American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Discussion with elementary school students.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Translating hand-drawn imagery for Prairie Game into digital form. The Africanized honeybee, specifically, is on the screen.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Introduction screen to Navigating Nature.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
The main character, Lane, playing with his dog before venturing into the Forbidden Forest.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Lane runs into the forest after his dog and trips over a tree root.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
He falls unconscious and wakes up to find a talking Cottonwood tree.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Lane and Mrs. Cottonwood at start of game on Overworld Map.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Playing the Forest Game. The red squares represent herbicide usage.Notice different growth stages of Honey locust, Maple, and Walnut trees.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)



Navigating Nature
Ryan Bitzegaio, Megan Caylor, Elizabeth Clay, Alex Corn, Charles Estell, Francesca Hernandez, Student ASLA, Ashley Keith, Christopher Patten, Student ASLA, Nicole Randolph, Nadia Roumie, Adam Voirin, Student ASLA, Kelly Woodward, Student ASLA
Ball State University, Muncie, IN
Faculty Advisor: Martha Hunt

"FUN! Not only a great collaboration, but a valuable teaching tool to reach out to young people in an approach that will effectively increase their learning and awareness of environmental factors."

— 2007 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement

The educational video game Navigating Nature was produced by a twelve student interdisciplinary team (landscape architecture, biology/natural resources, telecommunications, computer science, English). Navigating Nature challenges children to restore ecosystems; to do so they build an understanding of these systems, and connect to the natural world through a technology they are comfortable with: a video game.

Project Description

Navigating Nature is made up of 3 mini games: a forest game, a wetland game, and a prairie game. The creation of this game grew out of three beliefs. First, getting kids interested in, and knowledgeable about, the natural environment is important to make the Earth a healthier place. Second, when kids play games, they are learning; they are thinking critically, performing exercises in logic, and developing superior hand-eye coordination. Third, video games have been blamed for everything from increased violence to sloth and indolence, and they have been given short shrift in their potential as a positive tool for learning.

The game’s target audience, elementary-aged schoolchildren, required that it be engaging, but also satisfy the wide-range of learning and developmental levels found in second through fifth grade. Also, the game outcome had to be more complex than a simple win/not win state -- the children needed to be able to do well, to have an average performance, or fail. A compelling storyline, animated characters, and different game play techniques were all used to address these needs.

Each mini-game was constructed from the ground up: original code was written, game play was built upon the natural laws, graphic entities were drawn, and the children were consulted throughout the process (feedback was gathered at each step: storylines were presented and the game was tested for game play, challenge level, and code problems). Academic and field research on ecosystems, hands-on prototyping, problem solving, and testing resulted in the following themed mini-games:

The Forest Game -- The player is taken back in time 200 years to see the clear-cutting of old-growth forest. To win, the player re-populates the forest with native tree species and removes the invasive species.
The Wetland Game -- The player is faced with wetlands that have been disconnected from their water source, the river. To win the player reroutes the river to reconnect these wetlands.
The Prairie Game -- The player is in a prairie invaded by exotic species. To win the player finds the invasive species and replaces them with their native look-alikes.

The Role of the Landscape Architecture Student

The design of a video game is much like landscape design, so we were comfortable in this setting. We worked closely with students from computer science, wildlife biology, ecology, English Education, and TCOM, and our roles were ever-changing. To meet our goals, teams were formed to efficiently tackle different tasks. We (the LA students) found ourselves on many of these teams. Some of us worked on the graphics team to illustrate characters, plants, and animals, while others worked on the storyline team to develop a narrative for the game. We also documented (in video and still photos) the entire process, developed a children’s storybook for the game, and prepared a final presentation (including kiosk-like stations designed to inform about the process and allow the play of the game). Given the “generalist” nature of our field we were the most comfortable with moving from one task to the next, and visualizing the final outcome. This allowed us to step in and contribute to discussions in meaningful ways, from seeing both sides of an argument to assisting the group in coming to consensus.

How the Landscape Architecture Students Contributed to the Process

We were able to contribute in many different ways, including:

  • Illustrations of plants and animals. In this process the natural science students found plant and animal data and we guided everyone through the decision-making process to choose the most representational species, and determined which could be illustrated given technological constraints. A similar process was followed to create the overworld map (where the player begins the game), the topographic tile overlay for the wetland game, and aerial and cross-section scenes in forest and prairie games.

