NTAE: "Leveling Up" - NMSU Learning Games Lab Feature Story

“Theme Park Cafe” is a food safety game for youth created by a team from the New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab. In the game, players engage in different themed kitchens to serve delicious and safe meals to clients. It’s a redesign of “Ninja Kitchen,” launched in 2011 to teach kids food handling skills. In this publication, the game designers talk about increasing the game’s cultural sensitivity, working with kids to create the reboot, and other elements of using gamification to teach educational content. The publication is excerpted from the New Technologies for Ag Extension 2022-2023 Yearbook, which documents dozens of projects funded through the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) program. NTAE is a cooperative agreement between USDA NIFA, Oklahoma State University, and the Extension Foundation. The goal of the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) grant is to incubate, accelerate, and expand promising work that will increase the impact of the Cooperative Extension System (CES) in the communities it serves, and provide models that can be adopted or adapted by Extension teams across the nation.

Grant projects improve human, environmental, and community health.


Welcome. “Leveling Up” is a publication of the New Technologies for Ag Exten- sion (NTAE) program. This publication celebrates the accomplishments of a team at Extension professionals from New Mexico State University that received funding for this project in 2022-2023. NTAE is a grant program generously supported by the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and administered through a partnership between Oklahoma State University and the Extension Foundation (EXF). The primary objective of NTAE is to provide financial assistance to competitively selected Extension programs that align with the strategic goal and priority program areas of the USDA and the Extension Com- mittee on Organization and Policy (ECOP). Through this support, NTAE helps teams catalyze, accelerate, and expand their work in their respective fields. Since its inception in 2019, the NTAE program has successfully funded and supported a total of 72 projects and leaders. This includes collaborations with all Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) and ECOP Program Action Teams (PATs). Selected programs receive support for a period of one year. The project leader and their team are provided with invaluable mentoring from a team of catalysts, key infor- mants, and coaches from the EXF. This customized and innovative support model assists teams in exploring new possibilities, enhancing the intended impact of their projects, and sharing their work with a national audience. Additionally, each team receives additional resources and support to create materials and experiences that speed the development of their projects and bring about desired changes. The project showcased in this publication reflects the diversity and breadth of Extension disciplinary work and programming. In this publication, you will gain deeper insights into this exciting project, including the lessons learned, the project’s significance for Extension in a broader context, and what lies ahead for the team.



Editorial Staff Julie Halverson Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith Heather Martin Design & Production Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith Ellen P. Krugel Heather Martin

1. BE INSPIRED . Follow our model to use digital media and gamification to reach new audi- ences in your community.


© Extension Foundation Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommer- cial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Published by Extension Foundation. Citations for this publication may be made using the following: Kansas City: Extension Foundation (2022). Leveling Up (1st ed). ISBN: 978-1-955687-32-4. This work, ISBN 978-1-955687-32-4, is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020- 41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., R.D., F.A.N.D. Content Specialist, Rutgers University Barbara Chamberlin, PhD Executive Producer (budget and production personnel), New Mexico State University Pamela Martinez, Ed.D. Learning technology specialist, DEI and design review, New Mexico State University Adrián Aguirre, MFA Game Production Team Leader, New Mexico State University Matheus Cezarotto, Ph.D. Impact assessment, accessibility design and review,

2. ADVOCATE. Show this publication to your

Extension Director and talk about how to use it to enhance your Extension’s public outreach. 3. SHARE. Share this publication with potential community partners who could help you create new programming. 4. GIVE FEEDBACK. Did this publication inform your Extension work? Share what you’ve

New Mexico State University Amy Smith Muise, MFA Content review, reporting and lead publications, New Mexico State University John “CC” Chamberlin Programmer, New Mexico State University LJ McCartney Artist and animator, New Mexico State University

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Food safety game reboot is more tech-modern, inclusive, & accessible. L e v e l i n g UP Foodborne illness is no game. But when it comes to food safety, game-based learning might be the best way to help youth learn how to keep themselves and others safe. A recent study (Syeda et al. 2021) showed that youth prefer to learn about food safety topics through interactive educational tools. Enter “Theme Park KITCHEN,” a food safety game for youth created by a team from the New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab (NMSU LGL). In the game, players engage in different themed kitchens to serve delicious and safe meals to clients. It’s a redesign of “Ninja Kitchen,” a game launched in 2011 to teach kids food handling skills. This new game, one of several food-related projects funded by the New Technologies in Ag Extension (NTAE) 2022-2023 grant program, is part of a growing trend in Extension: using multimedia products to educate and engage diverse audiences. ➤

food poison facts

How It Started

At the Controls Youth played key role in game’s development.

Dial back to 2007, when the United States Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture fund- ed a multi-state research and education project to teach youth best practices in food safety (2007-51110-03813). Led by Dr. Carol Byrd-Bredbenner at Rutgers University, that research led to the development of “Ninja Kitchen.” The Learning Games Lab—which specializes in translating research-based content into educational tools for various audiences—designed the game in collaboration with food safety content experts. “Ninja Kitchen” was a wild success, with more than 4 million plays. Youth loved it, and data indicated it was effective: A study of more than 900 middle schoolers who played the game showed that it engaged participants and shifted their knowledge, attitudes, and intentions around food safety. But the original game was developed for platforms that supported Adobe Flash, a technology that has become ob- solete. So the team needed to redesign the game with cur- rent technology. “Because it was such a successful way to educate middle school aged youth about basic food safety techniques in the kitchen, our team wanted to recreate the game to meet new WebGL standards,” says Dr. Matheus Cezarotto, researcher and project team member, “allowing it to be played (for free) on modern browsers and devices.”


