NYC Haunts

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. Founded by Global Kids, Inc. and the New York Public Library in 2011, NYC Haunts has since been iterated upon by Global Kids in collaboration with Hive Learning Network organizations and school-based partners. The curriculum has been tested, refined, and made more nimble over the years 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.


Since NYC Haunts began, Global Kids has guided youth to create games at 16 sites across New York City, in all 5 boroughs, demonstrating the flexibility, adaptability, and relevancy of the NYC Haunts curriculum and program model.


The youth-produced games in NYC Haunts programs typically follow the footsteps of a “ghost” -- a historical figure or composite character from the past -- who guides a player to discover the social, environmental, or economic conditions in the city that might have led to its demise. Players go on missions to help the ghost move on and cease its haunting.



The youth game designers research and curate content to help players of the game understand the plight of the ghost and explore contemporary issues or a particular moment in neighborhood history. They develop their computational thinking, design thinking, collaboration, storytelling, and communication skills. Throughout the design process, youth play-test their games, give and receive feedback, and refine the narrative arc and back-end coding of the games with peer and adult facilitator support. 


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

NYC Haunts at New Directions! 

This summer, youth channeled the stories of yet another set of New York City "ghosts" through our signature NYC Haunts program -- this time, at New Directions Secondary School in the Bronx.


A multi-age, diverse group of elementary, middle, and high schoolers, along with adult educators collaborated to create a location-based game about local South Bronx history and issues using MIT's TaleBlazer software. Everyone rose to the challenge to complete the project in just one week.



After playing some example games and learning the elements of a game, game designers got right to work, listening intently to the stories of Global Kids staff member and former HS basketball player, Devin, who attended school on their campus a few years ago. They also conducted research about the history of the area through internet searches, community walks, and interviews with local residents. The students found out that the Bronx was plagued by arson in the 1970s, and it destroyed many homes. They learned about the efforts of young people to rebuild the community in the wake of the destruction. 




In the end, the winning game concept involved many of the researched elements: The player is Devin, a high school basketball star who is zapped back in time to the 1970s. Only a pair of magical Jordans can help him return to the year 2009 in order to play in the basketball championship. To find the shoes, he must help neighborhood people locate the items they need to rebuild the community after an arson.


Once the group settled on a core idea, youth split up into four teams to divide up the work. The art team created images for the characters and items. The storytelling team wrote and reviewed the text of each character. The investigator team determined the clues and riddles to give to the player within the game. The coding team figured out the logic of the game and programmed it. 




Everyone's hard work paid off. Give the game it a playtest the next time you are around 170th St and the Grand Concourse. It can be found if you download the TaleBlazer app and insert the code: gbosehd


Happy time travelling!



Special thanks to the Hive Learning Network, the New York Community Trust, and the Department of Youth and Community Development for their ongoing support of this program.


OLP at Global Kids is getting ready to kick off this year’s Summer NYC Haunts program at two participating middle school camps. We are excited for GK's young people to explore NYC's history through the creation of location-based games that take players on treks through two vibrant neighborhoods, Washington Heights and the South Bronx. The participating youth might choose to explore Native American history in the northern part of NYC, tales from the immigrants that have arrived in their neighborhoods from countries around the world, or any number of other local stories.

We are excited to see what the students will come up with. Recent play-tests during their after school programs showed us they are ready to dive in! Here are some photos:


Get ready for a haunted summer!cool

A Year of NYC Haunts at Global Neighborhood! 

Seventh and eighth graders at Global Neighborhood Secondary School reached a key mid-year milestone before the December break: they completed their very first location-based games using the tool, TaleBlazer. Students collaborated in small groups to plan out and code the games, and to draw, photograph, and use image-editing software to create the art for the game. They also worked together to write their games’ stories.




Students from the art elective joined the group for indoor and outdoor playtests, and provided valuable feedback for the youth game designers.



The focus project that students have been working on in 2015 is a location-based game featuring “ghosts” from El Barrio’s past. To prepare students to brainstorm the game’s location, characters, story and mechanics, we visited spots around the neighborhood, interviewing local residents and taking video and photographs.


Students practiced their interview and camera skills in the classroom...


...and then put them to work out in the field. Here, one group interviews Nikki, who works for a bakery and job-training non-profit in La Marqueta.



They also explored the neighborhood’s history through the completion of an El Barrio history timeline, and through examining old photographs. All of this background research culminated in students imagining characters that could have lived in the neighborhood over the last century, including Italian, Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants.


