Mapping Stories: Video games hit the trail

Table of Contents

Abstract............................................................................................................................ 1

Objective.......................................................................................................................... 1

Problem............................................................................................................................ 2

Theoretical Framework.................................................................................................... 2

Designing Significant Learning Environments................................................................. 4

Video Games............................................................................................................... 4

Handheld Augmented Reality Games.......................................................................... 5

Methods........................................................................................................................... 6

Mystery Trip Reborn through AR technology............................................................. 7

Implementations............................................................................................................... 8

First implementation -- 2005........................................................................................ 8

Second implementation -- 2006a.................................................................................. 9

Third implementation -- 2006b................................................................................... 10

Fourth implementation -- 2006c................................................................................. 11

Initial Findings............................................................................................................... 12

Discussion..................................................................................................................... 16

What this research offers education............................................................................ 17

References...................................................................................................................... 18


GPS-assisted augmented reality technologies open new frontiers for place-based pedagogies. Through a case study examining the activity of playing and iteratively redesigning a place-specific video game at a deep woods summer camp, this paper links sociocultural learning and place-based activity in order to consider how playing and designing place-based augmented reality games deeply embodies and situates learning. Participants simultaneously play, critique, and redesign place-based handheld augmented reality games -- comparable to multilevel geocaching, where players physically move through their environment and solve problems to attain goals. Active participation in the game/narrative of their experience gave participants increased connection to their culture.


This paper identifies general problems of engagement, physical disembodiment, and placelessness in traditional education. It then pulls on sociocultural theory, and research on embodiment to inform a design experiment in embodied learning in place. Finally, it explores what happens, regarding these factors, in a series of design narratives, where participants experience designing and playing handheld augmented reality games. This paper strives to add to the conversation on making learning meaningful, by offering the author's research experience using locative tools to aid in place-based pedagogies.

Unlike previous research in AR games that focus on learning that occurs through the playing of AR games, this pilot is part of a larger study that examines player-designed AR games as cultural artifacts that can help transfer and disseminate community narratives and cultural models (Holland & Quinn 1987; Holland 1998).


There is a growing technological divide between the structure of traditional classroom education and youth. Part of the problem is that traditional education often does not engage the students to the same extent that computer-generated activities do. The classroom is typically designed to be a placeless space; its only cultural significance is that it be flexible and generic enough to support the teaching of multiple, often-disconnected subjects taught with behaviorist or pseudo-constructivist teaching styles. Jay Lemke (2004), building on Bakhtin's notion of chronotopes, describes the challenge this way:

Classrooms are very small, cramped, over-crowded spaces that can afford not much resource of place for more than conversation, reading, writing, and a few simple activities with not very interesting materials. They were designed for mass education on the cheap at a time when education was mostly about basic literacy and not much else ... This design and its familiar chronotopes works against everything we know and value about significant learning. (2004)

What we know about significant learning is that it most often happens through significant experiences in significant places. Ultimately, space and place shape learning. Our education system has largely overlooked its importance. To adapt John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid's metaphor of the ripple to learning: "we notice the ripple and take the lake for granted. Yet surely the lake shapes the ripple more than the pebble shapes the lake" (2000: 138). We must better understand how we are situated in particular places -- for, as Clifford Geertz prompts, "no one lives in the world in general" (1996: 262).

Place-based technologies like GPS, Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Local are feeding the need to better understand our relations to space and place, and are ushering in a world of place-based technologies that further situate us in our places in the world in a manner that respects and presents the spaces and places of others. With lush interactive maps, Google Earth offers users the ability to visually move through land from perspectives previously impossible.

A handheld augmented reality video game platform may be a relatively inexpensive tool that fosters significant learning by situating it in relevant particular places. These video games use GPS technology to transform the players' movement through real space into movement in game space.

Theoretical Framework

There is a connection between sociocultural learning and place-based activity. Sociocultural activity-based learning theories of Activity Theory (Vygotsky 1978; Leon'tev 1979; Engeström 1990, Wertsch 1998), Situated Action (Suchman 1987, Lave 1988), and Distributed Cognition (Flor and Hutchins 1991, Pea 1993), and specifically, Cultural-Historical-Activity-Theory (CHAT) relate thinking, activity and experience, to community (Dewey 1910; Lave & Wenger 1991; Leont'ev 1978; Vygotsky 1978; Wertsch 1988). But these communities -- even communities of practice -- often  exist and take into serious account, the elements of place.

Our physical setting, whether designed or merely repurposed, serves as a tool or mode of representation. In Edwin Hutchins' (1995) seminal study of the navigation of a ship, he demonstrated how socially situated cognition works in a system of distributed beings and tools; however, the role of space in that study is often overlooked: the system he examined was for navigating a ship through geographical space, and the physical places of the participants on the ship had much to do with options and possibilities available in those places -- what Donald Norman (1993) refers to as affordances. Flor and Hutchins (1991) identify environment as a location of knowledge, and while Roy Pea (1993) focuses on tools and modes of representation, physical setting plays a significant role.

