The Flora & Fauna of Innovation: Creating a Gamified Learning Experience that Connects Individuals to Their Local Ecosystem - 1st Place SheInnovates 2024 Hackathon Team


For the 2024 SheInnovates hackathon, our group, the Goober Games, comprised of Raquel Buege, Dorothy Crow, and Anna Plazek, decided to make an educational 2-D foraging simulator game called Backyard Foragers. In the game, players are able to pick one of three paths (herbalist, chef, brewer) to specialize their education for their own personal interests. We hope to teach people proper foraging techniques, new recipes, and about related flora! Meant to help connect individuals to their local ecosystem, the game environment dynamically changes to match the unique biome of each player for a tailored gaming and learning experience.







Ironically, for a team that chose to design a game, we have a surprising natural deterrence from them in our everyday lives. While drawn to them, not only for the entertaining experiences they offer but also their interesting and oftentimes beautiful graphics, we feel like video games are in a way... a waste of time. As a group with a plethora of creative hobbies—sewing, painting, knitting, reading, etc.— the time spent working on those hobbies often results in a physical product-- a dress, a painting, a scarf, or in the case of reading, while slightly more abstract, the consequence is knowledge gained. It is rewarding to see the effort and time put into a craft end with something to show for it. And that is where, for us, we feel video games sometimes fall short. As people who do not use games as a main way to socialize with friends, at the end of the day, when we turn our computers off we have nothing tangible to show for all the hours we have just spent gaming.

All three of us love the experience of playing games but, especially as busy computer science college students, it feels impossible to find the time to enjoy them. This sparked the idea for an educational game, something that you can walk away from with more knowledge than when you started. The only problem was that educational games have a stereotype of being bland and boring; NOT a game anyone would actually play for fun. In order for our game to become a success, we knew we had to fulfill both objectives: be fun and educational. While our game is packed with real information about native plants and wildlife, we didn’t want that to be the only appeal. We wanted to make a game people would be excited to play regardless, and be pleasantly surprised when they realized they were learning about plants that grow in their own backyard.

The educational aspect being tied to nature was inspired by our shared, profound love for plants and nature as a whole. We all love to be surrounded by nature whenever we can, whether that be backpacking trips, rock climbing, or having an unreasonable collection of plants in our house. We seek nature out in our daily lives. However, we were becoming increasingly aware of how ignorant we, and a majority of people, are about the biome we reside in and the wildlife we coexist with. We are able to go outside and appreciate what we see, but not to the level where we actually understand what species we cohabit with. This is only exacerbated by the growing divide between the food we consume and where it is sourced from. Pennsylvania is an incredibly beautiful place with a diverse flora and fauna and it is a real missed opportunity to live in this area and be unaware of the plethora of edible native species (including those with medicinal purposes). All of this lost knowledge is what we hoped to restore for our players. Proper foraging practices can be healthy for the ecosystem, but this is only possible if one knows what species to identify.

For our entire group, this was either our first or second time participating in any hackathon, so the whole process felt daunting. After all, we had 37 straight work hours to come. We began talking, drafting, and collecting the art applications and game engine we were going to use on Friday night. We decided on using the game engine Unity and to make all of our own pixel art using Krita and Aseprite. We also agreed that for our demo presentation, we would only have time to present a very limited amount of possible functionality. We chose to show a small amount of gameplay where the character is tasked to find a plant to help with their neighbor’s trouble sleeping. The player learns, forages, and finally makes tea out of the Chamomile plant, native to many regions in the US, known for its natural relaxing properties.

If participating in our first hackathon wasn’t intimidating enough, our collective knowledge of Unity and its version control was very limited and nonexistent, respectively. We ended up working until 4 AM Friday night attempting to get a majority of our graphics finished as well as educating ourselves with the basics of Unity. On Saturday, we woke up early and ready to start implementing functionality with the sprites, backgrounds, and title cards we had made the previous day. We didn’t stop working for around 14 hours until we were left with our final adjustments like adding sound, post-processing, and our Devpost submission. Needless to say, we all had a cup of the complimentary breakfast coffee when we made our way back to present our final product on Sunday morning!

Even though we had put in a lot of time and effort into our product we did not expect to win, so the entire process was honestly surreal. We feel that it's important to note that this experience had a much more meaningful impact on the three of us than just winning a pair of Beats earbuds. As three computer science majors in our junior year, most of the semester can end up grueling. We have all, at multiple times, questioned if this major is for us and if we have enough to make it in this field. It is easy to get down on yourself and look at everyone around you doing so much more and better than you, whether that be projects, grades, internships, etc. This competition restored some much-needed confidence and self-assurance in our own abilities to create and learn. We loved working on this project, and for the most part, we enjoyed learning all the things it took to create it. It was a very important reminder that when you take away the stress of the semester, demanding professors, and humble-bragging peers, this field is limitless with so many possibilities to explore and create. SheInnovates was an invaluable experience because it reminded us that we are capable and wanted in this field, as well as serving as a much-appreciated opportunity to express our creativity alongside our CS proficiency. And finally, it forced us to kickstart a project we are thoroughly excited to continue developing.


Learn more about the Backyard Foragers project