  • Mediating discussion and guiding consensus building. Though we served as mediators and consensus builders, the following example exemplifies this role.
    An argument had ensued regarding the rerouting of a river as a basis for the wetland game. Some students argued that if the river was re-routed back to a more natural flow, established habitats would be re-disturbed, causing too much harm. Others argued that a concrete channel was not a diverse system, and there are many successful examples of re-channeling. We (the LA students) realized everyone was arguing from discipline-specific beliefs. This realization broke the stalemate, and, with good communication, a solution was found.

  • Establishing a successful communication system. Any miscommunication in this project had an effect on many different fronts, from the evolution of educational intent or game play to frustration with each other. And, working with technology introduced another set of difficulties. To help with tug-of-war situations, we utilized our diagramming and graphic communication abilities. We were able to focus discussion on the project, making decisions both tangible and less personal.

What the Landscape Architecture Student Learned from Other Disciplines, and Visa Versa

Here are some examples that illustrate what we learned from each other in this game-building process:

  • Communicating effectively with different disciplines. Primarily we learned how important it is for us to not expect others to understand our design vocabulary, jargon, or process. For example, we cannot expect natural science students to immediately come up with a series of storyboards when storyboarding is not in their skill set. To address today’s environmental challenges will require intense collaboration between many disciplines; this experience has given us some good practice at communication with other professionals.

  • A deeper understanding of specific native flora and fauna. Intense collaboration with students from the natural sciences opened our eyes to the fact we do not know nearly as much as we thought in terms of plant life, cycles, and how ecosystems operate. This resulted in, for example, the inclusion of each tree’s life cycle and propagation patterns in the forest game.

  • Virtual world challenges. Computer science students taught us about the opportunities, and limitations of today’s technology. For example our game’s main character had to be animated within frame constraints, and sized to correspond to a computer screen. A tile system of this screen required each tile had to be drawn to fit. Scale, perspective, and how one moves through the landscape all needed to be rethought as we constructed this virtual world of many different parts. Augmented Reality, a concept now being explored in landscape architecture, is one area that will need to be approached in such a collaborative manner.

  • Technology and design opportunities/constraints. Working with TCOM and computer science majors brought to the forefront the challenge of animation. The pixel, for example, brought on an entire new set of graphic design rules. This restriction demanded clear layout, color choice, and comprehensible graphic representation.

  • Understanding client needs. The English/Secondary Education major helped us interpret and understand our audience: elementary school students. Applying state science learning objectives and standards, how to gather information from this age group, and, working with children to test our designs was all new to us. In our profession, our purpose as a designer is to listen and create a solution that they can relate to, will enjoy, and, in this case, learn from.

While we certainly learned a lot from others in this seminar, the other students learned the following from us:

  • Our discipline bridges many disciplines. Though we found ourselves grappling with our own jargon, we were able to demonstrate how to value and apply the knowledge from other disciplines in this process. Our leadership in this regard demonstrated the role we play in our field.

  • Understanding the process of design can bring answers to many questions. Though the design of a video game is not typically what landscape architects do, our understanding of design process provided a solid foundation throughout the semester. We found ourselves taking on leadership roles, and being productive team players in this project. Consequently we taught others how to move through the (sometimes scary) creative process.

  • What landscape architects do – how we see things, how we engage the community. We spent many, many hours with these classmates (this was our primary project for all of our credit that semester). It was inevitable that we shared what we traditionally do in our disciplines. This happened when we made site visits – by the questions we would ask, how we would graphically document what we saw, and by pointing out how land was being used. And this happened in the classroom – by showing the others how to read an aerial photograph, or how to draw in plan view vs. section. This exposure broke the others in the seminar from thinking we were like the rest from our college -- that we are not simply architects that design landscapes. We are landscape architects that put healthy landscapes and communities first on our list of goals.



The restored forest.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
The ruined wetland.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Playing the Wetland Game. Lane is moving rocks to direct water flow. Notice Cattails and Purple Loostrife.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
The restored wetland.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
The ruined prairie, with invasive Black Swallowwort in the foreground.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
Playing the Prairie game and searching for each invasive plant that has a native look alike.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
The restored Prairie.
(Photo by Adam Voirin and Laura Huffman)
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