From the three months work of the Research and Development (R&D) project we had the foundations of a strong idea for a game; a chat based narrative driven experience had proven to be engaging for the target audience, but we felt the mechanism to deliver science capital principles wasn’t quite there and we needed to develop this aspect further as it was integral to the success of the project.
One of the main pieces of learning we had from the R&D was that science capital can be a difficult concept to grasp. Our initial brief ‘build science capital among as many young people as possible’ was probably too broad and too ambitious, a brief which focuses on a personal, experiential concept is much more challenging to execute than one which focuses on a specific set of facts or scientific concepts. Using science capital principles in our work isn’t so much a what but a how, it’s a way of working and a mindset for us. And our audiences’ science capital is about how science makes them feel, so building their science capital is not exactly something they can just ‘pick up and do’. The nuanced nature of the concept had made it difficult to pin down exactly what it is we wanted this experience to be.
To allow this to be a simple and successful game we needed to drill down further into science capital, to define exactly what it is we wanted people to get from this digital experience and choose one or two of these areas to focus on. If we were to try and cover everything that science capital is within a simple game, it would be too complex to communicate in an engaging way.
Theory of Change
We established that this experience needed to follow a Theory of Change, a framework we developed during our work with science capital, from which we can create better experiences that help increase science capital in our audiences.
While we can’t measure the influence we have on a user’s science capital, we can ensure that we include science capital informed good practice, and reflect on what we learn throughout the project. This should help us create an engaging experience, one that could help increase our visitors’ overall engagement with science, and thus over time, help grow their science capital.
To make the game a ‘science capital informed experience’, we looked to our science engagement reflection points and decided which of these could be built into our product successfully. The key reflections we selected were:
- Skills – showing how and where science skills are used by all people in daily life and how they are useful.
- Using everyday examples – making the content of the experience relatable to as many people as possible and reflecting the rich and diverse interests and experiences that our audience has.
- Positive reinforcement – helping users feel that science is something that they can do, not having an experience that would make someone feel alienated or a failure.
- People – showing a diverse range of people in relatable roles that are representative of users reality.
- Confidence and ownership – inviting user to feel confident in their ability to take part in the experience and giving them choice and control over their experience.
I will expand further on how we achieved integrating these reflection points into the game in a future post.
As well as making sure we used the reflection points above to help us shape the game content, we consistently used audience research/user testing at various stages of the game’s development. This made the process reflective and evidence-based.
Establishing the brief
In order to refine this further and give examples of how this could be achieved before sending out a brief, we had a creative workshop with three experts in children, gaming and culture: Sharna Jackson, Martha Henson, and Becky Palmer. We worked together to sense check our ideas, digging deeper into narrative-based games, science capital and what would make a successful game for kids.
Out of this workshop came the strong foundations for our brief for production: this product needed to be a narrative-driven experience that gave users choice over their actions, allowed for the reflection of the science skills that they use every day and is more about personal reflection than recalling facts or concepts. We came up with several example narratives that could be used for the game, but we were open to new ideas as well, along with examples of other games that had aspects we liked and could be used for inspiration. We wanted the outcome to be an emotionally resonant experience which provokes a change in attitude and some kind of ‘aha moment’ where a player makes the link between what they do in the game and in their own lives, all within an engaging storyline.
Following a competitive tender process, we commissioned digital agency Thought Den to help make this vision a reality. Once they were onboard, we shared with them our understanding of the science capital concept and the science engagement reflection points we would like to be using.
You can read about their first impressions of the project here…
Total Darkness is a free online game playable on smartphone, tablet and desktop. Play now at totaldarkness.sciencemuseum.org.uk.