Within CHAT, Lave & Wenger (1991) look at Communities of Practice and assert that identity construction is closely tied to the activities a person is engaged in as bounded by the cultures of the groups that person is in. In other words, our existence is grounded in communities. What we like and dislike, our opinions and deepest heartfelt values, are based to a large extent on the activities and practices of those who came before us and those who currently live and interact with us. And we share these values, as Jerome Bruner (1996) notes "All viable cultures make provisions for conserving and passing on their 'works,'" (p. 24). Using culturalism, Bruner describes the informal interchange between institutions and individuals in the transmission and modification of culture. This informal interchange happens in many ways including stories, myths, artifacts, laws, and even games.

Places hold meaningful embodied stories. Evoking Michel de Certeau (1984), Henry Jenkins reminds us that cultures use stories to “explain and justify their occupation of geographic spaces” (Jenkins 2001: 3). On the ecological front, David A. Gruenewald (2003) calls for a reinvestment in place-placed pedagogies "so that the education of citizens might have some direct bearing on the wellbeing of the social and ecological places people actually inhabit" (p. 3). This leads back to Latour's (1997) focus on the activity of the body in space and time, and to a field of study called embodiment.

In a way, CHAT centers on the body without mentioning it. The body is the elephant in the room that few people notice. To address this shortcoming, I premise my use of embodiment on Paul Dourish's definition that puts embodied phenomena "in real time and real space" (2001: 101). J. Gibson notices the elephant and says “One sees the environment not just with the eyes but with the eyes in the head on the shoulders of a body that gets about. We look at details with the eyes, but we also look around with the mobile head, and we go-and-look with the mobile body.” (1979). Jay Lemke (2004) forefronts the body's activity, insisting that spatiality and temporality are the products of action.

I also include Bruner's (1996) acknowledgement of cultural artifacts like stories and histories, thereby drawing on the work of Yi Fu Tuan and others to swap place -- with all its culturally-significant nuances -- for space, (Streibel 1998; Tuan 1977, 1991). Embodiment, then, as I use it, requires physically-present action in a culturally-significant space.

Designing Significant Learning Environments

While real time is understood as fixed, spaces and places where the body can move and experience is malleable. Massey reminds us “our views of place are products of the society in which we live and to that extent the future of those views, even if constrained by circumstances, is in our hands” (1995: 50). Elizabeth Ellsworth (2005) examines museums, monuments, and other pedagogically charged environments outside of the classroom, maintaining that these open our aesthetic to teaching and learning in ways "largely unexplored by the official literature of educational research" (p. 9), spaces that "speak to and about pedagogy indirectly through design -- a means that reaches beyond the limiting scope of language" (p. 10). The "processural paths" through mediated environments offers new pedagogies of sensation in our experiences -- not "as having bodies" but "as bodies whose movements and sensations are crucial to our understandings" (p. 27). As an example of this, consider how you feel as you walk through a museum or art gallery.

Video Games

A problem in creating powerful pedagogical places, Jay Lemke (2005) notes, is its expense; he looks instead to video games and digital space. Henry Jenkins and Kurt Squire (2002) argue that video game designers are doing exactly what Ellsworth is talking about, albeit with a different degree of physicality:

Game worlds are totally constructed environments. Everything there was put on the screen for some purpose -- shaping the game play or contributing to the mood and atmosphere or encouraging performance, playfulness, competition, or collaboration. If games tell stories, they do so by organizing spatial features. If games stage combat, then players learn to scan their environments for competitive advantages. Game designers create immersive worlds with embedded rules and relationships among objects that enable dynamic experiences. (Jenkins & Squire 2002: 65)

Video games, then, can be these processural paths for learning. When one considers video games, in which players are active participants in virtual environments, making sense of the digital worlds presented to them in order to navigate through them to achieve the goals that they choose, it becomes clear that video games can be powerful learning environments (Gee 2003; Kafai 1995; Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, Gee 2005; Turkle 1995).

While video games can be very mentally engaging, and therefore fabulous virtual learning environments, traditional video games typically do not physically challenge players beyond the strain on fingers, wrists, eyes, necks, and backs. For the most part, they are sedentary activities, not much more active than watching television. Portable video game platforms, such as Nintendo's GameBoy and DS, or Sony's PlayStation Portable bring these sedentary activities to environments where they were previously impossible to access. Regardless of what, if any, role the "screen time" of such games have played in the obesity epidemic plaguing youth (Ebbeling, Pawlak, & Ludwig 2002), few, if any researchers look to traditional video games as a cure.

Over the past five years, however, exceptionally physical video games such as Dance, Dance, Revolution have been developed to the extent that they are now sometimes used in physical education classes and wellness programs (Kreimer 2004; Schott, G., & Hodgetts, D. 2006; Smith, B. K. 2005). These games have paved the way for other more physically engaging video games like Guitar Hero, accessories like the Eye-Toy, and platforms like Nintendo's Wii.

Although these newer games are physically engaging, they still do not situate players in their physical environment. Eye Toy sometimes gets close by blurring the line between real and virtual through a process of combining game graphics and video imagery of the player in the environment he or she is playing. But, since Eye Toy is a console game, rather than a portable or mobile game, the physical environment is usually a just room.

