Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Children of the Sun Redux: Visiting Angel Mounds

Back in Spring 2013, I mentored the team that developed Children of the Sun, an original educational iPad game about Middle Mississippian Native Americans. I wrote about the experience, and Steffan Byrne and I conducted a qualitative evaluation that is documented in our GLS 9.0 paper. The game was not widely disseminated, being developed specifically for the Indiana State Museum's summer program, so unfortunately there's no way for you to play it today.

Much of the game takes place in a village view, which shows some three hundred villagers within it. The depiction is taken from archaeological drawings of Angel Mounds.

The goal of the game is to build the largest central ceremonial mound while also surviving both natural and man-made challenges. The central brown rectangular area is where this mound is built. I don't have the winning screen on hand—and without an iPad or a current Unity3D license, I cannot generate one—but you can imagine that it looks like a large version of the smaller green mounds shown in the image.

When we made the game, the team made great use of the resources they had available. We talked with representatives from the Indiana State Museum, local experts in history and archaeology, informative Web sites, and several books from the Ball State library.

This past weekend, I visited the actual Angel Mounds for the first time. It's hard to get a sense of scale from this picture, but I can assert that after 500 years of erosion, that central mound is still big. In fact, the whole site was much bigger than I imagined.
This begs the question: why? Why is it that someone who spent a semester making a game about this very site would be surprised at the scale of it?

If you scroll up and take a look at the village map, and you compare it with the scale of actual site, the villagers are not to scale. We had a lot of discussion—some heated discussion, as I recall—about how to represent the villagers. We agreed that these villagers ought to be more iconic than realistic, but they needed to be distinguishable as people. As we worked on the game, though, the villagers were really the primary objects of interest. Even though our intention was for them to be iconic, they became the points of reference for everything else. Although we spent a lot of time on the village map's design, I don't remember anyone questioning the scale. I believe that, as a result, my memory of virtual Angel Mounds was that it was much smaller, so that the people would be the right size.

I'm sure this didn't come up in our formative evaluation, because at that point, we didn't realize it was a problem. I wonder, though, if players would draw the same conclusion, and be similarly surprised at the vastness of the actual Angel Mounds site?

Incidentally, I recommend visiting Angel Mounds. The interpretive museum area is excellent, and the site is well maintained and inspirational. My family has been talking quite a bit about what we saw here, using it as a touchpoint to explain world cultures and history.

No comments:

Post a Comment