When you think about the parks in your city, you have probably noted that each one has its distinct flavor. There’s the park with the bike trails where you know you’ll bump into several of your neighbors on a Sunday morning. You distinguish between the parks with the baseball diamonds and those with the flower gardens. Basically, you come to know what to expect from your city parks. In San Diego, a creative game designer took on the challenge of transforming residents’ perceptions of a park, whether they were visitors or had lived there all their lives.
In 2010, Ken Eklund unleashed a “historical fiction game” for Balboa Park, working with Rich Cherry the former director of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative. As a designer for immersive alternate reality games and experiences, Eklund, explained the elements of the innovative project and important lessons learned in a guest post for Museum 2.0.
Venturing into Balboa Park in the fall of 2010, visitors noticed a decal for the “GISKIN ANOMALY SURVEY PROJECT” stuck to a window in the park. The sticker included an 800 number (877-737-3132) and a three-digit ID number (131). When park visitors dial the 800 number and ID, they hear a character named Pandora who tracks down “anomalies,” then they leave messages for someone named Drake who decodes them. The anomalies are described as ghost thoughts from the past left by people who were in Balboa Park during World War Two and still somehow tethered to the landscape.
Anyone with a cell phone can take part in this historical fiction narrative experience. You can play anytime and even stop in the middle to tour the museum or get lunch and return to your spot in the game later on. GISKIN ANOMALY ended up a winner of the American Association of Museums’ silver MUSE award in the Games/Augmented Reality category.
When asked what surprised him the most about the undertaking of Giskin Anomaly, and what he learned from the San Diego community throughout the process, Eklund said that initially, he was concerned that the game was too odd or complex to attract people to the park just to play the game. In retrospect, however, he says there was no need to worry. On the first day alone, 1,000 calls were placed to the 800 number. “Lesson# 1: Have faith in your community. If you think something’s cool, chances are they will too.”
Also, the game was able to attract a wide variety of the population since it was so widely accessible. While kids enjoyed the anticipation of finding markers along the way, they might not have paid that much attention to the well-crafted storyline. Players follow Pandora’s directions to find markers that show Drake exactly where an anomaly is located, and Eklund was thankful they put effort into the marker aspect. While getting permission to place simple plastic surveyor’s stakes in a city park is not easy, it was essential for game engagement. Finding the stake became a simple moment of joy for the player. Lesson # 2: Don’t compromise on the gameplay.
The mature crowd may have noticed the ambient sounds behind the character’ calls that was highly authentic to the location which helps to intensify the experience. Other aspects of the game tested seasoned park-goers’ knowledge about the area or introduced them to trivia they never knew. Eklund realized he didn’t need to use prizes as incentives in this game. He designed the game with multiple motivators, and it worked.
Lastly, Eklund suggests that “GISKIN works well because, at heart, it taps into something mythic; we wish places really could talk and tell us about events that happened there and the people who were there before us.” He poses the question, and it’s a good one: What myths are working for you in your game or participatory project? If they are not working , try to determine why and change things up. Get creative about getting citizens involved.
Check out Giskin Anomaly >>