CIRCA:OSBA

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Old Strathcona Business Association Game

We have partnered with the Old Strathcona Business Association[1] (OSBA)to build a geolocation based game to be played within the Old Strathcona/Whyte Ave area taking advantage of the diversity of opportunities this unique neighbourhood presents. The OSBA is a non-profit organisation that supports the local community, small business, festivals, events, and the historical area of Old Strathcona. The partnership provides us with a rich opportunity to create a multifaceted game that incorporates a range of themes that, when taken together, both highlight the diversity of the area but also provide us with a rich content resource for game development and testing.

For this client we will be building two games: one based on the fAR-Play platform and the other on the SCVNGR platform. These games will be built, tested, and compared by the research team.

The following information largely pertains to both games although they will have slightly different functionality due to their different infrastructure and interface qualities. Both games will make use of QR codes, will require players to go to different place and complete challenges that require them to create content including answering questions, entering free text answers, or taking and uploading photographs. The games will grant points and keep a leaderboard tally of players. They both also grant badges for larger or cumulative achievements.

Game Play:

This partnership provides us with many themes and content options for creating a game and we feel this diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity. We propose to design a game that is both modular and expansive. Multiple themed adventures, where players travel physically to different locations and use smartphones to complete challenges at each stop, will make up a larger umbrella game that links together the different adventures. Each adventure will focus on a unique idea, group of locations, event, or player demographic. The game play will be played over the long term with players welcome to dedicate a few hours to completing an adventure, or they may progress bit by bit over time as they return to the area repeatedly. Players will progress thorough these adventures and achieve themed badges for each adventure sequence of locations and challenges they complete. A master leaderboard for the game will track the progress of the most active players and users will be able to track their individual progress through personal accounts on a website. The Old Strathcona business community and the OSBA are very excited about this project and have proposed the option of having achievements in the game translated to real world rewards like discounts at business, free coffees, or passes to performances or events. This functionality is already built into the SCVNGR interface. This is an aspect of involvement we hope will engage players and make this a truly social game as they interact not only with the smartphone interface and the environment, but also with the merchants and other area participants.

Although the game will be played within the business district it is not designed for commercial purposes or individual business promotion. Businesses may choose to participate more actively in the game environment by offering real-world rewards but essential game play will never require purchases to be made. The purpose is to educate, not advertise.

Learning Potential:

These games have the potential for learning on multiple levels and is adaptable to a range of pedagogical aims. We see this game as being a fun and entertaining platform to present different content, link that content with the experience of a place, and to solicit engagement and feedback from players. One of the best ways to learn is to engage, respond, and create, so one of the most important aspects of this game is the ability and requirement for players to generate their own game content that stems from their personal experiences of the Old Strathcona area. The challenges scattered throughout the different adventures will present players with an open ended question or task that will ask them to enter text, take a photo, or upload other content they create themselves. These questions will ask players to respond to the location they are at and information presented through the game interface. We hope this will engage players to learn by challenge them to go beyond walking to different locations and reading directions as well as reinforcing connections to the area and its history through active and thoughtful engagement.

Proposed Adventure Themes:

  • Historical adventure to many of the original buildings from the founding of the area to teach players about the layers of history still presentin the neighbourhood. Stops on this adventure could include the Princess Theatre, the Dominion Hotel, the Strathcona Public Library, the Varscona firehall (now the Varscona Theatre) and the trolley stop by the farmer’s market. (*This adventure is currently being built)
  • Healthy Living in Old Strathcona adventure which would take players to the farmer’s market for healthy food options, yoga studios, the river walking trail, the bicycle commuters of Edmonton, McIntyre Memorial Park, personal trainers, medical clinics and other health and wellness resources. This game would teach players about ways they can integrate healthy living into their daily schedules within the urban environment.
  • International Dining adventure would have players travelling to the different international restaurants in the area to highlight the diversity of cultures and businesses in the area. This game can teach players about the multicultural identity of the neighbourhood and encourage both geographic and culinary exploration.
  • Locally Made adventure would have players identify places in the area that support local business, artisans, and community initiatives. This game would teach awareness of local initiatives and community building by making visible different levels of engagement and options they have for supporting local farmers, small businesses, volunteer organisations, and community engagement in general.
  • Festival Season adventures would guide players through time limited events like the Fringe, the Francophone Music Festival, the Old Strathcona Art Walk, and Ice on Whyte.
  • Family Friendly adventures engage children, parents and grandparents to explore the neighbourhood and discover resources for family activities.
  • Live Music and Theatre adventures engage players to discover the multitude of live entertainment venues in the city and learn about the vibrant performing arts culture in Edmonton.


These are only some options, there are many more layers of content to be explored in Old Strathcona. Individual challenge could also be built into the game that do not require a time commitment to complete. One interesting option that also teaches about the city’s history would be to ask players to find and photograph one of the rare all white albino magpies that nest in the Old Strathcona area. These are descendants from a magpie with the gene variation that has nested in Edmonton since the 1940’s.

