Report date
April 2015

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Having a core team composed of three expert partners, each from different fields, was integral to our success. Northern brought expertise in public art and engagement; Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has a deep knowledge of the watershed, the game site, and scientific understanding; Ken Eklund is an expert game designer and helped NL and MCWD combine our strengths to create a fun, impactful game. This strong knowledge and ownership of our areas of expertise led to some creative tensions between the partners during the game development process, as we each had different areas of focus; but in the end we recognized that this tension actually kept us in balance, and that we could not have created such a dynamic game without all three partners. Having three partners also allowed us to take risks in ways none of us would have been able to on our own.
We believe that Ruination would not have been as successful as it was without the extensive testing and feedback sessions we did. We held community feedback sessions throughout every step of the process -- concept, game mechanics, game narrative, and production -- to make sure the game was fun and encouraged a sense of civic engagement. These sessions were open to anyone, and we specifically invited stakeholders such as watershed experts, game designers, artists, educators, and members of our target audience of people ages 18-35. We used the
feedback we received from these sessions to inform our design, and discussions we had directly impacted the game’s development. By presenting our work to outside testers, we were able to identify pieces of the game that we could improve by making them more understandable, more fun, or more challenging. Additionally, this testing put our minds at ease and allowed us to focus on execution rather than worrying about whether the game would work. We plan to incorporate this level of testing and community feedback as much as possible in all of our work.
We knew we needed the three core partners to make the project even possible, but besides the artistic input of the game designer, bringing in Erin Lavelle as Artistic Director really helped make a lot of our concepts concrete. She was able to work with graphic design, site installations, actors, and a whole range of creative personnel that truly made this an artistic project, which helped drive the physical manifestations of the game play, community engagement, and scientific/educational content.

Key lessons learned

With the game’s narrative being a clue-based mystery, we found it difficult to communicate to the public what the project was about; we didn’t know how to tell the story about the game without revealing too much of the narrative. We found it difficult to communicate something innovative that people aren’t familiar with. We also didn’t get much media coverage, so it was a struggle to get people to sign up, since they didn’t understand what they were signing up for. In the end, we were pleased with the number of people who played, but in the future we should have a storytelling plan in place earlier in the process: we need to be provocative in order to recruit players, without giving away too much information.
Looking back, we realize that we should have held feedback sessions specifically about communications. We spent a lot of time reaching out to neighborhood organizations surrounding the game site, but we didn’t get a lot of participation
from them, and our outreach strategy might have worked differently had we focused more on communications directly to individual players rather than partner outreach.

Reflections on the community innovation process

One aspect of the process that was integral to our success was shared knowledge exchanged between the three primary partners as we increased collective understanding of water resource issues and effective gaming strategies and applied
this knowledge to the solutions we were developing. Our partnership with MCWD, who have a thorough knowledge of the history, biomechanics, and socio-ecological aspects of the watershed, enabled us to create a game that directly addressed
issues the watershed district struggles to address with traditional education methods. We learned from game desiger Ken Eklund about how to create a game that is both challenging and fun, and how to use games effectively to encourage critical thinking. We plan to continue to use this experience in future projects using gaming as a platform for civic engagement.
We spent much time in the “Generating Ideas” and “Testing and Implementing Solutions” phases, both of which involved engagement of the public and stakeholders, and the latter of which was critical to our success. This was the first game of this scale that we have produced, and we would not have had as tight and compelling a game had we not done testing

Progress toward an innovation

From the beginning, our idea of innovation was that traditional educational methodologies are failing large swaths of the
public and that experiential play could lead to significant engagement and learning.
We received outstandingly positive feedback from our players. In a post-event survey that 25% of the players filled out,
56% of the respondents stated that their main reason for participating was either to play a game or to spend time with other
people. 0% stated that they were there to gain awareness about water issues. However, 64% stated that the experience
enhanced their sense of environmental stewardship; 64% stated that it increased their sense of community connectedness;
and when asked for their top take-aways from the experience, most wrote statements such as:
• “I can play a part in stopping environmental degradation.”
• “[I have] a better appreciation for the (previously pretty invisible) flow of runoff.”
• “Water pollution remains an important issue even though it gets less attention than other environmental problems “
For some people, the game introduced them to the idea of water stewardship; it revitalized energy about engaging with these issues for others

What it will take to reach an innovation?

The second half of our innovation goal, in a sense, was that Ruination would not be a one-off event. The game was
designed to be portable so we could take it to other locations while still maintaining the game’s site-specificity. In practice,
in this iteration, it took so much effort to make the game work as successfully as it did, that we were not able to focus on the
strategies that would also make it sustainably, portable, modular, and site specific anywhere. In order to sustainably
present the game elsewhere, we would need one or more partners in other locations. Ideally, we would find a partner who
could help us focus on making the game more modular, portable, and cheaper to travel at one other site as a proof of
concept and concrete set of protocols that would allow it to more easily travel anywhere else.

What's next?

Now that we have developed and implemented Ruination, we are looking for opportunities to model the next stage - the portability aspect - and thereby expand its audience and impact. In order to do this, the game needs to be more modular,
portable, and cheaper to produce. We plan to seek out a partner to help us modularize the game so we can turn it into a kit to send to other watersheds. We are actively seeking partnerships and funding for this testing and traveling the game to
new communities and sites. This project has proven to be an effective model, and we are also seeking opportunities about making the game more accessible to a larger number of people. Ultimately, a sustainable, portable version of Ruination will
make it both more effective and more equitable because it could be used at a reasonable cost in more situations.
After this experience of using gamification as both a process and a platform for civic engagement, we are also thinking about future projects that can serve a similar purpose.
We are also working to continue to tell the story of this project.

If you could do it all over again...

Our main piece of advice to ourselves would have been to be honest with each other and to remember that tension among
invested partners is not always a bad thing; in fact, it is an indicator that each partner truly has a stake in the process and
the project. When we each struggled to have our priorities represented in the game, we were actually finding the right
balance, which made the game stronger.

One last thought

We were incredibly pleased with the outcome of this project. The feedback we received was uplifting and encouraged us to
keep moving forward to seek out new places to present the game.
We appreciated the fact that the Bush Foundation was able to make this project happen financially, however, as a partner
on this project, we would also have liked for a representative from Bush to have been present at the game’s
implementation, or at least to have attended some of our many feedback and testing sessions. We would have appreciated
Bush’s point of view as the game developed, and would have liked to have celebrated the success of the game together
after its implementation.