Green Door Labs: THE BLOG

Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.

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“These are a few of my favorite things”… of 2014

A Year in Review! Aka: my favorite games and culture stuff of 2014

HAPPY 2015!!

58787992I know… it’s February. I’m late… but I just want to talk about all of my favorite trends, projects and discoveries at the Labs of 2014 so I’m claiming February in-bounds!

So, Green Door… what was new in 2014??



These teen bloggers team up to track down the infamous “FOX”

First and foremost this year Green Door released the League of Extraordinary Bloggers with the fabulous Boston Children’s Museum and the Freeman Foundation Asian Culture Exhibit Series. There were 5 exhibits that will travel to 40 museums: So. much. content!! And in fact what we found was that the content spoke for itself. It ended up being a mobile choose-your-own-adventure, interactive story where (of course) you must Carmen SanDiego yourself across SouthEast Asia to capture a criminal mastermind.

I found that there are a number of games this year trying out the interactive storytelling/choose-your-own adventure approach. Fear ye not the text!! 80 days by Inkle studios was a great mobile choose-your-own and Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey, winner in the 2014 G4C conference used animation to follow this interactive story/choose your own format. For a more mainstream game but with a similar approach, Man vs. Wild- the game- lets people choose how to survive. Even Neil Patrick Harris just released a completely incredible Choose Your Own Autobiography: “Tired of Memoirs that only tell you what REALLY happened” Ummm YES! We may all be choosing a lot of our own adventures in 2015.


storycodelogoI’ve been seeing a lot of these great MULTI platform ways of communicating a story. What if you use your app as a controller for an interactive wall? What if your wall interacted with a paper storybook? Why can’t a story be a game? Why can’t a game be a movie? Media platforms are becoming inexpensive enough that we can afford to experiment with more than one format for a project. Storycode is a great organization that’s connecting producers in lots of different mediums to collaborate on these trans-media projects.

Stratford Paper prototype V2

Benjamin Foxinsquirrel SquirreLee of Stratford Hall

For one of our projects this year, SquirreLee University for Stratford Hall in Virginia, we combined digital and analog tools. Visitors are given a chair cushion to sit on with a sewn-in pocket holding paper “study guide”, a pencil and a device with a pre-loaded app. The app guides them through their research project with more high-quality images, interactivity and flexibility than we could have done with a paper guide but the cushion and study guide encourages students to sit on the floor, draw, write, talk to others and compare notes, all of which are best done with paper and pen.

When We Were Young, There Was A War: was a project where two great documentary filmmakers were looking for ways to make their films more interactive. They approached us about building games to help tell the story but the best starting place was actually to make the films themselves interactive- and it’s not hard to do with platforms like Interlude or even YouTube.

Others are catching the video transmedia bug and we’re seeing videos that have elements of games. Infinity created an interactive video where a character called you on your own phone to complete a story (, released in 2013). Coldplay even tried their hand at a video game/music video: This blog in no way condones the music of Coldplay but this is a good example of a transmedia music video. Mashable says we’re going to see a lot more of this:

It was a cool year to watch objects starting to interact with digital media with things like digital animation that requires physically arranging digital devices. It’s hard to explain, but check this out:

disney-infinity-figurinesIn a 2012 trip to Japan I saw video games that interacted with card decks- but hey that’s Japan… they have interactive toilets. This week I was completely captivated at Target with Disney’s Infinity, a platform that activates video games with toys. It’s ALLLL the nerdiness at once!! Collecting Superhero/Cartoon figurines and then… playing video games with said figurines? Basically you’re giving people an excuse to buy toys. “Sorry guys, I had to buy all of the Avengers dolls so I could finish the game. No way, I would totally never buy a Captain America collectable doll on my own.” Disney is going to make a fortune on that.


2013 was a year of constant buzz about Oculus Rift. They’d released a developer version of the software, only certain people had “rigs” that they could experiment with and it was super super awesome if you knew someone who had it because you couldn’t buy one. This thing was going to revolutionize gameplay. It’s the equivalent of a modern stereoscope and if you haven’t heres-what-happened-when-we-strapped-a-bunch-of-people-into-the-oculus-rift-virtual-reality-headsetseen it before, it’s right here:

I was lucky enough to know two talented designers building 3d renderings of museums. Scott Tongue worked with the Becker College design team to build a gorgeous rendering of the Worcester Museum of Art: and Cody Coltharp worked with Artlab+ at the Smithsonian to make a virtual Hirshhorn:

Then… in March of 2014… Facebook bought Oculus. What Facebook wanted with Oculus, I couldn’t figure out. They gave us a lot of jargon-y “wave of the future” language but since then, it’s seemed to go the way of snapchat. i.e.: nowhere. I don’t hear people buzzing about Oculus much anymore. Even this week the CEO of Oculus said that a “consumer version is very close”.

Very close. Any day now. Just hang in there. We’ll release this product when we feel like it. You’re as excited as you were in 2012 right? Just believe in Facebook. Everyone trusts Facebook, right?google-cardboard-9921

But it doesn’t really matter anymore because then Google figured out how to do it with an android and cardboard:

Thanks Google!!

I’m not much on the maker scene. To me it has meant a proliferation of strange electronics and plastic shelf decorations: the machined, 3-D printed equivalent of bud vases that are really a jelly jar with masking tape and shoe polish. But this… this is interesting: There’s a new company with promising technology. Sorry, was bought out by a multimillion-dollar conglomerate. Conglomerate drags its feet and… actually nevermind we can do this ourselves now with Unity and cardboard. Thanks anyways.

+1 for Google and the maker movement.


About 5 years ago, my husband and I had this amazing idea: what if we locked you in a room and you had to get out? What if there was a storyline and you had to look at evidence and solve puzzles to get out?? Wouldn’t that be amazing??

