WolfQuest and Outdoor Play

Discuss WolfQuest (the game, forum, etc.).

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Newborn Wolf
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WolfQuest and Outdoor Play

Post by Penumbra2882 » Wed Jun 05, 2019 8:09 pm

I start working at a summer camp I love as a swimming instructor next week. One of the missions of the organization I work for is to provide a safe place for kids to explore nature year-round in our city. I don't think the internet is a bad thing for kids, but many families are unable to balance time spent outside and on the computer. I have seen many kids as old as 10 oblivious to or even fearful of nature when they first come to camp. They have a very difficult time adjusting despite our efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment. This is never a fault of the child in question but of the surroundings they live in and the behavior of the adults they model--very few families have the time, knowledge, or interest to expose their kids to our beautiful local woodland.

This is just something I've been thinking about when viewing WolfQuest’s purpose as a whole--I believe this game can foster the same type of interaction with nature as a kid would have outside. I believe WQ as a learning tool (like it strictly used to be) teaches two main concepts within Yellowstone's environment: the geography of the park and how the food chain is structured around the resources the park provides. Although the mechanics of the game allow prey animals spawn infinitely, it emulates the player wolf directly affecting the food chain by killing prey and eventually producing more predators to kill prey. The journey to finding a mate & growing a family are met with hazards like hunting injuries, competition w/ other predators, and vulnerability of pups. This matches up with the idea of evolutionary adaptability: only the strongest in their environment survive to pass on their genes. The death of animals in WolfQuest is expressed very plainly—the carcasses are in full view and consuming them directly aids the player with their survival. I appreciate this educational and direct approach, since kids can clearly understand why they needed to kill the animal & how it helps them with the game. WQ has a very basic framework but it is extremely effective when teaching animal ecology.

My summer camp gives kids the opportunity to interact with nature more intimately, and many campers use that time to be imaginative and use the natural resources they find to create their own kind of headspace. It might be as simple as building a fort out of branches and playing house. I believe the open-world style of WQ fuels the same imagination in kids & even older players. In a casual setting, it's easy to spend hours running around the maps & finding cool things, and many in-game achievements focus on exactly that. This is something I believe the developers are acutely aware of as the game enters its third era. Several of the devblog videos have highlighted features and landmarks within the WQ3 world that could be popular among players who like to make stories with their wolves, like the Fossil Forest as a "hangout spot" and the cinematic camera as a tool to make videos expressing their wolf characters. The devs have also acknowledged RPing that happens in multiplayer and have created a space over the years for it to play out safely. Roleplaying or playing pretend is a very natural activity for a kid to enjoy while outside; for whatever reason they like interactive spaces and objects they can use for their stories. WolfQuest is the perfect platform for that style of play in supplement to the outdoors. I believe the enjoyment from roleplaying stems from the enjoyment of make-believe games in childhood. Pretending I was an animal was something I loved doing with my friends on a playground, and as an adult WQ3 rekindles that same excitement in me.

The general age range of the players who enjoy WQ for the RP is likely something that won’t be shared with other players (if that data has ever been recorded) but I would guess it would be from 11-16, starting around the time kids discover the internet and get “too old” for pretend games at summer camp. This also around the time they stop enjoying zoos unless they have a passion for animals. While the food chain and basic animal facts are covered in most elementary and middle schools in the United States, WolfQuest teaches wolves in a way that allows kids to learn and explore at their own pace. Those lessons originally stemmed from child-led play or education in an outdoor space.

It is not very hard to believe WolfQuest can be used as a tool in science classrooms. There are even additional materials on the site for education. Many students struggle with improv and roleplaying games in a traditional classroom, but online discussion boards are offered through services like Blackboard and Google. It seems to me a screen is not a barrier, but more like a veil; students may more comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas online than sharing with the class in person. With the chatbox offered in multiplayer, it seems possible to facilitate classroom multiplayer sessions to let kids interact with each other in ways that are less anxiety-inducing under the supervision of an adult, especially since computer proficiency is much more commonplace among young people in 2019 more than ever. It would have been something I would have loved when I was in school. Most educational software is a teaching tool first and a game second—sites like thisislanguage.com also stress competition among peers, grades, and even schools as a practice, whereas an instructor can provide more teamwork-focused challenges within the game. What I’d really like to know is the effectiveness of WolfQuest in a traditional classroom setting vs. experiencing in the outdoors when it comes to teaching kids about wildlife, especially dangerous animals like wolves, bears, and cougars.

I know when WQ originally received funding from the Minnesota Zoo, the priority was to make the game as realistic and educational as possible. With the addition of features that facilitate more relaxed and freeform playtime within the main storyline, is the mission of WolfQuest still to educate kids, even a decade later? In a world where our priorities for our children are shifting, should WQ rise to meet the expectations of educational online play, or will it never offer the same experience of the real outdoors? These are questions I hope @loboloco and the rest of the WQ team has taken into consideration. I love both working with kids and working outdoors, and the WolfQuest community seems like they value both their young fanbase and the environment of Yellowstone.

I apologize for this huge wall of text but I really started thinking about the impact of technology on young people and the importance of outside experiences. I made an account here just to post this--I really hope a dev sees this post and has the ability to answer some of the questions I have. If you asked me what I would want to see revealed on the 100 new things list, I'd like to see more features that allow kids' imaginations to grow while staying true to the moderate realism of the game.

The sources I used in this observation (or ramble) are from my own experiences working as a counselor, lifeguard, and activity director at a nonprofit campground for several years, and experiencing the outdoors as a kid myself. Additional materials were used to help formulate my opinions, but in the interest of my personal identity I won't be linking them here. Thanks for reading!

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