Handheld Augmented Reality Games

The trick for learning, it seems, is to design a physically engaging and thought-provoking activity in a culturally significant place that makes use of artifacts that one's community values. Learning requires more than content; it requires active social engagement in the practice of content. Here we hear the ghost of John Dewey. In "Pedagogical Praxis," David Shaffer (2004) suggests new technologies offer opportunities of Deweyian-type laboratories where "the focus is on learning and the conditions and processes that facilitate learning in technology-rich contexts writ large" -- in other words, opportunities for kids to learn how learning environments work (p. 1402). However, it is impractical for kids to do this at the level of either museums or professional video games. For museum creators to create immersive learning environments, they spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars walls to install theatrical sets, lighting, and sound stages. For modern video games, companies spend millions of dollars on professional sound studios and armies of graphic artists to mimic immersive environments. AR technology relies on existing place as an immersive environment, and merely uses GPS-triggered computer prompts to further immerse participants into the pre-existing, already educationally "thick" environments. This is much simpler, but is it effective? What happens in such an augmented place?

The general idea of an AR game, as our research group, the Local Games Lab, in Madison, Wisconsin is using it, is built on the constraints and affordances of the game system developed at MIT. The game engine was developed with a Games-to-Teach grant, and merges handheld computers (Pocket PC), with GPS (Global Positioning System) units. For the players, game space is real space, tracked by GPS and plotted onto the handheld computer (Klopfer & Squire in press; Squire & Jan in press; ).

The space that they move through is somewhat familiar — they know it as a place with recognizable and culturally familiar features — but the game reveals added or augmented content that is meaningful within the frame of the game. So, just as a tree might have the augmented meaning of a goal or safe area in a children’s game, a tree may be endowed with properties and meanings in these games, triggered by the GPS unit as they approach the tree in the game.

In the activity of playing an augmented reality game, players physically move their own bodies (instead of digital avatars) through culturally significant real-world environments collecting data to solve problems and attain goals. Over the past few years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Harvard, and MIT have been demonstrating the effective learning that takes place when children play these games (Squire & Jan in press; Klopfer & Squire 2003; Klopfer, Squire & Jenkins 2002; Klopfer & Squire in press; Klopfer, E., Perry, J., Squire, D., Jan, M. 2005; Dede, C. 2004).

As rich of a learning experience that playing an AR game may be, it is still essentially a consumption-based activity -- players move through real spaces according to frameworks laid out by the designers. If, however, as players complete a game, they also reflect on the experience, critique it, and redesign it for their peers, then they are participating in a much more significant level of learning.

Engaging in the process of designing a place-based AR game not only situates a person more deeply in a place through the embodied understanding that is needed to design a good game, but it also offers the agency that Maxine Greene argues is necessary in learning -- the ability to "see, shape and transform" one's world at a tangible level (1978: 193). Although the specific focus of the project examines the context of a deep woods camping environment, its principles apply to education and learning in both formal and informal environments.


To explore the use of learning and engagement with AR technology, I resurrected and updated a camping activity, called the Mystery Trip that had not been practiced for over 40 years at a deep woods camp in Maine. In order to take advantage of the opportunity to also engage the players in learning through design, I modified the Mystery Trip through a succession of design narratives (Hoadley 2002) to allow for iterative updates that included players' own cultural infusions into it.

With over 80 years of history and multiple artifacts of cultural transmission, the deep woods camp studied in this AR game project has many evolving cultural models. The design element of the handheld augmented reality place-based game as a cultural work reveals how its participants/designers incorporate existing community values while simultaneously reflecting cultural models of newer members.

The location of the Mystery Trip encompasses the area immediately surrounding a deep woods camp in New England. Over the past 90 years, campers have spent four-day camping trips hiking through a roughly sixteen-square-mile area of old mountains, forests, lakes, and streams. The land contains moose, bear, coyotes, deer, muskrat, mink, and a host of other animal and plant life. Recently, much of the area was purchased by a Conservation Trust to be protected from development and logging.

The roots of the Mystery Trip can be traced to the early 1920s, when campers were conscripted to help the local authorities track criminals. Price (1986) describes:

Towards the end of each summer, while the older boys were doing manly things on the Allagash or at Katahdin, we others took part in the wild pursuit of thieves, kidnappers, and other nefarious individuals.

That first summer of mine, quite unexpectedly, as we were about to set out on our regularly scheduled trips one Tuesday morning, we were all called together and the cold facts were put before us. Something terrible had happened; I am sure that I don't remember what. Plans had to be changed at the last moment, and all our energies were to be devoted to helping the local authorities, whoever they were, hunt down the criminals and bring them to justice. At the same time we would uphold the honor of the camp, and in all probability bring fame and fortune to ourselves and our counselors.

Assignments were quickly made. For the sake of expediency, the original trip groupings would be maintained, but we would travel unexpected paths. All of this had been well arranged beforehand; and I can visualize the counselors now constructing the complicated plot in the evenings after we had gone to bed. Now they were ready to play it out.

