During the run of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, an augmented reality scavenger hunt at the University of Oregon’s Fuller Initiative Land Lab can virtually take players on a 360-degree trip to seven regions of Oregon.
Located on a 15-acre parcel along the Ruth Bascom Bike Path that connects the Eugene Riverfront Festival to Hayward Field, the Land Lab is a wealth of research that might not be obvious to the casual pedestrian or runner who jogs past.
For starters, it’s an ongoing experiment in sustainable landscape design. Since 2018, Micheal Geffel, a UO professor of landscape architecture, has been working the land to decrease the regular mowing, minimize invasive plants, bring back wildlife habitat and make something aesthetically beautiful.
When he started, the area was a barren field mowed down to the dirt twice a year. Today, it’s a lush landscape of yellow and purple wildflowers and home to a variety of moles, birds and foxes. Rather than mow down the entire acreage, strips of grass are mowed in alternating patterns to help identify and tamp down the spread of invasive blackberry bushes, while creating interesting walking paths for people to explore.
Visitors will also notice human-made structures throughout the meadow. There’s fencing that’s been sculpted into the shape of a rose, or undulated across the field to invoke the rugged lava fields of central Oregon.
These elements are part of a mobile augmented reality game and temporary art installation called “Restore the Balance.” The game was the brainchild of Christopher Daradics, who works for the university’s Center for Applied Second Language Studies.
Daradics said he’s interested in creating, “dynamic play spaces where we can construct crafted contexts for people to perform in ways where there’s some structure but that allows for improvisation to happen.”
This is an academic way of saying: games for learning.
This particular game starts by picking up the pamphlet found in the bucket beneath the entrance sign to the Land Lab, then scanning a QR code to reach the game’s online interface. (You can also reach the mobile game interface here.)
The pamphlet acts as a game board and map to the seven stations across the Land Lab, each marked by a sign and a riddle. The game compels users to leave the paved path and traverse the field, searching for clues among the installations in similar style to an escape room – except in the wide open.
Users unsure of where to start might begin by looking for letters, bolded or otherwise out of place, among the installations.
Each installation represents a different region of Oregon, from the Coast, Willamette Valley, to the eastern part of the state. Every solved puzzle unlocks a 360-degree digital view on a mobile device of a distinctive Oregon landscape.
Unlock all seven, and be rewarded with the digital “badge of valor” and a final clue for a real-life prize hidden in a locked cache in the meadow.
“Restore the Balance” was created specifically for the World Athletics Championships to invite Oregon’s visitors to experience landscapes across the state. The interactive game is only planned to last through this month, but look for more interactive experiences to come to the Land Lab in the future.
— Samantha Swindler, email@example.com, @editorswindler