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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


The Lab Report: Video games foster intellectual growth, connect scientists to public

Field Day Labs works with scientists to communicate research findings through interactive games

The University of Wisconsin’s Field Day Labs is a computer science lab funded through the Department of Public Instruction that creates storyline and simulation video games free for educational purposes. Field Day Labs has developed games with topics ranging from archaeology to astrophysics.

Games transform learning into a more engaging and hands-on experience, according to UW News. Video games are able to foster intellectual growth within children differently than more traditional learning methods.

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One available game is “Legend of the Lost Emerald.” This game is geared toward 4th through 6th graders and focuses on shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. It takes place from the perspective of an explorer who has to gather clues and bits of information from observing a shipwreck with the objective of identifying the vessel.


The game brings the player on a journey, simulating actions such as snapping photos of the shipwreck and its artifacts, diving deep into the lake and organizing bits of evidence on a cork board.

Field Day Labs creative director Sarah Gagnon said video games are ideal resources for immersive education. They challenge the player to make decisions and view their outcomes in ways that other learning instruments can’t.

Gagnon calls video games “hot media,” or an interactive media that is highly engaging. Field Day Labs works with subject experts from universities around the world and convey their research to the public through gaming.

Gagnon said video games can teach complex systems. For example, it may be hard to focus on watching an hour long video on lakeland sustainability. But making decisions in a game about how phosphorus affects lake health can better reinforce memory.

“The creation of our games is a multi-step process,” Gagnon said. “After we get our funding, we reach the concepting phase where we know the content and the audience for the game. We then run teacher fellowships with the subject experts where … we spend time understanding the targeted classroom setting to develop a game based on the curriculum.”

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Another game Field Day Labs developed is “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case,” which Field Day Labs created in partnership with PBS Wisconsin. According to the Field Day Lab webpage, this game simulates the tasks of a historian, constructing parallels between artifacts and historical events in Wisconsin.

Players can navigate through the game as a young detective, collecting clues from various landmarks well known by UW students, including the State Capitol and the Kohl Center.

The “Yard Games” collection that the lab offers is geared toward middle schoolers and focused on explaining natural science phenomena, according to the Field Day Labs website. The carbon, nitrogen and water cycle games display how these elements impact and move through various ecosystems within a board-game-style experience.

The collection also includes the puzzle game, “Crystal Cave,” which acquaints kids with crystals through arranging molecules into stable configurations on their screens.

Project assistant Jennifer Scianna said these games prove how educational gaming can demonstrate natural processes that are difficult to observe in the real world. They give the player the ability to adjust certain scales such as time and distance at their own pace in order to make observations.

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Scianna said the lab takes a lot of information into consideration when designing and releasing new games. Field Day Labs continues to release learning games because they are proven to enrich learning while keeping kids entertained. By engaging in educational gameplay, retaining and understanding information is required for the player to progress through each game, she stated.

“At Field Day Labs, we have an ethos of coming up with a new mechanic,” Scianna said. “A lot of games wind up being retooling of mechanics that have been tested and tried and true.”

Another part of the lab’s initiative is to continue making learning fun and interactive through use of other entertainment systems, such as virtual reality. Currently, the lab plans to incorporate virtual reality experiences within rural libraries throughout Wisconsin, Scianna said.

Field Day is also preparing to release a journalism game and games exploring the roles of fungi in the natural world, said Gagnon.

“As designers, we have to create spaces that allow players to do interesting things and make interesting choices and through those choices we hope that players are better understanding the underlying system of the game,” Scianna said.

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