I can't remember much of that first Mystery Trip except that it rained. It rained all the time. The villains, whoever they were, had left clues and trails as they challenged us to track them down. Coded messages were found and deciphered. The net was slowly tightening. In tracking those undesirables, we learned more than we at the moment wanted to know about following trails in the woods. I clearly remember looking for stone cairns on the mountain side under what were certainly not the most favorable conditions.

It was the "not most favorable conditions" that led to the trip's demise, as rain destroyed some clues, and others were never quite found, which led to dead-ends in the trip. Additionally, these trips required considerable time and energy to set up, and staff were generally too busy to take the time to run through the route of a four-day trip and create and plant clues.

Mystery Trip Reborn through AR technology

Handheld augmented reality technology was identified as a technology that might lend itself to the reinstitution of the Mystery Trip. The GPS-enabled system might more clearly direct players through poorly mapped and un-mapped trails more clearly than maps. The pre-programmed location-based triggering of game items might alleviate the need to plant clues beforehand, and since players only need to get geographically close to "find" a clue rather than having to actually locate a small specific object in the woods, it would be less likely to have dead end trips (the technology also allows manual overrides by the trip leader, in case short-cuts need to be taken). Additionally, the novelty of high technology usage in a camp that has traditionally encouraged simpler technologies (like canoes, fire, and map/compass) might be compelling.

The affordances of the AR game technology makes possible a Hardy Boys type adventure, with location-based codes, pictures and video clues. It was conceivable to recreate a version of the Mystery Trip, where campers follow trails of "forgers, kidnappers, and thieves" finding clues, solving puzzles, and breaking codes, to discover "the loot." The design experience could allow participants -- small groups of 3-5 youth, and a counselor to test a game and offer feedback and suggestions, simultaneously taking on the roles of player and designer, to work together and independently in tasks related to camping, playing the game, and critiquing/redesigning the game.

To design such a game would require an understanding of the lore of the place -- jokes, clues, and insider knowledge that older campers will understand and younger campers are on the verge of comprehending -- the Vygotskian (1978) zone of proximal development for the Discourse of the community. It would require knowledge of physical and cultural geography of the landscape, an awareness of places that the current campers' older relatives may have stories about. It involves a loose narrative in the stylistic vein of the dry wit associated with the camp since its inception. In short, it would require the situated experience of the camp culture.

With this as a goal, the concept of AR games was introduced to the camp directors, and they agreed to try it. The key feature of The Mystery Trip AR game is the involvement of the campers in its design. In 2005, returning campers were approached with the idea and they spent a four-day trip mapping out potential game space, creating potential characters, and building a loose narrative line for the AR game. In 2006, campers played with and redesigned ideas in the game.


Over the course of two summers of data collection, observations, videotaped interviews, written journals, and the actual software iterations of the game as it developed and was refined were collected. Discourse Analysis (Gee 1992, 1996,1999) was employed to ascertain participants' engagement and involvement, as well as their understanding of the social/working communities they were participating in.

First implementation -- 2005

In the summer of 2005, before the game editor and engine were finished enough to easily create an AR game in a low-tech camp setting, a group of four boys, aged 12-14, and an adult counselor, headed out on a four-day hike to generate ideas for an AR game. They were charged to come up with potential characters and conflicts, and map out locations for game objects. Participants seemed to enjoy the challenge of coming up with a storyline, although they struggled with the task of tying a logical narrative together.

From their game notes, and interviews, I compiled the first iteration of the game. Its narrative "to find BigTop's cool" draws on fictionalized versions of current senior campers and staff in a quest-style narrative that embeds and explains mainstays of camp culture such as the story of "Axman Sam" (a ghost story favorite) in the course of conveying bad jokes, low-level teasing, and fantastic stories that propel the action of the game.

The narrative also introduces fictional new components invented by the boys to explain other questions of the area and history of the camp. For example, they invented Pat the Pirate, based on the story of ship crews who got their drinking water from the spring-fed lake at the camp. Although created as a model of one of the boys on the trip (Pat is a hydrophobic pirate), the character sketch quietly acknowledge s a deep cultural appreciation for the clean, drinkable water in the lake.

Second implementation -- 2006a

In the summer of 2006, three implementations were planned. Each was to include a fully functional game and the needed hardware: a Bluetooth-enabled Pocket PC handheld computer (Hewlett-Packard iPaq 4355), a Bluetooth GPS unit (BT-338 Bluetooth GPS Receiver), and, because I was concerned with sending delicate and expensive electronics into the woods with 10-16 year-olds, a waterproof, shock-proof, dust-proof, child-proof, floating, protective case (Otter Yellow 2600 Series Armor case) for the Pocket PC (see Figure 1). I assumed the GPS unit was sealed, and would be kept safely in a backpack.

Figure 1. Hardware used in 2006 implementations.