Questions & Locations

Strathcona Public Library (Reading Refuge)- 5 pts

Q: The library has a collection of over 42,000 items - tell us about your favourite thing(s) the library provides access to. Snap a photo for extra points. (open response)

Message: Thanks! This library has a particularily extensive collection of classical and jazz music recordings. For more about this spot: http://goo.gl/tw66X


Princess Theatre (You Oughta Be in Pictures)- 5 pts Q: The Princess Theatre's vintage marquee and opulent architecture make it a photogenic spot. Take a photo from a unique perspective. (photo challenge)

Message: Thanks! That looks great. Why not catch a show and check out the interior of the theatre too.


Ross Block (The More Things Change...)- 5 pts Q: The reuse of historical buildings is common in growing cities like Edmonton, can you imagine what this building has been? What would you do with this building? (Open response)

Message: Thanks for sharing! This building has been many things including a hardware store, cultural centre, feed store, Masonic Hall, restaurant, & yoga studio.


Farmer's Market (Back to the Land)- 5 pts Q: Many Edmontonians make a tradition of going to the farmer's market and visiting particular vendors. Describe a tradition or memory linked to this place. (open response)

Message: Many of the people have been coming to the market for many years such as the kettle corn vendor. Check out their site for more information: www.osfm.ca/


Strathcona Hotel (You can check out...)- 4 pts Q: Built in 1903, this is one of the oldest buildings in the city. What kind of events can you imagine having taken place in this building over the years? (open response)

Message: In the early 1900's this hotel was one of the best on the prairies. Check out this link to see more about the history of this spot: http://goo.gl/j98pl


Highlevel Bridge Streetcar (Clang x3 went the trolley)- 5 pts Q: When service across the Highlevel Bridge began in 1913 it was the highest river crossing by a streetcar in the world. Take a ride & snap a photo of the view.

Message: Nice shot! Check out this site for much more info about transportation in Edmonton: http://www.edmonton-radial-railway.ab.ca/


McIntyre Fountain (Monumental disaster)- 4 pts Q: While this fountain looks historical, it is a replica built in 1989 to replace the original which was destroyed in 1952. How do you think it was destroyed?

Message: Great story, click here to read the offical account of how it was destroyed: http://goo.gl/UKplX


Walterdale Theatre (All the town's a stage...)- 4 pts Q: The Walterdale is only one of many arts venues in Old Strathcona. Tell us about a memorable show you've seen at the performance venues in the neighbourhood.

Message: Thanks! This building started out as a firehall (just like the Varscona across ths street), click this link to see more about the theatre district: http://goo.gl/DDwDw


Hub News (??)- 4 pts Q: Hub News has one of the largest selections of magazines in Canada. What is your favourite place to pick up something to read in Old Strathcona?

Message: Although this is one of the oldest businesses in town it hasn't always been at this location, click to see where Hub New got it's start: http://goo.gl/NbVEA


Gainer Block (Let's eat!)- 4 pts Q: The Gainer block has been a spot for foodies since the Gainer family opened their butcher shop here in 1892. What is your favourite food you can find on Whyte?

Message: That sounds delicious! Check out this link for more information about the Gainer Block's foodie roots: http://goo.gl/788Ki


Sample game play narrative:

Sam is picking up a coffee at a cafe on Whyte Ave and spots a colourful poster from the OSBA with a QR tag on it next to the door. She grabs her phone and snaps a photos of the tag and a mobile webpage that is part of the OSBA site loads. The website explains that she just took a first step in playing a game in Old Strathcona. It describes the game as a way of learning about the area and, sharing her experiences, thoughts and opinions, and earning both digital and physical rewards. She can play with her smart phone or using SMS and to get started she needs to download the free SCVNGR app (including a link to the Apple app store, Android marketplace, etc) and create an account following the app's prompts. To get started playing the game all she has to do is tap on the "Treks" icon in the bottom left corner and look for "Write on Whyte" in the local treks list (or search for "Write on Whyte" in the search bar). Clicking on the trek name loads the list of stops where there are tasks to complete. To choose a location she simply taps on the name and it loads the challenge. At each location she can choose the standard SCVNGR options to check-in, check-in with a friend also playing the game for extra points, take a photo, say something about the spot, or complete the "Write on Whyte" task to make progress in the trek (at the top of the list).

Sam creates an account by entering a username and password to get started and chooses the Princess Theatre location. She walks over to the building while reading the challenge question.

The Princess Theatre's vintage marquee and opulent architecture make it a photogenic spot. Take a photo from a unique perspective.

Sam snaps a close-cropped image of part of the marquee sign and uploads it to her game profile earning 5 extra points. She also checks in and makes a comment that she went to her first movie here with her friends (no parents) in middle school earning extra points.

At this point Sam can decide whether to go to another location displayed on the trek map or to leave the game for now and come back later to continue playing.

Later that week Sam is shopping at the farmer's market on Saturday morning and notices another OSBA poster with the QR code. She takes out her phone and opens up the SCVNGR app. The Strathcona farmer's market is a stop on the trek so she completes the challenge at this location earning more points and progressing in the trek.

Sam can check out her profile and the leaderboard in the SCVNGR interface to see her own progress and the content created by other players at the locations she has visited. The neighbourhood has signs with QR codes posted at every business that is part of the larger OSBA game (all QR codes lead to the main game info website).

When the Write on Whyte trek is complete Sam can choose to play other treks or play selectively at individual locations to earn points and rewards. New adventure themes, new locations, and short-term adventures for festivals like the Fringe are added to keep the game exciting and players engaged.

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