In our infinite wisdom, we decided that we could never make enough off of a game like that to support it. Who would let us lock them in a room? Which room? And how do we build it? Too much overhead. p_sphere01

Meanwhile… in Europe… some fantastic and enterprising game designers such as Hit Hunt, Puzzle Break and Adventure Rooms figured out how to streamline the process so that they could sell tickets and now… TA DAAAA!! You can get locked in a room in pretty much any major city in the world. Even CNBC agrees that this is a major gaming trend! ( which may mean that it’s already jumped the shark… but they’re so cool and so fun that I don’t think so.

You can read more about my own Escape Room experiences in London and Paris in my blog post a few months ago:


pem-invasion-phoneOkay so full disclosure: we built a platform. And I love it. I’ve been talking a lot about platforms in the last year because I think they’re important for educational game designers and In fact, you can read  my blog post that gets more specifically into my favorite game design platforms from the Serious Play conference this summer:

So obviously I see this as enough of a trend to build our own platform. BUT… why build an Edventure Builder? Not for my health, it was because I NEEDED A GAMES CMS. We were bleeding ourselves dry building games from scratch all the time. Museums and educators have constantly changing content and news flash: nonprofit education organizations do not typically have massive budgets for games. What’s a girl to do? re-hire your dev freelancers to make content changes? Take the 5 years and learn to program so I can make the edits myself? Add a content-update budget into the already stretched-thin budget of museums and libraries? No way. We needed a CMS.

And we weren’t the only ones. This year I’ve seen other organizations like Baltimore Science Museum and the Getty also working on their own game design CMS’s for exactly the same reasons: they need to make content changes. I’m seeing really top-notch games being built off of platforms. One of my favorite games of the year, Counting Kingdom was built with Playmaker. Cat Astro was made with Dame. As Paul Ogby says in his blog, “Why take the time to create a 2D level editor when others have already spent countless hours of their life making great ones?” Most educators are NOT trying to become ace game developers, they just want a game. This is something else that I talked about in a blog post this year, giving props and some game advice to Barbie:–gamedev-1373

And so what about 2015? 

58787933I REALLY want to push transmedia. What can I do if I have a museum collection and a game designer and an artist…and a light designer and maybe a director, a band and 300 swing dancers. What could we do with that?? What could we build if we used alllll the arts???

And I want to stretch the limits of our platform, the Edventure Builder. Even now we’re using it to test a “closer looking” image game for kids, an Oregon Trail spin-off and fictional tours of Boston. There are much more creative storytelling things we could be doing with this than just regular old scavenger hunts- and I’m on a tear. Not only that, how can we get more kids building games for others to explore museums, libraries, cities and universities?

So what will you be working on?? Any trends I missed for 2014 and what do you see coming down the line for educational game design?? Post! Post! Sometimes I feel like I’m writing to an empty room! …. which as you’ve probably noticed… doesn’t seem to discourage me.

Keep in touch and happy game building for 2015!!

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Modern Parlor Games! 6 of our favorite free games to play with groups

A happy holiday season to everyone!! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas it’s very likely that you’re going to have time off and that you’re going to have to spend that time off with some people in a group. You may be indoors.. with museums, businesses and fun places closed and it being too cold and miserable to go outside. You probably really like that group of people but there’s only so much TV you can watch and even the best conversationalists may run out of things to say around 2:00. What to do??!! Fear not, adventurers! We have some ideas.

Here are 6 lab-tested, green-door approved modern parlor games you can play right now for free in a car, dinner table or couch with 2 or more people. These are super low-barrier games, things you can usually get even the most reticent holiday visitors to play with a little bit of prodding.

#1 MYSTERIES: story-based, up to 10 people

lmystery 1

This is one of my favorite car/dinner/campfire games. Here’s what you do. You say…  “A man dies in the middle of 52 bicycles. Go.”gorey_mystery

…And let the questions begin. You can only answer yes or no to people’s questions and players  suss out what you’re talking about, getting closer and closer to the actual story. They say things like “Did he die a natural death? Was he murdered? Was he alone? Was he riding the bicycle” etc… until they finally figure out what happened in the story.

If someone has heard the story before, they can’t tell anyone! You can either play through the mystery in one sitting or put the story down and pick it up any time. Ask a question… have dinner… ask a bunch more questions… dessert.

#2 SPACETEAM: iphone/Android (free) up to 5 people

If you haven’t played Spaceteam… play Spaceteam! It’s free an app for iPhone or android. You are on a spaceship. Don’t worry, the ship practically flies itself… but you’ll have to work together. As a spaceteam.

You will have knobs and levers on your phone. Your teammates also have knobs and levers on their phones. Someone will shout: “Gigaflux Capacitor to 4!!” And everyone has to frantically search for who has the Gigaflux Capacitor. The next person shouts “Turn on Gamma Fish!” “Compress retrofitter nozzle!” “Blame Canada!” and on it goes until you have passed the level. There are asteroids, wormholes, cats, translator malfunctions, electrical storms… this is a great game.


Synching your team’s phones via wifi or bluetoth can sometimes be troublesome. You start the game and have to wait “in the waiting room” for your phones to find each player but trust me, it’s worth figuring out.

#3 TELEPHONE PICTIONARY: paper and pen, up to 7 people (ish)

pictionarySometimes I have to give credit to a game that I don’t particularly like but is fun for others. My friends clamor to play telephone pictionary and dissolve in shrieks of laughter at the results.  I usually don’t get the joke but I can vouch that people LOVE this game.

Everybody needs a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and you each write down a sentence on your paper. pictionary-telephonePass it to the next player, who draws out the sentence in images, folds the paper over so the next player can see the drawings but not the sentences and passes it along. The next player looks at the drawing and writes down the sentence that they think the picture is trying to communicate- and on it goes until you get to the original sentence-writer.

