Mobility and Museums in Action: “A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR Trek- An Interview with Kellian Adams, of SCVNGR, and Rachel Meskin, Educations Programs Specialist, Friends of the National Zoo.

A Conversation Carol PosterThe buzz has been building about SCVNGR (pronounced “Scavenger”) lately and so when Friends of the National Zoo in D.C. released a new holiday themed trek last Friday entitled “A Conversation Carol” I had to touch base with Museum Ninja and Institutional Mastermind (how about that for a job title), Kellian Adams of SCVNGR and Rachel Meskin, Education Programs Specialist with Friends of the National Zoo, to find out more. Kellian and Rachel provided some great insights into their experiences in creating SCVNGR treks and shared with me their tips for building a trek at your institution. Kellian and Rachel’s  responses to my questions are below but first a bit of background on SCVNGR.

Screenshot of SCVNGR "Homepage"Google backed SCVNGR is a location-based gaming platform that allow visitors to explore institutions in a gamelike fashion. Most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt at one time or another.  Just imagine how fun and engaging this could play out at a museum, a zoo or other cultural institution.  This spring, participatory museum guru Nina Simon wrote a post in her blog of how a mobile scavenger hunt would address the desire people have for a social experience when visiting the museum.  As Nina wrote, most museum visitors visit in groups but most museum apps derive from the audio guide paradigm which focuses on the individual.  SCVNGR is different.  It’s social from the ground up. As one blog put it “there’s an app for family time“. And the response from visitors has been phenomenal (read Rachel’s comments below).

Since the release of it’s iPhone and Android apps seven months ago users are downloading the app at a rate of 5,000 per day and SCVNGR expects surpass a million users by the end of the year.  In addition to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the San Diego Zoo, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Muhammed Ali Center, The Chicago Institute of Art (take the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off challenge!), the Museum of London, and over 70 other museums, zoos and cultural institutions have joined the SCVNGR fun.
“A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR trek provides visitors of the Smithsonian National Zoo with a fun, interactive way to learn about conservation while traveling through the free ZooLights night exhibit this December. Players meet the Goats of ZooLights past, present, and future as they complete challenges that remind them of the spirit of conservation.

SCVNGR is available free as an iPhone app or on Android (search for SCVNGR on the Android Market on your device). To locate a particular trek you must be located within 25 miles of the trek. Learn more about SCVNGR and museums here and here.

Have you participated in a SCVNGR Trek at a museum, zoo or other cultural institution?  If so, please share your experience in the comments section.

Here’s a quick video from SCVNGR on how the app works:

SCVNGR | How To Play from SCVNGR on Vimeo.

Play “A Conservation Carol” on your phone!

From Friends of the National Zoo’s website:

Don’t be a Scrooge! This holiday season, remember the spirit of conservation. Explore the light displays and be visited by the Goats of ZooLights past, present, and future. The more challenges you complete, the more points you will earn—both in the name of conservation and for a chance to win an exclusive VIP tour, including a visit with the keeper of your favorite animal. Ten runners-up will get ZooLights T-shirts.

To greet the first goat, text “ZooLights” to 728647 OR download the SCVNGR app on your iPhone or Android, click on “Treks,” and select the “Conservation Carol” Trek. The trek starts at the Zoo’s main entrance on Connecticut Avenue.

SCVNGR Trek Scores
0 to 14 points You’re an Ebenezer: Better change your evil ways!
15 to 29 points You’re a work in progress: Sort of green but kinda mean.
30 to 42 points You’re a Conserveaholic: Keep up the good work making the world a better place.

Here is my exchange with Rachel Meskin, Education Programs Specialist, Friends of the National Zoo

How did you get started with SCVNGR?

Rachel – SCVNGR was recommended to us by a colleague, Georgina Goodlander, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She put me in touch with Kellian and after one conversation I was sold. We had wanted to experiment with games at the Zoo for a while and SCVNGR seemed like a user-friendly and innovative platform.

How many SCVNGR treks have you created?

Rachel – “A Conservation Carol” is Friends of the National Zoo’s second SCVNGR trek and one of many ideas we have for the Zoo. The first trek was part of a massive alternate reality game called “Save the Pygmy Dragon Panda” we ran during the summer of  2010. SCVNGR Gen2 powered the text component. We are re-launching Save the PDP on another platform because it isn’t really location-based and it has a very distinct voice that would make less sense on SCVNGR Gen3. (More on voice later!)

How long did it take to create “A Conservation Carol” trek?

SCVNGR Zoolights Badge

SCVNGR Zoolights Badge

Rachel – It took us two solid days to create the challenges and an additional few days for editing, tweaking, testing and more tweaking.*

*Disclaimer: It can be done in 2 days but I have to admit I’m pretty sure I have some of the most creative people in the world in my office to help me.

What tips would you give to institutions considering setting up their first SCVNGR trek?

Rachel

·         It’s important to remember that SCVNGR is one big game. Although I love games that tell detailed stories with characters and conflict, SCVNGR is its own kind of game with its own set of rules. It has its own game language, a reward system and a structure that must be kept in mind when building. I think the best way to look at it is that each trek is like a level of the overall game. Your level should capture the tone of your institution but should be simple enough that it meshes with the challenges and treks at other locations.

