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Hybrid video game teaches eco-planning

Prototype includes 3-D scanning technology and board game components

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​​What happens when you combine 3-D technology, board game components and eco-planning?

"Rangers vs. Planners" — an educational game prototype — takes one player’s actions within a board game and digitizes them into the virtual world the other player inhabits. The hybrid game, which uses HP’s Sprout technology, is the result of a collaboration between Central Michigan University faculty members Joe Packer and Tony Morelli.

“The players are trying to balance this ecosystem by maximizing the human population and the animal population,” said Morelli, assistant professor of computer science. “They have opposing goals, but they are trying to maximize both as a team. We hope this encourages communication and cooperation between players of all different levels and abilities.”


In addition to teaching students about ecology through active learning, the board game components make it possible for players with disabilities to play with the other player who is using the video game controller, Morelli said.

The prototype is the result of a collaboration between Packer and Morelli, who want to make the game available to schools in the future.

“Anyone who guided their digital family on a harrowing trip across the Oregon Trail knows that using video games to educate is not a new phenomenon,” said Packer, an associate professor of communication and dramatic arts. “Video games are a very interesting and potentially fruitful educational avenue.”

The game was developed using Unity, a game development tool that has been used to create well-known games like Pokémon Go and Super Mario Run. Morelli said it simplifies and speeds up the development of prototypes. The analog components of the game include 3-D printed plastic objects — including trees, hospitals and houses — and custom six-sided dice.

Although it’s still early in development, "Rangers vs. Planners" was featured at the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play in 2016.

“People from all over the world come to the Meaningful Play conference,” Packer said. “Many of the attendees wanted to see our game because it was something they had never heard of before.”

Combining 3-D gaming with a board game is unique, Packer said. And, collaborative-style games — both as video games and board games — are unusual. Most games are competitive, whereas "Rangers vs. Planners" is collaborative.

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