There was a thunderstorm the first day of the trip, and, of course, the Bluetooth GPS unit was not kept in a backpack, but was instead in a very soaked pants pocket and shorted out. I immediately ordered a new one (and a protective case), but even with "overnight" shipping, it wouldn't arrive for a week and a half. To work around this problem, I gave the group a traditional waterproof -- but not Bluetooth -- GPS unit (Magellan Explorist 400), and showed the group how to play the game in "manual mode."

Instead of playing the game over the course of the remaining three days of the trip, they played the game in manual mode that evening, and with tremendous guidance from the trip leader, spent three days hiking through the land creating an entirely new game, they called Mitchville: Where the War Began (see Figure 3 for an excerpt of their design notes). They used the GPS to move through the land, to map out some unmapped snowmobile trails, and to mark waypoints (locations) for new game objects, like deer hunting towers. Their new iteration of the game draws disparate elements together into a takeover story involving a rival camp to create the excitement of being "behind enemy lines" in the experience. For example, their game narrative transforms the hunting towers into sniper towers, and in certain ecologically robust areas, they instruct the players to "avoid the trails, as they're patrolled by the rival camp." See Figure 4 for a map of the game space players move through and the locations of triggered items.

Figure 3. Excerpt from 2006a game notes.

Figure 4. Map and events of "Mitchville: Where the War Began".

Third implementation -- 2006b

To fit in the schedule of the camp, the second implementation of the game for 2006 was set for the week following the first implementation. I spent many hours over the weekend inputting the new game. Despite "overnight" shipping, the replacement Bluetooth GPS had not yet arrived, so the group was sent out with the Pocket PC in its armored case, and the Magellan Explorist GPS, and asked to play the game as best as they could (in manual mode), to critique it, to come up with additional ideas for the game, and to take notes on the experience (see Figure 3 for an excerpt from their critique notes).

They played through the game in manual mode the first night, then over the course of the their four day trip, they play-acted out the game, following the course charted out in the game narrative. They followed the well-marked trails, and tried to find the poorly-marked ones. They bushwhacked as instructed in order to stay off the trails that the game indicated were patrolled, and stayed on the trails in environmentally sensitive areas. In addition to direct game-related activity, they also used the GPS to mark waypoints

However, due in part to the late night haze of that work, my relative inexperience with the game editor, and its beta-software bugs, the game contained a few playability errors where objects would not appear and/or disappear when they were supposed to. In manual mode, this was merely annoying, and did not adversely affect their understanding of the "gist" of the game, but had they played it with the GPS, it would have rendered the game unplayable.

Figure 3. Excerpts from participant critique of "Mitchville: Where the War Began".

Fourth implementation -- 2006c

I had the opportunity to lead the third implementation of 2006. The new Bluetooth GPS unit had arrived, was fully charged, and functioning. The game had been tested, and was working well, and I was anticipating a fantastic experience with rich data.

However, in my role at the camp, and in part to further development of the trip, I needed to meet the first morning with the Trail Coordinator of the Wildlands to determine where we could establish a new trail and campsite. I sent the armored Pocket PC and armored Bluetooth GPS unit with my trip group and another staff member, as they set out to begin the four-day trip with some trail work. I met them at the top of nearby mountain six hours later to find that the backlight of the Pocket PC was jammed on (due to poor packing in its protective case), and there were only a few hours of battery life left -- not enough to play the game as planned.

In order to, once again, work around the hardware problem, we played the game in manual mode before the battery died, and I explained the general idea of the game design. Over the course of the trip, we played out components of the game, using the Magellan Explorist GPS to follow trails marked out in previous trips. We also tested the practicality of the game by, for example, actually climbing the three mountains to "triangulate the location of the enemy's radio transmitter" to determine how physically demanding the game was designed to be. Additionally, we argued over the logic of the gameplay. A second task assigned to us (besides the game) was to establish and build a new campsite and trails in the Wildlands area. As we worked, we discussed further ideas for the game.

Initial Findings

Since 1996, as part of my role in camp, I have regularly collected informal video interviews concerning campers' experiences, trips, like and dislikes, and suggestions, in order to improve the camp experience. Consequently, campers are used to sitting down and having candid conversations with me, so interviewing them about their experience in this project was a familiar act for them. What was different was that I had a specific set of  thirteen questions that I referred to in the interview. In interviews of the thirteen participants, rather than interrupt the natural flow of the conversation with rigid formal questions, I rephrased some of them to fit the tone and direction of each camper and the stories they wanted to tell. The gist, or content of each question remained intact.

I transposed the video into text, and reviewed it, looking for themes and ideas that began to recur. From these thirteen interviews, eight themes emerged that were significant.

Š      Fun: indications of engagement and enjoyment.

Š      Technology: references to learning technology.

Š      Problem-solving: discussions of active solution-finding.

Š      Confidence: effects of the locative technology on their ability and willingness to try new things or take "the path less-traveled."

Š      Place: suggestions of a deeper connection to the land that they moved through.

Š      Motivation: signifiers of an increased motivation to work harder than they typically might.

Š      Technical Problems: issues with hardware and software that affected their experience negatively

Š      Camp Culture: connection to trip group, camp group, or camp history.

