Attitudes! The Bronx Zoo wanted a game of attitudes, not information. At the time I really didn't know what they meant.
When school groups came to the zoo they focused on animals from one of several different environments. Before the actual tour the class had an orientation session where the zoo staff used real animals, activities and other materials to help put the visit into an overall context. I spent a lot of time in theses sessions and on the class zoo tours.
The game SURVIVAL: WETLANDS was designed to be played at these orientation sessions or in the regular classroom before the zoo visit. It consisted of:
a large fabric 'game board' or wall hanging that symbolized a typical wetlands habitat
Four animal cards representing different animals groups that live in the wetlands
Food/Habitat Cards that represent the diet and living spaces of these animals
Event/Consequence 'cards' that represent things that can happen in the wetlands and how these events might effect the animal populations who live there.
The game was foldable and small enough to be easily transportable, and yet when unfurled and hung up, could be played by the entire class at the same time. The game board had special buttons sewed on it so that the cards could be hung from them.
GAMEPLAY: The class was divided into four animal groups: BEAVER SLIDER, HERON and BULLFROG. Their respective cards were placed on the corners of the game board. The FOOD/HABITAT cards were hung at random around the board and each group took turns moving their ANIMAL card to 'capture' their correct FOOD and HABITAT cards and return home. First team home wins.
The 'fun' started when things went wrong in the wetlands; an oil spill, a bridge built or a road constructed across it. Each event could have its consequences on each team's animal populations, which could become endangered or even extinct.
But the 'attitudes' the Zoo was looking for came with the class discussion. What KIND of bridge might be built or WHO should be responsible for the oil spill to be cleaned up? One event, WETLANDS FILLED IN TO BUILD HOMES, generated a heated discussion. Everyone seemed to agree that this was bad - except one boy who lived in a home build on reclaimed land and argued that it was good.
SURVIVAL: WETLANDS became more than a game of winners and losers. It became a game of 'points of view', discussion and debate, or, in other words….a game of attitudes!
THE BRONX ZOO: 'The Invisible Man'
When we tested any of my games in their rough form, I usually sat quietly in the back of the classroom watching what went on. I tried not to get involved so that I could pay attention. It wasn't particularly important that the game worked perfectly at this point in it's development - only that the kids were interested and that I could see what went wrong and think about ways to make the game better. I liked to think of myself as being invisible back there.
So we're testing the SURVIVAL: WETLANDS game and on the first move one of the teams became EXTINCT. This wasn't supposed to happen this early in the game (and was an easy thing to fix) but this time the teacher who was running the game looked over at me to see whether it would be ok to give the team another chance. I nodded my ok.
Just then a little girl flew out of her seat, pointed her finger straight at me and said "If you want anybody to play your game you better come up with one set of rules and stick to them!" Well. So much for my invisibility.
I spent the next half-hour explaining how we developed the game and how we were 'tuning' it to make it play better during this development phase. I got the kids involved in the design process and they came up with some wonderful ideas about how to improve the game.