Once you’ve gone around the circle, you get to reveal the final sentence… along with the original sentence and all of the permutations along the way. So “The quick brown dog jumped over the lazy fox” becomes something like “the drunken wolf tripped over the bear”. Ideally the starter sentences are visual but not completely nonsensical: Both “The Spanish elephant shrieked and texted buttered popcorn” “Inventing allows one to own a memory permanently.” break the game because they’re impossible to draw.

You may recognize this game as a variation on the typical “exquisite corpse” game but I find that this version gets a better response. Less reading and more guffawing about silly pictures. I’m telling you, families love this game and even if you don’t love it, you’ll love to watch your family loving it.

#4 Logos Quiz Game: Iphone/Android (free) up to 5 people crowded around a phone

This is not the most educational game you’ll ever play but I bet your family will get into it. You see a bunch of name-less logos and you have to remember what the logo is to clear the level.

I think the reason that people love to play this together is that brands are something that everybody has some basic knowledge about- playing it doesn’t label you as smart or not smart, good at video games or not good at video games, talented or not talented: we’ve all grown up seeing these ubiquitous logos and its fun to try and remember them.


There are very old logos and very new logos so people of all ages are needed. In fact, it tends to lead to some really great cross-generational conversations about memories of NECCO wafers or  kids explaining to their grandparents what Instagram is. It’s a great “remember when” game. You start trying to guess a logo and end up singing 1980’s commercial jingles and reminiscing about Yoohoo. You may want to play this on an ipad/tablet because you’ll probably get everyone gathered around you trying to guess what the brands are to clear the level.

#5 YOUR MAJESTY!! Card game, up to 10 people

I’m not a huge fan of card games but this game, introduced to us by a few friends from Israel, had enough rabblerousing to keep me interested.


The objective is to be the first to have an empty hand of cards. You divide your deck according to how many players you have so everyone begins with the same number of cards. The starting player puts down a card you all go around the circle putting down any card and counting up to to 10. After ten you go back to 1. Note: It doesn’t matter what the cards are. When you say “1” you can put down any card… BUT

If you happen to put down a Jack, everybody salutes

If you put down a Queen you tip your hat and say “Your majesty!”

If you put down a King, you bow

If you happen to line things up and say “4” at the same time that you put down a “4” card of any suit, everyone playing has to slap the deck. The last person to slap has to take the deck.

Two more rules:

  1. if you have more than one rule to enact at the same time, it doesn’t matter which one you do first, as long as you do it. Give the players 30 seconds to respond, if someone fails to do all tasks they take the packet.
  2. When your hand is empty, you win!! And you get to make up a new rule.

That last rule is the best, when you get to start making crazy rules like changing direction with every “8” or saying “HUZZAAH” for double red cards.

#6 Win, Lose, Banana, cards (or paper) up to 5 people

In this game there’s a win, a lose and a banana. You deal out cards (or tokens or whatever you’d like to use) that have ONE winner, ONE banana and a bunch of losers.

win lose banana

The winner says “I WON!” but now… they have to find the banana. They haven’t really won until they find the banana. And everybody is trying to convince them that yes, they have the banana. If the winner chooses the correct banana, they both win. YAY!

If the winner chooses a loser pretending to have a banana, only the loser wins… and the winner losewin lose banana2s. And so does the banana. Booo. This can get pretty wild, as you could imagine. Lots of people yelling “I HAVE THE BANANA!!” but as you might have guessed, I go for games that involve a lot of nonsensical yelling.

There’s a board game version of this game as well but you can just as easily play with a “joker” as the banana, a Queen as win and number cards as lose. You can also have any resident kids draw up some good win, lose, banana cards for you to play with.

I excluded some great games that would need a purchase or more ramp-up time so these are great games that you can play right away. Please share any others that you might know and let me know if any of these worked with your family or friend get-togethers. Here’s to a wonderful few days off and cheerful times spent with family and friends!! Happy Holidays!

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Dear Barbie, “coding is hard!” or… you CAN be a computer engineer but you don’t need to be to finish that game.

Dear Barbie,

I know there’s been a lot of controversy lately about the cute puppy game that you designed and hired Brian and Steven to develop. coverw-set-of-skills

You later claimed that you would learn to code because Barbie, you can do anything! Which is true, you can! But it’s going to take some time.  I wanted to address your dev question mano-a-mano, Barbie. Girl game designer to girl game designer.

Barbie, I understand. You’ve got this cute puppy game. Brian and Steve are probably willing to help if you build it if you ask them. You’re not sure of the cost but they know how to build computer-y things… in some language. You’re pretty sure. But Barbie, you don’t seem to know a lot about game development and at this point, Brian and Steve could tell you anything at all. (They probably won’t because they’re nice guys, but this is how misunderstandings happen.)

Barbie 4Your other option is that YOU can be a “Computer engineer” (otherwise known as a software engineer or a developer). All it takes is about 150+ hours of focused study, learning basic theories of design and development, coding structures, resources and developing a community and once you’ve done the research on the wide field of languages that you can program, you can choose the one that best fits your needs and master it. You could get it in a 2, 4 or 6 year degree and after that, you can code almost as well as an entry-level developer. Go to it, Barbie! You can do anything!

But… you know, Barbie, sometimes you want to put your time where it will be the most valuable- and maybe learning Unity isn’t the best bang for your time buck so to speak. I know, Unity isn’t the most complicated of languages, you won’t need a 6 year degree to learn it but for someone with zero development background… it could take you a while to get good at it. I may be very controversial here but I’ve seen that the best games are not always designed by people who know how to code them. The skills that it takes to be a creative writer and the skills that it takes to be a great developer do not always overlap. I just want to say that, Barbie- so you don’t feel rotten about yourself.