Some of these themes were quantitatively significant, and some were qualitatively significant. For example, in the interviews, campers did not explicitly talk a lot about technical problems, but each trip was plagued with hardware problems that significantly affected their ability to play the AR game as intended. Each trip had to improvise accordingly in order to overcome these problems. Rather than ignore the experience as incomplete, or not useful, I chose to dig past the quantitative data to determine deeper underlying issues or themes. As an example, rather than look only at the game layer, I noticed that simply having the GPS, boosted participants' confidence to go off-trail and minimized their fear of getting lost. Table 1 displays interview questions, emergent themes, and how often themes were reflected for each question.



prob. solving





camp culture










Q1 What five things (or more?) did you learn in today's experience?









Q2 What technology did you use?









Q3 How did the technology assist with your experiences today?









Q4 Did you have any problems? How were you able to work around them?









Q5 How did the GPS affect the way you saw the land?









Q6 What did you learn about the land that you might not have learned without the GPS?









Q7 How did the game project affect the way you saw the land?









Q8 What did you learn about the land that you might not have learned without the game project?









Q9 How did the GPS affect the way you saw others on your trip?









Q10 How did the game project affect the way you saw others on the trip?









Q11 What did you learn about Flying Moose Lodge, or being a camper at FML today?









Q12 How did the technology, or game project, play into that learning?









Q13 Do you think this project (the GPS and/or the game) is worth continuing, or not?









Follow-up questions ("Why" or "Give Example" questions)









Sum of thematic utterances

Table 1. Themes that emerged in responses to interview questions.

Table 2 displays interview answers that are representative of the eight themes. The left column indicates the themes represented in the response, and the right column indicates the question being responded to, the respondent, and their response with key words and phrases in bold.

Representative Responses

Codes: 1 fun; 2 technology; 3 problem solving; 4 confidence; 5 place; 6 motivation; 7 tech. problems; 8 culture

1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8

Q3 Amos: It helped us from getting lost and it helped map out the area better. It's cool with the game that we can have Chris [director] radioing in to say "you can't go there" so you better go over here, and you couldn't do that like 10-20 years ago.

1, 2, 4, 5, 6

Q12 Brad [counselor]: It allowed me to go a lot further and worry less about official campsites and marked trails, so I got to know the area a lot better than I probably would have. The GPS helped with that, but I would have had a pretty good experience with just the map and compass. The game project was just an additional spur to go on to new places. Like when it said "Go to the top of Great Pond Mountain, but stay off the trail because they're watching them" -- had that not been a part of it we almost certainly would have just gone up the regular trail. It was cool because we went up the stream, and had to navigate from point A to point B, and we bumped into the trail near the top, and said "Oh! we shouldn't take it!" They were into it! I like that.

1, 4, 5, 6

QFU Carl: You could go deeper into the woods, without as much worrying, and seeing some of the more natural stuff off the trail. And it's also cool, like on a stationary trip, because it's cool to watch your movement and progressing along in an area, and seeing how far you've gone because on a map it sometimes doesn't look as impressive. Also you feel a bit more confident about taking less used routes or smaller routes.

1, 5, 6, 8

Q13 Doug: It made it really fun. On other trips it's more "get through it" and notice the things around you, but for this it was that and there was a story behind it more.

3, 6, 8

Q9 Mark [counselor]: It was another aspect of them, beyond the role of them as a camper. It changed their level of interest. The attention for that project -- it's a different kind of attention. It's a whole different skill. And you've got writing skills, and knowing what's funny and stuff like that.

3, 5, 6

QFU Earl: Well you're playing a game, but you're also hiking in the wilderness, and the wilderness has a lot to offer... the game gives you a task/goals.

6, 8

Q11 Doug: We don't like [the rival camp]. We have courage. We take things. Like I kept saying to myself "Power Through" when we were going through big thorny bushes, to just power through it. Keep going. Other camps might take pity a bit more. Instead of saying "we gotta get there and just suck it up."

5, 6

Q11 Fred: When I get back home, I have a game that Mom said I could buy, but now probably I'll do a hike or something. ... All around you is stuff that was here before...

3, 5, 8

Q10 Doug: There was more teamwork, like when we had discussions about directions and you'd think we had to go one way, and they said, no, the other way, and then they'd show you on the map.

1, 4, 5, 6, 8

Q8 Greg: Bushwhacking is really hard, and you should never do it in flip-flops. I never bushwhacked before. Last Wildlands trip was more relaxed because we didn't have the GPS or game, and we didn't find Mitchville. We didn't move as much then. We just went there and went up to Mead [Mountain] and Great Pond [Mountain], and went around there. We didn't got to Flying Moose mountain. Going to Flying Moose mountain was fun because I'm a Mooser.

1, 6

Q7 Hank: We had to bushwhack more. We were supposed to avoid the sniper towers, but we did it backwards. We'd joke about the plot of the game,

3, 4, 5

Q7 Idra: I was always thinking about how we could turn the land, like using it in the game, like when we saw the saw the hunter's towers I knew we could use those in the game.