$15.5 Billion Annual cost of foodborne illness

Million People in U.S. who have foodborne illness annually

Youth are an important audience for food safety education: Kids ages 11 to 13 are the right age to start helping their parents cook and are learning to prepare food on their own. The COVID-19 pandemic increased kids’ interest in food preparation, making the timing of “Theme Park Kitchen” even more relevant. In addition to being the game’s target player, youth also contributed to the game’s development. In a series of Learning Games Lab sessions held during summer, spring, and fall school breaks (2021, 2022, and 2023), the team engaged with youth consultants to explore diversity in games, gain feedback on de- sign, and learn more about their life experiences. The youth consultants played the old version of the game, providing critical reviews, and presented game ideas to their peers and the Learning Lab team. Youth consultants also developed potential world building and character design ideas for the new game, including Nana’s Cocina, featuring an abuela with lots of delicious recipes. “Food safety does not always feel intrinsically exciting to youth. … It’s easy to get tangled up in technical rules and safety procedures,” says Dr. Matheus Cezarotto, researcher and project team member. “That’s why it amazes us to see how completely engaged middle schoolers are with gameplay about cross-contamination, cooking, and storing food at the proper temperature.” This type of engaged gameplay is not new to Dr. Bar- bara Chamberlin, who created the Learning Games

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

deep understanding and representation. Since “Ninja Kitchen” was not designed with this informed cultural lens, we decided that it was best to change the theme and design.” In addition, the team improved the game’s accessibility to support a wide range of user needs—for example, rede- signing the game to be fully playable through a keyboard supporting users with motor needs, removing and rethinking the time pressure mechanic to improve gameplay experi- ence, and including users with specific cognitive needs.

Youth consultants played “Ninja Kitchen,” the previous version of “Theme Park Kitchen” and give the Learn- ing Lab team input into creating the new version.

Lab, led the instructional design of the first game, and serves as department head of the Innovative Media Research and Extension department, which houses the lab. With her “transformational design” process, the professional designers on the teams refined the learning objectives to define the changes they need- ed to see in the user, identify what learners have to do to create that change, and discuss ways that a game can engage the user in the necessary actions. In re-theming the activities and making the game more accessible, the team engages new audiences in important ways. “Learning doesn’t have to be made fun,”Chamberlin says, “because learning how to mas- ter something we didn’t know before is fun. Well-de- signed games provide engaging ways for players to go through those learning activities”

The NTAE Boost

Elevating Cultural Sensitivity

Cezarotto credits the Extension Foundation (EXF) team with helping the “Theme Park Kitchen” team crystallize its goals for expanding the game’s audience. “Our analytics showed us the game was primarily reaching students during school hours, rather than at home or in after-school settings,” he says. “Not all schools include food safety instruction, so the EXF team helped us connect with the National 4-H Council digital media initiatives, and we are exploring exciting pos- sibilities there to reach new audiences of youth. NTAE also has provided an opportunity to expand the game’s reach and sustainability beyond the end date of the original technology. It’s allowed us to work from a place of better understanding the accessibility needs of our audiences.” ➤

The redesign also gave the team a chance to eliminate the original game’s problematic theme. At the time the game was developed, ninjas were a cultural phenomenon and seemed like a fun way to engage players. However, through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens, appropriating the culture of ninjas in a “fun way” becomes potentially offensive. “It is inappropriate for us to take cultural artifacts from Japan, and turn them into decorative or playful elements,” says team member Amy Smith Muise. “It’s our responsibility to consider how we use cultural stories, art, and historical characters and make sure that this type of design includes

“This team’s ability to take something as complex as food safety and the mitigation of food borne illnesses … will positively impact the food safety industry for years to come.” —Dr. Dawn Mellion, NTAE Catalyst

The team also benefited from regular meetings with their EXF Catalyst and a team of Key Informants, who encour- aged self-reflection, asked helpful questions, and provided Extension expertise. The regularly scheduled meetings ensured that the NMSU team tracked their own progress and consciously recorded milestones. “The EXF team was incredibly encouraging and supportive!” Cezarotto said. “We felt like they were our cheerleaders.”

There are also lessons to be learned from the Learning Lab’s earlier NTAE collaboration with University of Connecticut Extension to develop “Unpeeled,” a mobile app that helps consumers understand food labels. (Read about that app and its development process in “Navigating the Grocery Store Aisle: Understanding Non-GMO and Other Food Labels.” Learn about the process the team used to design “Unpeeled” in Collaborative Design in Extension: Using a Modified Game Jam to Explore Game-Based Learning.) While “Unpeeled” was only a playable prototype, “Theme Park Kitchen” will be a fully designed game, freely avail- able for web-enabled devices after an October 2023 soft launch. Check the team’s social media accounts— @NMSUProductions (Twitter) and @LearningGamesLab (Facebook and Instagram)—for links to the game. ■

Lessons for Extension

The “Theme Park Kitchen” team has much to share with their Extension peers across the nation, including how to priori- tize accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion in design. “We’ve developed practical, research-based frameworks to help Extension design media for inclusion,” says Dr. Pamela Martinez, researcher and learning technology specialist. “The frameworks provide a common vocabulary, guiding questions, reflection points, and recommendations.”

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