So here you are. You have to choose between hiring Steven and Brian or learning to code yourself. Are there any other solutions? Well as a matter of fact, Barbie… there ARE! And if you’d like to know more about this very common middle ground for indie game developers, Barbie, read on! barbie2

First of all, if you want to be a game designer or game producer, we like to say you need to know “just enough to be dangerous”. That means you don’t need to know every detail of every development language but you have to have a pretty good handle on the landscape of options and how things work so you know what questions to ask to get what you need. BIG QUESTION, Barbie: did you build a design document for your puppy game? Specs (also known as wireframes or mockups) are an essential first. What *exactly* will your game do? Will there be an entry screen? What kinds of buttons? Will you record people’s data? Will you record their scores? Is it a story-based puppy game or a sprite (moving image) puppy game?


A mockup or wireframe


A game pathway

This document lets you and your potential partners know exactly what you want to build. If you hand these wireframe to Brian and Steven, I promise you’ll get a much better response from them. They’ll have an idea of how many hours it’ll take them and can give you a more reasonable quote. But what platforms exist that might be able to help you build at least a beta version or MVP of what you want? (A Beta version is the first, “rough draft” version of your product. An MVP means a minimum viable product. What’s the simplest version of your puppy game that you could actually release and have people play?)

Now it’s time to look for platforms that might be able to help you build an MVP yourself, Barbie. Here are some questions that I like to ask myself at this stage:

  1. Is this primarily a computer game or a mobile game? (or both?)
  2. Who’s your audience?
  3. What’s your budget?
  4. Will this be largely a text-based game or an image/animation-based game?
  5. What are my resources, and can I be flexible with my game to incorporate them?

Based on your book I think I know a couple of things about your game, Barbie. Looks like a computer-based sprite” game with some really really simple dynamics. Low budget but you have some good art assets (Skipper’s work?) I think you can do this, Barbie! Here are some options:



Scratch looks like this!

This is a great, free program made for kids.

Though you don’t have to code, you’ll still need to learn how to build with their drag and drop system- maybe it’ll take you an hour or two. You can get some really simple, basic movements and scoring with scratch but if you add your cute art, it may be all you need to get to an MVP or testing stage.



Construct2 looks like this…

There are a couple of game building platforms that might be able to do what you need. is free and will let you build a more involved game than with Scratch. Construct 2 has a basic license for $130 but will let you build cooler stuff. Scratch might take you 4 or 5 hours to learn. Construct might be a little sharper of a learning curve but some actual indie game companies build their stuff with Construct 2 and it looks pretty pro:


Playmaker is a visual scripting language for Unity. Unity- if you haven’t heard yet- is the defacto game design language for indie games. It’s fast, inexpensive, relatively easy to use and produces really good games. Unity itself needs some programming but if you take some time, you can learn to program something like Playmaker, which uses programming logic but is a visual approach:

You can do things like drag and drop your images and use buttons to determine the logic of where they’ll move. You have to install Unity first and then install the scripting language but it is infinitely easier than learning to program Unity from scratch. This will take more time and effort than the other options, but you could even have a finished product, market-ready puppy game with Playmaker, without ever having to learn to code completely or hire developers.

The images might still look complicated to you, Barbie but remember that actual coding looks like this:


These platforms are a way to get to your Beta or MVP without having to commit to hiring a developer OR learning to code right out of the gate. And these are just solutions for your puppy game- there would be other solutions for different kinds of games.

So you CAN be a ‘computer engineer’, Barbie! But frankly you really don’t need to be in order to complete your puppy game. That’s sort of killing a fly with a bazooka.

Barbie end

I will say that your book probably wasn’t written by a game designer or she could have told you all this and solved you the trouble. In fact there were a lot of odd technical points in this tale of yours, Barbie. What exactly is a “computer engineer?” And was your computer teacher wearing a lab coat? Women in tech is a controversial topic, Barbie, and I’m sure you know that you’re a lightning rod character that people pay attention to. If you’re going to promote girls’ empowerment in tech, science- or anything really, you should have your biographers know a little bit about the topic at hand to save you a little trouble, both with your game design and with your PR. But controversy aside, Barbie, I applaud you on your efforts at educational game design! Your next book will need to be something like “I can promote my game”!


Location Based Games to play in LONDON!

Cheerio!! I am BACK, blog! I was on a fabulous trip to London and Paris. While I was there I was on a hunt for games and activities that connected people with spaces and I have some great stuff to report! So read on to hear location-based, immersive experiences that you can play in Jolly Old London!



I can’t tell you how excited I am that room escape games are all the rage in Europe right now. In the UK, there seems to be an endless list of them to play: A search on Trip Advisor has room escape games as the top attractions of both London and Paris and for our London game we chose Hit Hunt:, a fast-growing company with room escape games in London, Paris, Dubai and Capetown (and apparently other places?) The company itself is a total mystery- each website is a mini-site for that location only with no information about the company or who’s building these games. Is tracking them down a game in itself?

escape     600_314436132

If you haven’t tried a room escape games, the idea is that you’re locked in a room with anywhere between 3 and 10 people and you have 60 minutes to solve puzzles and get out. When we played this in Boston, you could be thrown into the room with random players. We chose to fill it with 10 friends and it was pretty chaotic to say the least. (We were also being chased by a zombie.) In the London version, we played with 5 people and it worked really well with that size. The room was an “Asian room” and the storyline was pretty vague, in fact I didn’t entirely follow it- essentially it was a puzzle hunt rather than an interactive story or investigation. We were monitored by our host from the next room, who communicated with us via a monitor on the wall that displayed our time as well as messages and photo hints when we got stuck.