1, 3, 5, 8

Q7 Fred: I thought about what could be hidden here, what could happen here, etc. It was fun, because we did it for John. Although we got more tired the second day

1, 4, 5

Q6 Carl: The GPS made it more enjoyable with the tracking of our path and seeing where we were. You're less likely to get lost with the GPS.

4, 5, 6

Q6 Jack: The altitude, definitely, like how high we were, and uh, we probably wouldn't have found our way back too well. 'Cuz we had to do a lot of bushwhacking. When we don't have it, unless you have a map and compass, it's like aimlessly walking. If we have the GPS it's like you're actually trying to go somewhere. Like we're actually know the direction we're going, like how high we need to go, and how high we are. You have a basic general sense of where you are.

4, 5

Q6 Fred: There are many ways to get somewhere. Distance is skewed. In bushwhacking -- you don't really know where you are on a map, but with a GPS you can see.

1, 4, 5, 6

Q5 Kris: We knew where we were and how fast we'd get to the next spot. I enjoyed that. It's a hassle to not know where you are -- convenience too. It's more portable [than a map].

1, 2, 6

Q3 Levi: the GPS messages in the game make you want to go further as if it were a real life situation. In a regular hiking trip it's like "yeah, we're gonna climb this mountain" but in the game it's like "Yeah, we HAVE TO climb up the mountain to get this done!" Do you think that added to the experience? yeah definitely. If you're going to speed up for no reason, it wouldn't be fun, but with this it's part of the game. It's fun.

3 ,6

Q3 Doug: on a regular trip you just want to get to the next campsite, but on this you have to get to this mountain to stop the radio signals then you have to go to this one and that one, but on a trip that'd just be to get to the next campsite This was more do it so you can do something in the game, so you could finish the game and see what happens next.

2, 3, 6

3 Earl: we were thinking about assisting other people, making waypoints, etc. gave a goal or purpose. the gps, it really does get rid of those questions "are we there yet" etc. that the counselor's despise. It even has a clock on it, so you can't ask "what time is it?"

1, 2, 4, 5, 8

Q11 Levi: You can actually use technology camping. It shows that we're getting a little bit more modern. Maybe a little bit more expensive. It makes you think that these trips are supposed to be for fun rather than like "Yeah we're gonna hike!"

Table 2. Representative responses that address themes.

In addition to the interview responses, I had taken extensive research notes before, during, and after each implementation.  Those notes highlighted three issues above all others -- the excitement and frustration of using computer and GPS technology, the interest in applying participants' areas of expertise in video game to an outdoor activity, and the interpersonal thrill of infusing the game narratives with insider culture. I discuss the results below.

Fun: Engagement and Enjoyment Value. In camp behavior and actions of the participants suggest that they enjoyed interacting with the technology and incorporating the added task of designing a game into their camping experience. They joked about specific stories that their peers came up with for the game that were augmented onto their camping experience. They boasted about their trip experiences while withholding game strategies and secrets. This in-camp chatter resulted in numerous requests by all ages of campers to be involved in upcoming AR game implementations, as well as requests by parents who heard of the game in letters home and wanted their children involved.

Technology: Novelty of "taboo" technology. For a camp that survives without electricity or telephone, and that bans iPods, GameBoys, and other electronic devices, the introduction of a Pocket PC and GPS game was very exciting. Participants were excited to apply and demonstrate their video game skills to a project of their own. Parents, as well, expressed great interest (and relief) in bringing video games outside. The camp owners, worried about rising fuel costs, were happy to send more trips that hiked out of camp, and made richer use of the surrounding country, rather than van them hundreds of miles away to more "exotic" locations.

Problem-solving: Situated Action. Weather, weariness, group social problems, and hardware failures require impromptu adjustments. In each implementation, the groups had to think on their feet in order to deal with changing weather patterns and, since the initial games were created without being tested, they had to wrestle with the game creators' underestimation of the amount of  hiking that was practical. One of the groups had to work through problems in group dynamics, where a participant took ownership and "hogged" the hardware. They all had to learn to operate the equipment with minimal instruction, and members of each group learned far more about the hardware and software than was required for the game. When the hardware failed (dead batteries and water-damage), groups had to figure out what to do next. The first spent the rest of their trip creating another game. The second determined to continue the game based on their memory of the initial manual-mode run-through of it. And the third trip focused on using the locative technology (backup GPS) to develop trails and campsites, and test alternate routes to finish the game.

Confidence: Security in locative devices. For campers, knowing where they are alleviates much of their stress, and boosts their confidence to go further. Many spoke of the immediate gratification and confidence in knowing exactly where they were with the GPS, rather than surmising that they were "somewhere between" two landmarks on a map; this was especially helpful when they had to leave established trails in order to re-create a trail that had been clear-cut, and had grown over thick with saplings. The discomfort of marking a trail and the fear of getting lost in within thousands of acres of brush was assuaged because they felt they could follow their tracks out of whatever mess they got into with the help of the GPS.

