy this place without the presence of technology and the computer.”
Game play lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, leaving time for kids to interact in the garden after. Stamp said children have given better reviews than their parents.
The game subjects were decided by a team of Red Butte staff. Stamp, who was part of that group, said they matched Red Butte locations to Utah CORE curriculum of what kids from fifth to seventh grade are learning in school.
The games are free on any GPS-enabled tablet or smartphone through the TaleBlazer app, available through the Google Play Store or the App Store. The next game, “Water Games,” will be released April 1 and will explore water conservation.
Red Butte Garden Games:
-“Lady Nightshade and the Invaders”
For more information, such as individual game ratings and difficulty levels, check out Red Butte Garden’s website at http://www.redbuttegarden.org/taleblazer.