The game itself has a 50% chance of success, which I found surprising because it was pretty hard! (Maybe they give some teams more hints.) There are locks, tables, pictures, toys, magazines, bric-a-brac and you put things together to find combinations, open locks and solve puzzles. This room itself had a good number of locks and “find the combinations” challenges but there were some fun things like a sudoku and jigsaw puzzles that held clues. The office was a little haphazard and there wasn’t really a central waiting room to start your game. The game room itself was pretty well-done and the room was nicely put-together but there was this sense that it was shoved into spare rooms and closets. The Boston escape room game was in a random warehouse. I’ve heard that these games often have a thrown-together feel. The Paris game with Escape Hunt was the exception, but I’ll write more about that later.



This is the ideal way to go through a museum of modern art- I’m telling you, I can’t think of any way that I could have had a better experience there. Well- other than fixing some technical glitches in the game… but the game itself is fabulous. So I’ll set the scene a little bit: the Tate Museum of Modern Art is in an old factory with lots of modern and contemporary art.

screen2    screen3   

The game is an app (iPhone only: that asks you to search the collection in one of three ways: Battle mode, Mood or Collector. We chose battle mode of course and it asks the question: if these pieces came to life, which would win in a battle? You get to collect 7 and you run around finding and adding in the accession #’s. It logs the piece in your app, which then tells you how that piece ranks for “size, strength and agility” and you can decide to take the card or leave it. There’s a “more” button that explains why it scored the way it did with great comments like “The machine behind looks threatening enough but the headless woman could be a liability.”


You can choose to play in 30 mins, an hour or untimed. We chose 30 minutes and the three of us with two phones were tearing around the collection looking for aggressive pieces of art. Once we got back together with our hand, you get to play. The computer says “trump is size”, play a card. We chose our card with the best size score and played it against our friend’s card and the winner takes all the points. Just like a game of trumps– super easy to get into, amazing low-barrier to entry game. 1: Set my mission 2: collect 3: do something I recognize with my collection. The game has a beginning, middle and an end- there’s a clear winner and ways to play more. It was built by the amazing, sadly now defunct Hide and Seek, a company that has created some of the best games of all time for interacting with spaces. (

My friends said “but I don’t know if ITate‘m learning anything about the art!” She had played by herself against my husband for the Battle mode so we switched the teams and played “mood”, looking for pieces that were exhilarating, menacing or absurd. We tore through the galleries again but this time remembered some pieces from the last round and had to talk about our plan of attack: Which gallery had pieces that were absurd? We thought that the massive, heavy pieces would be considered menacing but found that they were listed as “exhilarating” and then had to talk about why.

Ten minutes into it, we were in a portrait gallery talking about which of the portraits could be considered menacing- we decided that direct stares were the most menacing. Lines that moved UP were the most exhilarating and pieces that showed things in places where they didn’t belong could be considered absurd. So we actually defined categories and then found art that we thought matched them. Then we found similarities in the different pieces- “hey if this one is absurd, I bet that one is, too”. This is REAL interpretive, actual thinking about art- without even trying. Not only that, we found that by the second game, we had canvassed all three floors of the gallery and had pretty much mapped out where different things were. When it was over after only 60 minuted of play, I found that I could name at least a half a dozen paintings in the gallery, where they were, picture them in my head and talk about what I thought they were trying to express. Seriously. wow.

The Three Dancers 1925 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973


Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 by Dorothea Tanning born 1910





I am not really a modern art person and I often find modern art galleries a little overwhelming. I couldn’t believe how much I got out of the gallery from playing that game. Not only that, I want to go back and play again. There’s a non-location-based version where you can just choose art and play against a friend or the computer but the actual finding of the art was really the best part so if you’re ever in London, I highly recommend it.

The only complaint was that a lot of the pieces were not in the game- so you’d have a big discussion about whether a piece was menacing or not, plug it in and it would say “piece cannot be found”, which actually discouraged you from spending time discussing the piece before you added it to your hand. The “computer” player was a little wonky and would come up with scores that didn’t actually exist- one of its paintings had a score of 20 out of 10. Also, we lost one of our games after we collected and then couldn’t find a wifi hotspot to tally our scores. These are some quick fixes- keep the collection/game updated, add in signs of where you can get wifi hotspots and test for bugginess. But all in all, this was a completely engaging, unique, educational and overall fun game.



This exhibit only runs until September in London but maybe we’ll be lucky and it with travel to the US: It was a celebration of all things digital from Pong and Pac Man consoles to interactive digital art to indie games and lasers- and it was great!!

The start of the exhibit had a lot of screen time, which- though always engaging- was maybe a little TOO engaging for me. More than once, I lost my husband because we were both in our own screen worlds. Not exactly the kind of interaction with culture that I’m trying to get more of in the world. But there were a few pieces of note that really made this exhibit more than just a “stare at some screens” exhibit. The first was this series of digital, interactions with birds. You stood in front of a massive screen that showed your shadow with shadow birds flying above you. When you put up your hands, the birds responded. On the first screen, your shadow dissolved into birds. On the second, the birds swooped down and ate you and on the third, you sprouted gigantic wings. I got the feeling that people just withstood the first two to get to the wings part but one thing that I really liked was that people watched the others interact with the screens. At one point, a little girl got her bird to fly and people cheered her on and gave her suggestions of how hard or easy to flap her arms to make it happen.