One group decided to create a location-based game about an Italian immigrant, set in East Harlem during the 1920s Prohibition Era. One group decided to set their location-based game in present-day East Harlem. That game is about a Dominican immigrant who has recently arrived in New York, and must complete "missions" to get settled in the neighborhood. 


Looking forward to the finished projects, set to roll out in June!

Summer of Haunts, Wrapping Up 

Last week, Global Kids celebrated the addition of two new youth-created geolocative games to our NYC Haunts portfolio, capping off a busy summer.


At The Point Community Development Corporation, participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program created a moving, emotional game that honors the African-American and Native American slaves that were buried hundreds of years ago in what is now Drake Park. Youth were motivated to take action through the creation of a game for change, when they observed that white land and slave owners were recognized with well-manicured and marked plots in the park, while the remains of slaves were scattered throughout the park in unmarked graves. 


Sheila, second from left, helps three playtesters from The Point access the game on the TaleBlazer app to begin their journey. 


In the game, the player must learn and remember the stories of several slave-ghosts in order to reunite them with important objects. In doing so, the player recognizes these individuals' memories and roles in history:




In an alternate pathway, a player must guide a young escaping slave to a safehouse, following clues in the environment, as slaves would have done following the Underground Railroad in the past.



One Week Challenge! NYC Haunts at Exposure Camp 

This summer, Global Kids is teaming up with three Hive Learning Network partners around New York City to run Global Kids' signature location-based game program, NYC Haunts. As we serve diverse populations and adjust to new settings, we are also stretching, growing, and adapting our curriculum to prepare for a roll-out of the program across multiple Global Kids school sites in the Fall.


The first stop was Exposure Camp, a program that guides teenagers from the Mt. Vernon and north Bronx areas to create and program their own digital content.


Alora Cholette, an Adelphi University Community Fellow working with GK OLP for the summer, provides her reflections from the field:


Efficiency was the name of the game at Exposure Camp. Students were faced with the challenge of designing a location-based game in just one week! Boy did they step up to the task.



Taking inspiration from their own experiences and those of local idols, the students created a game about a young boy named Patrick. Newly arrived to Mt. Vernon, Patrick is afraid to explore the area because of rumors he's heard about its reputation. However, he has dreams of becoming a famous rapper, which aren't going anywhere with him stuck inside.


Suddenly, the ghost of Mt. Vernon hip hop artist, Heavy D, appears and sends Patrick on a journey to get to the local festival Arts on 3rd. On the way, Patrick has to help other Mt. Vernon celebrities in order to collect Heavy D's song lyrics, which talk about the pride the rapper has in his neighborhood.



In order to make the game, the students kept up an energetic pace for 5 days of intensive game design. We started by brainstorming basic elements, which developed into interesting in-depth conversations about how perceptions from outside can effect how we see ourselves from within a culture.


Specific topics came up as we explored the neighborhood and researched its history. The students wanted to focus on how a game could be used to improve their surroundings.



Once the idea of local entertainers and artists became our focus, we moved on to testing paper prototypes, and coding the final product. 


Creativity was in the air and their level of engagement within the tight timeframe was impressive and a joy to be a part of!



Special thanks to the Hive Learning Network, Exposure Camp, the New York Community Trust, and the New York Public Library for their support of this project.


Youth Game Designers Shine at Emoti-Con 

This weekend, 16 students from 5 programs represented Global Kids at Hive's annual Emoti-Con youth digital media challenge!



Participants in GK's NYC Haunts program from the School for Human Rights and the High School for Global Citizenship showed off the location-based games they had made about local and global social issues.


Lyndon, Shavonne, and Jania of HSGC watch as a playtester at Emoti-Con tries out "Life as a First in the Field," their game about Jackie Robinson's experiences with racism and discrimination.


Playing for Keeps students from the Citywide program and at Global Neighborhood Secondary School presented games for change they had made using Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic.


Malak and Aya (right) from GNSS present their game to two students who said they could identify with the challenges faced by the player character, a young immigrant.


All of our students -- whether they came to present or just to be attentive, curious audience members -- truly shined.


Special shout out to Payton (a 6th grader) and Keron (an 8th grader) from School for Human Rights who impressed the judges with their presentations about the location-based game they made with their peers about gun violence, Keep Wingate Safe. They placed in the top 5 and stood on stage in front of over 200 people to talk about their work! They took away badges for Point of View and Most Social Impact.



