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New York City Haunts

Integrating local history and social issues into geo-locative game design

Founded by Global Kids, Inc. and the New York Public Library, NYC Haunts is a STEM-based learning program in which youth designers create a mobile, geo-locative alternate reality game that explores local history and contemporary issues facing a particular NYC neighborhood. The games produced by youth in NYC Haunts programs typically follow the footsteps of a “ghost” — a historical figure or composite modern-day character — who guides a player to discover social, environmental, or economic conditions in the city.

Throughout the design process, program participants develop their computational thinking, design thinking, collaboration, storytelling, and communication skills. They playtest their games, give and receive feedback, and refine the narrative arc and back-end coding of the games with peer and adult facilitator support.

Global Kids in collaboration with Hive Learning Network organizations and school-based partners have iterated upon the program over the years, testing and refining the curriculum as educators and youth participants have created location-based games over various timeframes, in new sites and settings, and with different populations of youth and digital platforms.

Program History

The program first rolled-out as a semester-long after-school program for high school-aged youth sited at libraries around New York City in 2011. After exploring the neighborhoods around the libraries and taking a deep dive into library collections, participants created their digital “treks” using ARIS, an open source platform for creating and playing mobile games, tours and interactive stories. The storylines of those initial games were based on the premise of a teen player assisting a virtual detective to solve mysteries presented by historical (or historically-inspired) figures specific to the neighborhood. Youth created five treks that can be played by anyone with an iOs-enabled device and the ARIS application who is geographically close to one of the participating library sites: Bronx Library Center, Seward Park Library, Hamilton Grange Library, Belmont Library, or St. George Library Center.

After the initial prototype programs at the libraries, Global Kids received a 2013 Digital Media Learning Fund Catalyst grant to iterate upon the NYC Haunts model to serve both middle and high school-aged young people in new settings: community centers, week and month-long summer camps, museums, school-based afterschool programs, and elective classes at schools during the school day. In the Spring of 2014, Global Kids brought NYC Haunts to three school-based after school programs in Brooklyn and Queens in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library. That summer, NYC Haunts debuted as a week-long intensive “boot camp” at Exposure Camp, and at month-long programs at the Brooklyn Museum and The Point, CDC. During the following school year, 2014-15, Global Kids brought NYC Haunts to the high schools and middle schools around New York City where the organization runs out-of-school-time programming.

With each new site, Global Kids has experimented with and stretched the curriculum, incorporating the unique assets of new locations and youth populations. New facilitators have also been trained in the curriculum and tools, building the staff’s capacity. In addition, these pilots also helped Global Kids test out a new augmented-reality game design engine, TaleBlazer, currently being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Researchers and software developers at MIT closely supported the program to help Global Kids learn all of the features of the program and help measure student learning outcomes related to design process knowledge, design challenges, collaboration, and youth voice and ownership of the game design process.

As a result of this experimentation and expansion, young people across New York City have been exposed to more computational thinking concepts, have been able to include new and more complex mechanics into their games, and have explored outdoor as well as indoor spaces. They have told stories about a fictional ghost haunting the Brooklyn Public Library, related the accounts of witnesses of gun violence in East Flatbush, brought Jackie Robinson back to life at the site of the former Ebbett’s Field, and sensitively imagined what the 17th century slaves buried beneath Drake Park in Hunt’s Point might say if they could tell their tales to us today.

Since 2011, Global Kids has guided youth to create games at over 20 sites across New York City, in all 5 boroughs, demonstrating the flexibility, adaptability, and relevance of the NYC Haunts curriculum and program model.

This project was funded by the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust in 2011 and 2013.

The following Habitat Map tracks all of the NYC Haunts games that have been created since 2011. Click on the markers for more information about the project(s) at each site.

Lead Organization:
Global Kids

Partner Organizations:
Global Kids, Inc. , New York Public LIbrary , Brooklyn Public Library , Queens Library , The Point , Brooklyn Museum , Exposure Camp

Project Goal:
Provide quality out-of-school time experience for teens that use digital media to encourage learning as well as a fully prototyped activity to be shared with other organizations.

Project Tags:
Games & Game Design

Project Portfolio

  • teaching resources

    Workshop Plan for Educators - Introduction to Location-Based Game Design

    Global Kids has been developing curricula that other educators can use.

    This plan will introduce youth to location-based game design by guiding them to play a sample TaleBlazer game

  • teaching resources

    Workshop Plan for Educators - Community Walk

    This plan guides youth on a community walk to inspire a game’s topic and story

  • documentation

    Michelle Obama Plays Youth-Created NYC Haunts Game

    In June 2014, Global Kids NYC Haunts participant, Shavonne Campbell, then a 10th grader at the High School for Global Citizenship in Brooklyn, demonstrated his location-based game to First Lady Michelle Obama at a Department of Education event in Washington, D.C. It was a game he created with his peers to follow Jackie Robinson’s experiences breaking the color barrier at Ebbet’s Field.

    Impressed by the game, and on the invitation of Global Kids student, Annie Willis, Mrs. Obama decided to pay a visit to the Global Kids offices in July 2014.

  • media

    NYC Haunts Media Coverage

    NYC Haunts featured in Forbes magazine and in the Hechinger Report.

  • documentation

    Reflections on NYC Haunts Summer Programs

    Additional reflections on the Summer 2014 summer pilots at Hive Learning Network organizations, The Point CDC, the Brooklyn Museum, and Exposure Camp.

  • documentation

    NYC Haunts Partner Reflection

    The Brooklyn Museum’s Rachel Ropeik reflects on the Summer 2014 NYC Haunts summer game design program on the Art Museum Teaching blog:

    “This program was an exciting step towards a goal near and dear to my heart: using digital technology to explore museum collections without the technology overwhelming or distracting from the artwork…A big part of what made it feel so special, though, was the open-hearted, open-ended nature of the whole project and that fact that the teens were building something together from the ground up.”

  • documentation

    In Their Own Words

    In their own words: Youth at the Brooklyn Museum use Tumblr to document their experiences creating a location-based game within the Museum’s collections.

  • documentation

    NYC Haunts at Global Kids School Sites

    Blog posts about the Spring 2014 after-school pilots, including participant showcases at Emoti-Con 2014 and 2015!

    Emoti-Con 2014 wrap-up:

    Spring 2014 playtests:

    Emoti-Con 2015 wrap-up:

  • media

    Inside Haunts, 2011-2012

    These videos from the New York Public Library demonstrate the impact of the program in its early iteration.

  • media

    Photographs, Neighborhood History Workshop, 2012

    Youth at the Belmont Library learned about their neighborhood history through historical photographs, old maps and a walking tour led by the Museum of City New York.

  • documentation

    Storyboarding Workshop

    Youth learn to map out and assess their ideas for the digital scavenger hunt via storyboarding.

  • documentation

    NYC Haunts Photo Album

    Photographs of NYC Haunts workshops at the five library sites 2011-12.

  • documentation

    Infinite Thinking Machine

    NYC Haunts featured on this online show focused on games based learning.