17-Barbican-Digital-Revolution     birds

The next one that I really enjoyed was something of a mystery piece. It was a tall cardboard shape by an artist named Gibson Martelli with black and white designs on it. Not in a crowded place, easy to walk by but my husband and I were tired and there was a bench nearby so we happened to read the description card and it said there was an app to interact with this thing. Great. We’ll sit right here and download the app. (More of an excuse to sit… but still something to do.) We downloaded the app, held it up to the structure and I yelped a little when I saw it!! There were dancers!! Gorgeous dancers that interacted with my phone and the piece! They responded to how we moved around, they changed according to how long you were there- it was pure magic!! Not only that, we felt like we had found a secret. We stood their with our phones and people thought we must be taking pictures- so a bunch of young Chinese kids came up behind us to take pictures, too. I speak enough Chinese to be able to hear the fabulous conversation. “This is cool… is it famous? Why are they taking pictures? Wait that’s an app!! See on their phone there are dancers!!” and then they approached us and asked us about it- then THEY downloaded the app- and soon a bunch of people had gathered around us, downloading the app and interacting with the piece. It was secret augmented reality!!! You can see the video of it here:


Last but not least was an incredible room of LAAAASSSEEERS!!! You went into a dark room filled with smoke and there were lasers that projected on the floor. Cool, right? But it gets better: the lasers responded to touch. So if you tapped a laser, it would move. If you pointed at the ceiling, another laser would appear. If you dragged your finger across the laser, it would draw. If you held both hands with another person, a laser would sprout between you. And there were bubbles. It was pretty spectacular. There were maybe 20 people in this dark room interacting with you and the lasers so naturally play happened. I found myself playing laser ball with another person where we just threw a laser back and forth. Another couple from Spain was pretty competitive and kept trying to “steal” lasers from my hubby and I and we would “steal” them back. And then there were bubbles. Did I mention there were laser bubbles? Overall, a great experience.

laser1    Digital Revolution Installation At The Barbican Centre

So I’ll stop here but I do have more games to write about so stay tuned. More importantly, has anybody played these games before and what was your take on them? Did I miss any fantastic games in London? Does anyone know if the Barbican exhibit is traveling and does anyone know anything about the mysterious Hit Hunt company? Ping me or post, I wanna hear about it!



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PLATFORMS!! Building games without a dev team

This week, I’m off to the SeriousPlay conference, another once of my favorite organizations in the Games for Good movement. (My other favorites are Games for Change and the Games, Learning and Society conference, which I STILL Haven’t been to!)


SeriousPlay is seriously awesome. Last year Jesse Schell was a speaker- and he was inspiring as always. But I think the most inspiring thing was watching him in the hallways on calls and on his laptop feverishly managing his Schell Games team to get games out the door- just like the rest of us. We’re all putting in the hours to get good stuff into the world!!

So that said, for this Serious Play conference I wanted to talk about PLATFORMS— to increase our efficiency and flexibility in getting that good stuff out into the world. I think platforms give us the ability to get MOAR good stuff out there. You may say “what is a platform?” Fear not- I’ll go through all the basics.


So What’s a platform?

When you build a game, there’s a million ways that you can do it but I like to boil it down to two main approaches

#1: You can hire a team and build something unique from scratch. This is awesome when you have either an in-house dev team, a genius volunteer developer or gobs of liquid cash to hire a really good for-hire dev team to work with you.

#2:  You build off of an existing online platform and customize the content to make it unique. This is great when you’re short on resources but long on ideas- and who isn’t?

But since a picture tells a thousand words. Building from scratch looks like this:


This is how you’d program something in javascript (ish)

Building on a platform looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 5.05.05 PM

This is how you’d build something off of the Edventure Builder.


Platform projects vs. Custom Built projects

So there’s a lot to be said for a custom-built project. Most of the big-deal projects that you see are custom built. Things like Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Portal, Minecraft, big AAA games- these are all custom-built projects with an in-house dev team. If your kid is paling a game by Disney or Toca Boca, that’s custom-built.


Toca Boca games are custom-built

But you might be surprised about some projects that ARE built off of platforms. Murder at the Met was built off of a platform (TourSphere/On-Cell) as was Planet Mania (the Baltimore Science Center built their own platform) as was Play the Past (Aris). Pretty much every indie game out there right now is built off of a platform called Unity. Unity is so complicated that it might as well be a programming language but technically, it’s still a platform. Some very big brands like Ebay and Yahoo, groups that have plenty of cash- but still choose to keep their blogs on a platform, WordPress:


Murder at the Met was built with a platform

Why would I use a platform?

The fact that Ebay and Yahoo use a platform for their BLOGS is a tip-off. Platforms are really best if you expect to have to change or edit or update your content. (Which, when you’re any sort of educator is pretty much always.) Platforms are usually created to be simple enough that anyone can get in there and add change or update content: you don’t have to hire a developer to custom program every new sentence.

If you’re flexible and creative enough to figure out how to shoehorn quality content into existing frameworks, platforms can cut both your production time and budget in half. MORE than in half. With platforms, I’ve seen really quality projects go out the door in under 2 months. This is possible for custom projects… but highly unlikely.

Last but not least, platforms let your content scale if you happen to be an organization with a lot of content. Say for instance, you build a custom-coded game for your renaissance exhibit. Once you’re done, it’s done. But if you happened to build that same project on a platform, now you know how it’s done and you can rotate your content monthly and make similar games with content from other exhibits. You can even edit it if new pieces come into your collection or make change if you find (God forbid) that visitors are responding to a different part of game than you’d predicted.

Why would I not use a platform?

Sometimes you have a very clear idea of what it is that you want. (I want Angry Birds with asteroids. That is what I want, I will be seriously bummed out if what I get is not exactly that.) Platforms force you to be super flexible with your content. Most platforms will work with you to try and make their platform do what you need it to do but a certain amount of flexibility is essential or else you’ll go crazy trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.


What are some platforms I should check out? 


An App-building platform is usually an online site that will let you drag-and-drop content and then publish it to an app or mobile website. My app-building platforms of choice are TourSphere (Now On-cell) and Tapwalk. On-cell lets you build out great interactive stories with beautiful visuals. Tapwalk has a pretty robust background engine to let you build content-heavy mobile interactives. We’re building a great game with TapWalk now that’s similar to a “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” with probably over 400 screens and multiple, multiple pathways. It would’ve taken a ridiculous amount of time and money to custom code it. YAY platforms!!