·         Come up with strange ways people might interact with your collection. Challenge what people normally think of when they think of your institution (whether it be that it skews too young like the Zoo or that it’s too stuffy like a gallery). Encourage people to run around and do things they wouldn’t normally do.

·         Think of your trek as a game and not a scavenger hunt.

·         Go for a variety of challenges including text, photo, problem solving, codes, art, song, dance and even math.  Try to reach players of differing comfort levels and learning styles.

·         I think a trek should have a simple cohesive theme (like ours that drew on the concept of “A Christmas Carol”).

·         The simpler the better.

·         People respond to prizes and rewards.

·         Promotion has been our biggest challenge. Make sure you can devote a lot of time and effort to getting people to play.

What’s been the response from Zoo visitors to the SCVNGR trek(s)?

Rachel– Responses to Save the PDP over the summer were very positive. Students and campers with DC tour groups (our target audience) told us that the game was the best part of their visit to Washington. Our ZooLights trek just launched, and we’ve already started to see people dancing, singing, laughing and learning.

In one of the challenges, we ask people to pick up a piece of trash and contribute to our giant “recyculpture.” The sculpture has been out 24/7, and we’ve seen a few parents, unaware of the trek, telling their kids about keeping the earth green and clean after walking by it. We think this will be our most popular challenge during the run of the game.

Screenshot of Challenge in "A Conservation Carol"

Screenshot of Challenge in "A Conservation Carol"

Here is my exchange with Kellian Adams, Museum Ninja and Institutional Mastermind at SCVNGR:

What’s been most inspiring for you to work with institutions like Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ)?

Kellian– Every museum that gets involved with a SCVNGR project  thinks of something TOTALLY new that I never would have dreamed of and that’s really inspiring to me. I’ve learned that my SCVNGR gamebuilding team and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with the platform in the cultural space. The FONZ created the “Goats of Zoolights Past”- hilarious! They even have people singing in the giftshop (you can see pictures of it on their SCVNGR feed). The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis used SCVNGR as a tool to help people share stories and keep entertained while  they’re waiting in the Santa line. The Boston Museum of Science is creating a “Star Search” all across the city of Boston. The Mohammed Ali Center used SCVNGR for teambuilding events. Each project is just so creative and unusual and really specific to the space of the museum, and that’s my absolute favorite part.

What’s surprised you most from the results of SCVNGR at an institution?

Kellian– There have been a LOT of surprises- it’s a new media so we’re all learning. I think the most surprising thing to me was how much the delivery of the media mattered in how people responded. When I started with SCVNGR in museums, I saw it as sort of an interactive audio tour but just the fact that it’s interactive makes it totally different from a tour. When you ask visitors to interact and respond, you have to be really deliberate in how you approach it- you almost can’t ask them “on the spot” or they’ll feel like they’ve been called on in a class.

Kellian– In fact, we’ve had some really surprisingly negative experiences approaching museum-goers inside the museum and asking them if they’d like to try a new mobile game- and we never expected that! We’ve learned that walking inside the museum should not be a visitor’s very first exposure to the fact that there’s an interactive mobile game that they can play – and it seems that it’s not just SCVNGR but almost any interactive mobile experience that I’ve seen inside a museum. On the other hand… once you give visitors that permission: you tell them ahead of time: come play, you’ll need to answer but it’s okay- the museum approves- then you get this really fantastic and positive response. You do have to prep visitors ahead of time because now they’re not just a spectator anymore, you have to prepare them so that they know they’ll be part of the experience! And once they know that, they’re just so excited to participate. I always work with my museums now to write about their SCVNGR initiative, blog, Facebook, tweet, email- it’s not just advertising for a program, it’s an important part of preparing people so that they come ready to play!

What’s surprised the institution most by SCVNGR?

Kellian- I think institutions are often surprised by the demographic that SCVNGR draws. Museum professionals often expect that maybe families or school kids will like to play so we’ll send a trek live and again and again our trek photos roll in with pictures of people between 18 and 35 playing and having a grand old time. Even when we set up a trek specifically to appeal to kids or families, still we get those 18 to 35 year olds that play and I don’t think museums ever expect to have their programs “wedding crashed” by that demographic!

I think institutions are also surprised by the quality of visitor’s involvement. I like to have our museums launch a trek with a “kick off event” to start the buzz rolling but also so that they can see visitors play in real time. They’re always so excited by the amazing responses- really thoughtful comments on pieces, once we asked for haikus and got this incredible poetry! At the San Diego Zoo, we’re just asking for “animal pose” photos but people are coming up with these creative poses using their clothes as props, working with each other to make sure they look like an elephant or a kangaroo. The Joslyn museum asked visitors to create a sculpture out of natural materials and we got these amazing pictures of impromptu art that visitors built. People really do want to participate in the museum experience once they know that they can.

My thanks to Rachel and Kellian for being so generous with their time and for sharing with Museums2Go readers their experiences and insights. Thank you!