We would like to thank all of the Global Kids trainers, the NYC Hive Learning Network, the Emoti-Con Steering Committee, and the judges, and keynotes who made this day possible.


Playtesting Haunts 2014 Treks 

You don't need a time machine to experience the past. That's what students at the High School for Global Citizenship and the School for Human Rights found out this semester as they created their own location-based games for GPS devices that drew on local history and made connections to larger global issues, such as protection of the right to equality before the law, as stated in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Stroll down to the housing complex across the street from Jackie Robinson School in Crown Heights with your cell phone or tablet and load up the TaleBlazer app. By playing the student-produced game, you'll learn that if you were at that spot five decades ago, you would have seen Ebbet's Field-- the Brooklyn Dodgers home baseball field where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Playing as Jackie Robinson, you'll be faced with racist, dehumanizing situations as you visit all four bases of the baseball diamond and attempt to score a home run. You must make decisions in character. As is noted in the game, Jackie Robinson is just one of many who faced discrimination on the basis of race over the years. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects people around the world from such unlawful treatment by ensuring that "all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law." 

On the day of the final playtest, student game-designers presented their game in front of their peers and staff from Global Kids and the Brooklyn Public Library.
They discussed game play, the game design process, and some of the challenges they faced in designing the game.

NYC Haunts Goes to Philly! 

See if you can solve this riddle about a famous historical landmark in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: It was used to bring the people together to hear of their new country. Once it was strong; now it sits in disrepair.

What is it? 


Still not sure? It's the Liberty Bell! 


Answers to riddles like this and other triva questions about some fascinating historical landmarks were answered by thirty-seven Freshmen from Long Island City (LIC) High School who participated in a Global Kids field trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There, we toured the campuses of University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, but we also checked out some historical landmarks by playing a geo-locative game on TaleBlazer using smartphones and tablets.



During the two weeks leading up to the trip, a number of LIC students contributed to the development, design, and research of a TaleBlazer game in which the ghost of Benjamin Franklin leads players around sites located in Washington Square Park, Independence National Historical Park, and Franklin Square. In order to move through each park, players have to answer riddles and questions about each landmark presented by Mr. Franklin. By answering correctly, Franklin awards players with pennies because, as he always says, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Some noteable sites include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Liberty Bell, and Benjamin Franklin's Burial Site.  

Around NYC, Haunts Games Blossom this Spring 

What would Jackie Robinson say to the people who currently live on site of the field where he broke the color line in major league baseball? 


How did a Queens mobster contribute to the history of Long Island City?


How did people react to shootings that happened in Wingate Park in 1997?


These are just some of the questions being pondered by youth game designers at the School for Human Rights, Long Island City High School and the High School for Global Citizenship as Global Kids' NYC Haunts program kicks into high gear.


At HSGC, students have decided to situate their geo-locative game on the site of what was Ebbet's Field, where the famous Brooklyn Dodgers played baseball decades ago. Students are channelling the "spirits" of the players who supported and those who were reluctant to support Jackie Robinson as he became the first African-American to play on a major league team.



They have been making decisions about their game's structure, determining that players will walk around the site, collecting virtual baseball cards each time they make key decisions related to Jackie Robinson's experiences. They are also using the "land mines" functionality of the TaleBlazer program to insert what they are calling "trap cards," random agents that will attempt to steal pre-earned cards.



NYC Haunts at Long Island City High School in Queens kicked off in early March where students shared their best ghost stories and paranormal experiences. The conversation eventually shifted to a discussion about this history of the Long Island City and Astoria neighborhoods. Students wracked their brains, trying to think of some cool historical facts about the area, but quickly referred to Wikipedia as they realized they had some serious fact-finding to do. They learned that Frank Costello, one of the most infamous mob bosses in American history, was buried in Astoria. This and many other great historical questions are being considered for LIC Haunts' geo-locative game concept.


Players of the game being created by SHR middle school students will have the opportunity to walk around Wingate Park collecting the testimonies of witnesses and victims of distant and recent gun crimes to raise awareness about this issue in their neighborhood and to provide safety tips and ideas for solutions.


First, participants brainstormed topics and ideas for their games:



After picking a topic, they did some research with educators from the Brooklyn Public Library to collect stories and ideas.



Inspired by the articles, their own experiences and perspectives, they created characters and created a trajectory around the playground for the player to navigate.



Most recently, they used a paper prototype to showcase and refine their ideas.



With just a few weeks left to the school year, students will be finishing up their prototypes and will start coding and playtesting their games. We are excited to share them with our communities!