Okay so this isn’t exactly for games (I guess technically neither is an app-builder) but if you have an idea for something that you want to include in your game or interactive project, you can create a quick blog or website on WordPress or Squarespace. There are a million others like Wix or Weebly as well but I think WordPress and Squarespace are the easiest to work on. One of the projects I’m working on decided we wanted to have the characters blog and use the website as a way to unlock information. It’s really easy to build something like that on WordPress, all you need is content and some time to build it.


Text-based Story Builders

Did you ever play one of those 1990 room-escape text-based computer games? The text describes everything “you’re in a room, you see a table, a desk and a window” … the curser waits. You type “open the window” it responds “the window is locked”. You can build these! Quest is a free online platform that will let you create exactly these choose-your-own adventure stories. For a mobile version, try something like Guide By Cell, the platform that Rev Quest at Colonial Williamsburg.

rev quest

People get totally into Rev-Quest, a text-based game at Colonial Williamsburg. Built off of a platform!


Mobile Games

Full disclosure: I built a platform. I did. It’s the Edventure Builder and it’s awesome and I love it. I am not objective about it. There’s a floating balloon that I will not pretend not to be completely enamored with: The Edventure Builder does all the things that I need it to do- it’s a fast, flexible jack-of-all trades mobile web platform. It was not built to be drop dead gorgeous, it was built to be a workhorse of a platform and you can build pretty much anything on: scavenger hunts, choose your own adventures, interactive stories, quizzes, personality tests, all sorts of stuff. Here are a few games you can play with it:,,

three apps

Three games off of the Edventure Builder, all with completely different content, dynamics and game goals

But I’d be totally dishonest if I said the Edventure Builder is the only story-based mobile game building platform out there- we’re just the one that does what I need. Others are Stray Boots , a great scavenger hunt company that started as content creators and now they let you build content. There are a bunch of fun apps that will let you build uber simple scavenger hunts like Museum Hunt or Aware Square


Video Games

Say you want to build an actual sprite-based video game: a Toca Boca or a Candy Crush of your own. You can do that! Game Salad is a good place to build some really simple image-based games, though it takes maybe an hour or two to figure out. Scratch is a platform that you can get up and running on ASAP but the games will be really basic. Construct2 is pretty straightforward to build on and lets you include some nice graphics. Here’s an overview of game building engines for Indie Gamebuilder:



So out of all of these, what can you start playing with NOW??! Good question! Quest is free and you can get in right away. Edventure Builder is a licensed platform but you have some connections (me!) so I’d be happy to set you up with a tester if you want to play. Scratch is completely free and you can start building with it instantly. The others take a little more time and effort to learn how to build with but definitely all worthwhile. Did I miss any platforms? Have you built with any of these and what have your experiences been?? (Especially the video games, I have yet to build a full game on any of the video game platforms and I’d love to hear about it if anyone went through the soup-to-nuts process!)

So what are you waiting for??! Go build a game!!



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Badges and Gamification

So…badges!! People often ask me about “Gamification” and “Badges”, two words that make any game designer cringe. It’s sort of like when you spend 15 years learning to lindy hop and someone says “can you do the pretzel?” No? Is that not a generalized enough analogy? Maybe if you’re a professional educator and someone tells you that they used to babysit. Or if you’re a museum professional and someone tells you they liked the “bodies” exhibit at the convention center. Essentially- “badges” is the most visible but reductionist and often harmful version of an otherwise complex study. “ification” or “ify” usually suggests that something is NOT something and you’re shoehorning it to make it that.
A dead giveaway is that nobody who works with AAA games or high-quality games talks about badges or gamification. Why? because those things are already fun. You don’t need to “ify” Portals, it’s already a pretty fun game. Is education so impossible that we have to “funify” it rather than just make it fun? Why do we need to hack education and culture with gimmicky level ups rather than just make it engaging? I think that’s lazy on our parts. We want to teach the same old way we’ve always taught (even though kids in today’s world respond to information in a totally different way than they ever have) but we’ll throw them a bone and give them a meaningless prize for slogging through our bad design. Shame on you, gamification. We don’t need to “gamify” education, we need to bake fun, engaging, interactive strategies for teaching right into the heart of it.
As for badges: I do have some experience. We had badges at SCVNGR and while SCVNGR had a lot of good parts to it, the badging was totally useless. One time we sent out a “Kim Jong FUn” badge and everyone got it for no reason…which pretty much undermines everything. I’ll never forget Jeff Kirchik on calls trying to explain to Universities why he had the “Justin Bieber badge (“So on this screen are my badges… I didn’t actually earn the JB badge… in fact I don’t know why I have it. In fact I hate Justin Bieber.”) I think to be successful, badges have to serve one of two purposes: either they show progress/success or they build community. Most badges are just progress bars essentially- it’s just a more colorful way to show people that they succeeded. SCVNGR badges failed because we really gave them out randomly– they didn’t mark any sort of success or mastery or progression.  Bieber badge
I think one group  that works with earned badging well is CodeAcademy ( It’s challenging content and they show you a nice grid of what there is for you to learn- it’s essentially a curriculum but it looks like badges. Every badge you win gets you closer to being able to actually have a marketable skill. I hear DuoLingo does that as well (I haven’t played its recent iteration) but the badges mark your progress on learning a marketable skill- a language. I think kung-fu belts are another good way to see this. Or grades. Alone, the belts are just a colored strip- the grades are just a letter. They’re only worth something if everyone agrees that these random symbols can represent that the user has achieved mastery on some level.
The other type of badging is community badging like FourSquare or Ingress. FourSquare was interesting because you knew the other players (usually). You could steal badges from them or compare badges. Girl Scouts have a similar dynamic. You all work together as a community to get that badge and you display it publicly so everyone can see how much you belong. The badge doesn’t necessarily show mastery of a topic as much as it shows the amount of time you’ve spent with the community. Ingress also has a sort of social-badge system where you level up and when you’re a level 8, you can do all sorts of extra stuff. Level 8’s help level 1’s and level 1’s work hard to become level 8’s so they can hang out with the cool kids. (SCVNGR wanted to be a social badging system but it didn’t work because players weren’t a close-knit community and a lot of the badges were given at random.)
The trouble with badges is that it’s usually a colorful band-aid that people put on bad design. People don’t care about badges, they care about success and community, which can be represented by badges if you do it right. This quick article I thought hit it spot on: In 2014, Gamification isn’t working the way they  thought it would, mostly because of MEANINGLESS POINTS AND BADGES (it took them this long to figure this out?):
I think it really hit a nerve with those of us who’ve been saying for years that good game design is just good educational design.
After a while even FourSquare got smart and realized that their badging/gamification system wasn’t the right approach to achieve their user and business goals:
Someone once said to me, “let’s hurry up and get over this badge hype so we can get some real work done”. That was years ago but even now I couldn’t agree more. Badges and Gamification are good in that they maybe interest people who wouldn’t think about games and playful design otherwise. Like the person who wouldn’t consider going to a museum until the “bodies” exhibit made them think about it or a person who started babysitting and that made them consider a career in education. It’s a great gateway, a low barrier to entry to get people thinking about a practice that might be able to help them out. But it’s only an entry. The trouble comes when people insist on making the gateway the practice itself. I HAVE to have badges. I want to tag gamification onto this already fully structured system and not change anything else at all. There are situations where badges and gamification are what’s needed but best to go through a solid design process first and figure out that it’s actually what you need. I’m all for the terms to bring people into the practice of playful design but once you’re through, keep an open mind! There’s so much more to game building than Badges!!


