This week’s visit to the American Museum of Natural History was a new experience because the past few museums apps that I have used have either been a bust(Guggenheim) or not “out there” (Met-just website). For so many reasons the apps at the AMNH not only wowed us as a group but seemed to bring people into the exhibit in new and exciting ways. The app MicroRangers is supposed to work only within the physical space of the museum and through the use of avatars projected onto an explorer coin, which allows the user to help save the microcosm. The app asks users to go through the exhibit and following missions that leads the user to different dioramas and help save the animal or life that is in the diorama. For example, when walking through the mammal kingdom I chose the Rabid Raccoon mission. Where the app asked me to first find the exhibit and scans the raccoon which then leads the avatar to explain your mission. The avatar asked me to figure out if there was a rabid raccoon (while teaching how to tell) and then using a mini- game to help save the remaining unaffected raccoons by throwing them vaccines to eat.
The idea behind the app is great! It carries out a two- fold experience, it first encourages people to spend time and explore the exhibit that, because it is on the way to a bigger exhibit, is usually just passed by. And it also is a new way for the museum to teach the user about climate change and allow the user to be a part of the fight against climate change showing them there are things that everyone can do. The app takes a new and interesting approach to getting people involved in cyber activism. The Ranger app succeeds brilliantly in invoking action through play and thought through thinking about issues not actually displayed inside of the exhibit.
What interested me the most about the MicroRangers app is the fact that it was a mixed accomplishment, that is to say, there were many people involved in the making of the app. While this is usually the case, here it was special because it was a collaboration between the museum staff and two groups of high school kids. The story line of the game was developed over time by these high school kids to give them a multi- faceted educational experience. They had to familiarize themselves with the entirety of the museum and think of possible stories and problems with the microbial ecosystems. This covered history, museum studies, and biology. Then they moved on to help develop the game- which gave them skills in technology and app development. In the game they continued helping adding their own voices as the games different voices- through the use of the museums sound rooms they developed further skill and recognition of voice technologies. In addition, it was not the museum who made the final decisions but rather the kids through their discourse and testing that came up with all the different choices for the app e.g. the color of the avatar being yellow because red would look scary. Lucky for the museum that the AMNH is large enough to have most of the systems in house as to bring the cost down. For example, the 3D features of the game were created through the collaboration with the exhibition department.
There are certain things within the game that show a clear use of user experience. The idea that the game could very well be expanded throughout the museum is great, however forcing people to go up the stairs and through the over 20 buildings that makes up the museum would just get people lost and cause them to be frustrated and give up the game. Therefore, it was a very smart decision to keep this app all on one floor in exhibits that are near each other. Additionally the fact that the game is free is a huge plus. Even more so is the fact that there is usually a person standing at the entrance of the exhibit talking people through the game and explaining exactly how all the different part works. The only downside for these people who choose not to go upstairs and sign up for the coin is the fact that they miss the cool factor of having the heavy coin.( Even though the paper postcard works just the same.)
What was cool was the amount of augmented reality in the app. As Hannah said there are three different uses of AR- the avatar that appears floating on top of the coin; the game that similar to Pokémon Go moves with you so that you can for example kill all the bad floating microbes; and the AR that puts you inside the animals. While integrating everything must have been challenging on all parties, it was a pleasure to see my classmates having a good time. This shows that while the game may have been intended for kids 7+ years old, older people can have just as much fun. Additionally, it was hilarious to see how the drawing turned 3D which wowed us just as much. No one had expected what we were drawing to suddenly pop up in 3D with everything that we drew and the specific colors that we drew it in. For me it was a very rare, and welcome, sight to see the energy being put into drawing kids and teens into the museum be so successful and so well designed that it could have such an effect on adults.
Even though I hadn’t been to the AMNH in a long time it has always been my favorite museum- partly because of the enormity of information and history that the museum holds and mainly because of the fascination and joy I had every time I went to the Hayden Planetarium. Needless to say, every memory I had of the museum stayed true and exceeded all my expectations.