Empowering Playgrounds with Gamification

Watto Chess Set by Peter Kingston

If you give children a chess set at the age of two, they will play with the pieces like toys and put them on trucks and dollhouses. However, if you wait until they are in the second grade, they will be ready and eager to learn the game. At this age, the game pieces have very little play value as objects. What is interesting is the game.

It is also around this time that playgrounds start to become “kid’s stuff.” It is possible to maintain some engagement by older kids by infusing the playground design with higher challenge activities. While this works to some extent, these activities are generally accessible for those with mobility impairments.

Augmented Reality (AR) games like Pokémon, for example, do not have this limitation. Such games only get more interesting as kids mature.

Suppose we begin to think of the playground as a 3-D game board, all sorts of possibilities open. For example, a child could be alone and still play with virtual playmates. Teams can be formed for group play with virtual opponents. Such teams can include players of very diverse ages and abilities, supporting truly inclusive play.

AR holds out the promise of greatly extending the appeal of playgrounds to much older children than is currently the case. Current studies indicate that it also extends the level of exertion and the length of play episodes.

A design goal of such games is to use smart devices while not constantly watching their screens. Heads-up play can be achieved by populating the play environment with many wireless beacons that trigger the devices to give audio instructions or visual clues that appear for a limited time.

In the near future, AR glasses will become commonplace. In the meantime, if we want to have kids get outside, playing longer, and playing harder, we need to take the games they now play indoors, sitting down, to the millions of playgrounds that are getting lonely.

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