Place: Knowing where they are further connects them to place. Being able to have a more filled-in picture of where they are enhances the connection between a map's overview and the tree-by tree view of trail and woods. It makes the map more meaningful by adding layers of resolution. Since many of the trails are traditional camp trails, and not marked on maps, they were seen as placeless tunnels of trees or land between recognizable places. The trails themselves were not places, or even parts of places, but were simply connecting routes. Being able to see  the routes plotted out on the GPS as they hiked broke up the routes, much as one might add dots between dots in a connect-the-dots puzzle. For example, as a group followed a streambed, they found a set of small waterfalls they plotted and named "Butt-Crack Falls" because of its shape. On a map afterwards, because they had seen it on the GPS, they could more accurately point out where along the stream it existed. And because they had "discovered" and named it, it was embedded more deeply in their memory than many other points on their hikes.

Motivation: The game narrative, as well as accurate and easy measurement inspires activity. The ability to measure how fast they could go, how fast they climb, how many miles they hike, etc. motivated them to hike more than they felt they typically would, and to push their limits in a tangibly measurable way. Many expressed that the interest to see what happens next in the game, propelled them along. Instead of just hiking to the next mountain, they were participants in a hero quest to save the camp. This also increased their sense of belonging in the camp community, and prompted an increased role in the making of camp culture. For example, the second group acted out their interpretation of the game narrative they experienced in a dramatic production that the rest of the camp joked about and referred fondly to throughout the remainder of the summer.

Technical Problems: The recurrence of technical problems with having electronics in the hands of young campers in the woods suggests that this may not yet be ready for mainstream usage. As the person responsible for the technical aspects (and associated expenditures of time and finances), this was significant to me, although it was not talked about as often by the participants as some of the other themes. The difference in reactions is striking. While it was the number one headache for me, the participants took it in stride as part of the experience. In the design notes that the first group created, they wrote the dying battery into the game narrative.

Camp Culture: Seeing themselves as part of a group that has a deep connection to the land increased their connection to both the land, and to the group. This strikes me as being the biggest promise of the AR game once the hardware glitches are overcome. There was a deep but understated pride in the first group in their creation of Mitchville: Where the War Began, and a level of envy and admiration in subsequent trips. Through the game narrative, participants learned the cultural models (Holland & Quinn 1987) of campers by taking on roles of "Moosers" -- a tough but rag-tag team of heroes who willingly, in the words of Doug, "power through" hardships in the interest of saving the community. Older campers who had not been on the trips expressed great interest in playing and modifying the game on weekends, or instead of their planned upcoming trip. Participants unanimously praised the game and insisted it be continued and incorporated into the camp's stable of trips. Many expressed that it increased their understanding and appreciation of the camp and its history and culture.


The use of locative technologies, such as GPS, helped participants develop a greater understanding and connection to place. It did this by increasing the participants' awareness of where they are in the geographical world, thereby lowering their sense of uncertainty, and reassuring them that they are not lost and are on the right track (or are at least on some mapped out track). This sense of security increased their confidence and willingness to take risks -- much as training wheels builds confidence in learning to ride a bike.

The design and playing of AR games -- in this case, Wild Moose and Mitchville: Where the War Began -- increased participants' connection to the camp and its surrounding lands, as well as the culture and cultural models of the camp. Participants were eager to use their knowledge and expertise (as insiders in the camp culture, and as gamers) in order to apply it to the creation of a game narrative that acted as cultural artifact to propagate the cultural models of the camp community.

What this research offers education

This research adds to the body of research that demonstrates that motivation and identity is important in learning. We know that people often enjoy, and get deeply involved in, playing games for fun and competition, and in solving puzzles for the joy and feelings of competency in solving them. We know that they like a good story, and sometimes bear discomfort in order to hear the end. We know too that people are generally social creatures and want to belong in a community. When people feel that they are part of a community, they will often work to build, promote, and defend it. We know that many stories and communities are traditionally rooted in geographical places. We know that all these things happen naturally, and somewhat haphazardly, in human cultures, and through the sum of them we are motivated to learn to become members of our respective communities.

Playing and designing augmented reality games may be a possible structure or framework to tie all these things -- stories, puzzles, games, community, and place -- together in such a way to more formally scaffold the natural process of learning. In offering people the opportunity to play together, and design games that highlight the cultural significance of their identities and place, we may find that they are more motivated to care for each other as fellow community members, and to care more for their local environment as it takes on more cultural significance to the community they are members of, and thereby becomes more important to them. I see this as a possible door to greater environmental stewardship -- what starts as a local value, may grow into a global value.

While AR technology for handhelds has much maturing to undergo before it can become a mainstream tool, the formula for it to work is in place. The palm-sized platform is becoming more affordable and ubiquitous, as seen in the popularity of mobile phones throughout the world, even in developing nations. Modern phones have the necessary components -- location awareness and computing power -- to run AR games. The software is slowly developing, and promises to one day be accessible to users of modest technical knowledge, while at the same time the general population is becoming more technologically savvy.

In the not-too-distant future, every student could have constant access to handheld locative technologies that help them further connect to their local environments. They could learn both by solving puzzles and following AR game narratives created by their peers, and through the complex but rewarding process of designing AR games for their peer groups.


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