The Buzz — A Postmortem

As with The Lavender Cure, my final product for this course, a mobile game about bees, presents research conducted during the latter half of the semester and provides an example for how to apply historical training and knowledge to a public history, video game format. The Buzz both serves to convey educational information about bees and provide a tool that can be utilized by Sustainability Studies at UNM, our food collaborative client.

There are five main parts (badges to earn) within this game demo. The main feature is the ability to record bee sightings and bee-related incidents using a cloud-based Notebook. Players are encouraged to walk around UNM campus and if they see a bee (or wasp), record the sighting, adding any extra information (such as if anyone was stung). Once recorded, this note can be tagged and then is automatically placed on an in-game map that shows all of the notes that have ever been created — not just the player’s. This aspect was specifically requested by the Sustainability Studies Department to crowdsource such information, which can then be used to illustrate bee population on campus (regardless of the use of pesticides) and how many people are stung when in the presence of stinging insects.

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While sparse now, there is one note available on the map. The wasp icon on the left is a note about a wasp that got into Mesa Vista Hall, but did not sting anyone.

A significant portion if the game centers around educating players about bees. There are three characters that the player can talk to — Beatrice, Nurse Paul, and Sage. Each one provides a different form of expertise on trying to challenge common misconceptions about bees and teach players about them in general. Beatrice discusses the difference between wasps and bees and how to tell them apart, Nurse Paul heals the player and talks about bee stings and how to tell if someone is allergic, and Sage provides a way for the player to learn about bee-friendly plants that can be planted or already are on campus. At its current iteration, these conversations are rather rudimentary and linear; engagement in the subject matter, admittedly, is likely to be lost due to long text descriptions without much application. In future development, these discussions will change, become more conversational and varied, and ultimately provide more potential for player choice in choosing what to learn about (and what path they wish to take in the game).

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This is Sage, an in-game character that provides a way to have players think and learn about bee-friendly plants.

With more time and resources, I would also like to expand the game to include a character who discusses bee history in New Mexico and their historical significance to the Southwest. This feature, admittedly, will be the most challenging to convey. In The Lavender Cure, I experimented a bit with providing historical information and concepts about herbal medication and traditional healing in New Mexico, but my intentions ultimately fell short outside of providing basic, fact-based information with potential suggestions about the contemporary significance of such medicinal practices and their utilization in spite of access to more modern forms of medicine. This game is a bit more challenging in presenting such information in this mobile game format, but there is potential to not only teach players about the historical significance of bees, but ask them to think like historians on their own, conduct research, and answer queries about bees and their role in New Mexico.

The final feature of this game, and really the reason why I wanted to build it using the open source platform and GPS-based program of ARIS is its placement within UNM campus and its role as an augmented reality game. While the player can only place notes and talk to characters using an in-game interface, The Buzz is very much grounded on campus. This is most apparent in the bee tracker/note feature, which aggregates bee-related notes onto a Google Map of the campus. Further, in order to play the game, players must be on campus and walk to certain locations in order to interact with the characters and items. One quest actually asks the player to find bee icons (and differentiate them from wasp icons) placed on the digital map, walk to them, and collect them when they are within range. This feature blends the digital and physical worlds of the game and provides direct player connection with the information that is presented in-game and the campus that it is based in.

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This is the Quest Plaque that appears when the player has the option to collect bees which will spawn (appear) on the map at random intervals.

The game is currently available to play. It is a demo and will need to go through many iterations and improvements before it, as a game, can be considered complete. Not only will original artwork have to be incorporated, more complex narratives, player options, and educational outcomes will need to be developed, most likely under a larger team of developers and educators. Further, because the program I used, ARIS, is freshly out of beta for its 2.0 version, there are some bugs that still need to be worked through. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue does not always appear when it should and ultimately locks the player out of progressing through the options and completing one of the five quests. This issue will need to be fixed in later versions as the software becomes a bit more reliable, the dialogue becomes more refined, and I become more familiar with the new interface of ARIS 2.0.

To play the game, download the ARIS app on the Apple Store (unfortunately, this is only available for Apple products). Create an account in ARIS and then search for “The Buzz.” The game that appears should have an icon of a green, pixellated bee. You will need a reliable internet connection to play. If there are any bugs (no pun intended), you can notify me at GMayARIS@gmail.com.

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Gianna May Sanchez

Currently a Master's student at the University of New Mexico studying History and earning my certification in Museum Studies. Interested in Southwest history, women's history, traditional medicine and its interaction with professional medicine, video games, and games as a way to facilitate learning.

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