What the FUTURE OF EDUMACATION can learn from Startup Culture

I just spent an incredible week at first the Association of Children’s Museums and then at the American Association of Museums conference. I love these things- lots of fabulous fellow nerds talking about ed tech plans and trends and how to make more people care about education, arts and culture and museums. All good stuff.

I’m a bit of a straddler though… I straddle some worlds. I’m a game builder definitely and an educator (I’d like to say a museum educator) but I’m also a startup entrepreneur and so I get to see things from a lot of different perspectives. Spending a week with museum folk who are not steeped in startup culture makes me remember what startup thinking has to offer. Especially when we’re talking about the future of education. Startups are built for future thinking. They survive and thrive on future thinking so I thought I’d share some things about startup culture that I think education culture could benefit from.


Startups have incubators, shared office spaces, nightly, daily and weekly networking events and free or free-ish classes where they share knowledge and express their expertise on a weekly basis. Startups SHARE, SHARE, SHARE- TRADE, TRADE, TRADE and PARTNER, PARTNER, PARTNER. That’s why startups travel in packs with lots of communication between all of them. A rising tide lifts all ships. Maybe you have something I need. Maybe I have something you need. If you figure something out, I want to be closeby to see how it works! If you fail, I want to know in detail what happened so I don’t do the same thing.

is a great calendar of all the things startups do JUST IN BOSTON to share the wealth. We’ve only just started Drinking About Museums meet ups ( which is great but why are teachers, educators and museum folk not networking and sharing at the rate that startup entrepreneurs are?


When I started at SCVNGR they first trained us all how to sell, sell, sell. And I HATED it. I still hate it. But if you don’t sell your good stuff, someone else will sell their not as good stuff and that’s not helping anybody. One thing I learned from startups is… yeah… there’s a lot of vaporware* out there. And they are SELLING that vaporware HARD. We have a proven product. Museums WORK. Education WORKS. There’s all sorts of data- all sorts of research that says education is the most reliable way to break the cycle of poverty. We know that museums increase community, empathy and thoughtful dialog- why are we shy to sell this? Why are startups selling harder than we are? We shouldn’t be afraid to sell what we do. Every museum professional should be a hardcore salesperson- just as every startup employee is. Check out this great post on 4 things to remember when selling. It’s not “lie, cheat and steal”. In fact most likely it’s stuff you think of already- just takeout “startup” and put in “museum”.

*if you’ve never heard of vaporware, it’s a term for an idea that’s not actually built yet. Sometimes these ideas are sold before they exist. Sometimes they get built. Sometimes… they don’t. It’s scary that it’s often not a question of whether a product works… it’s a question of whether it even exists in the first place!



In the startup world, when you have an idea and you’re wondering, “who will do this?” Well no, let me stop there. You never wonder “Who will do this?” because the answer is you. It’s always you. You have an idea- the fact that you had that idea means that you are its master and it’s your responsibility to make it happen. Extra hours? Extra time? Extra effort? Yes, yes and yes. Another thing that startups and educators have in common is long, long hours doing what they love. But how will we ever build the future if we’re worried about going overtime?


The converse side of that- whose fault is it? Yours. It’s always yours. There’s always something you could have done to make that not happen. There’s always a way you could have maximized the situation seen it coming, improved it- the buck always stops with you. It sounds crazy, right? But imagine if you have a whole company- or museum- of people thinking that way? Suddenly things get done faster. And they have to get done faster- because the future is coming! To read more about startup culture, check out one of my favorite blogs by the CEO of HubSpot:

I could write another post about what startups could learn from museums but that’s for another time and another audience. In the meantime, I would love to see museums thinking in the startup mentality. There was a lot of talk about the future of education and if you ask me, startups are a great benchmark for thought processes when we’re thinking about the future. Lemme know what you think!