Fire Tag is a high-energy serious-type game for ecologically curious people of all ages. Being a serious game, Fire Tag is both a game and a simulation. Each round of the game is a live-action thought experiment. By playing multiple rounds and doing multiple experiments, players learn about the real-world fire ecology of shrubland and grassland ecosystems in central and southern California. Given that most of the open spaces in the California wildland-urban interface (WUI) are grasslands or shrublands, the two ecosystems covered in this game are also the very ones that are most familiar to most Californians.
I developed Fire Tag back when I worked for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. My goal was to create a fast, fun, and interesting activity for the 2012 Santa Monica Mountains Science Festival.
Having worked the Science Festival for the previous two years, I knew that the main audience consisted of young children (~ 8-12) with lots of physical energy and short attention spans. To be successful, I had to respect and channel that energy, as opposed to telling them to sit down and stifle themselves.
At that time, I was also working on Fire and Flora, a medium-complex card game also about ecological issues in Southern California. The ecological ideas in Fire and Flora were critically important, and so rather than develop a different set of learning goals, I instead worked to distill this complex card game into something super-simple. I threw out most of the cards, transformed the few remaining cards into LARP-style player roles, created some silly props and silly hats, and Fire Tag was born!
I’m particularly proud of the way the game makes use of water. Given that the Science Festival generally takes place in a hot, dry, early-summer location, getting people wet seemed a great way to serve the twin goals of fun and learning.
The good news is that 100+ kids enjoyed Fire Tag at the 2012 Science Festival. On reflection, we found that the biggest obstacle to learning was our naïve logistics - we didn’t have enough people to organize waiting lines and play sessions. The resulting confusion made it hard to hold post-game discussions. However, the take home message from the day was that Fire Tag was a strong and effective learning tool.
Tim Handley: Game Designer, Curriculum Designer