A Quick Guide to Gaming Teen Interest in History

Lightning Talk
Effie Kapsalis, Smithsonian Institution Archives, USA

How do you get teens interested in history, especially the history of a 171-year old organization like the Smithsonian? With games, of course! We knew we were underserving teen visitors to the Smithsonian’s iconic “Castle” on the U.S. National Mall which was mainly viewed as a pitstop before visitors moved on to the museums and national monuments. We also knew there were wonderful stories of our history which spoke to early America, innovation, and discovery. But how could we make whatever we developed resonated with teen visitors?

With a small grant of $18,000, two staff members (one from the Smithsonian Institution Archives and one from the Castle Office of Visitor Service), and a paid intern, we had less than 5 months to come up with something to launch in  Summer 2017. We partnered with local teens to co-develop the experience, and landed on two components of the program. One, an interactive game or experience to involve and excite younger visitors about history overall, as well as the history of the Smithsonian. Two, a teen docent program to bring on local teens to run whatever interactive experience we developed. Our goals were to provide teens with a more engaging experience at the Castle, and to spark their interest in history.

We’ll give you a brief synopsis of how we got from idea to launch employing the human-centered design process, and give you the lessons learned from running a game for teens in an historic setting.

"The Mystery of the Megatherium Club: Mustaches & Mayhem" Pilot Game Website, https://www.si.edu/megatherium
"Well-played!", Bigger Picture Blog, by Effie Kapsalis, https://siarchives.si.edu/blog/well-played