The Galactic Voyage is an interactive narrative designed to teach and reinforce recycling behavior in children between ages 8-11.

The Users

In order to encourage early recycling behavior, a younger age group was chosen for this project. To tailor our design to the youth demographic, interviews were conducted with children in elementary school. It became apparent that, although many children had been exposed to recycling by family members or teachers, none of them had extensive knowledge of the types of recyclables and the reasons why recycling is such an important topic.

Design Alternatives

To ensure a thorough exploration of possible designs, a number of designs were evaluated, each uniquely addressing the project objectives.

Whale Tale

An interactive narrative mobile application that subtly incorporates recycling themes into the story. In addition, children are given a backpack whale companion to provide them with verbal tips when completing missions. Through interaction with the companion, they are prompted to scan in recyclable items to aid characters and progress the ocean-themed narrative.

Play Bin

An arcade-style recycling station where the child can step on a pressure plate to start the game and toss various recycling items into the appropriate bin. These bins would be surrounded by a basketball hoop that tracks and accumulates points as the child places more items into it.

Design Cycle

A user-community focused mobile application targeting the theme of using recyclable materials. Children can select which types of recyclable items they would prefer for their craft, then the application compiles a list of possible crafts they can create with those items.

Poster Session

To ensure a thorough exploration of possible designs, a number of further elaboration of these approaches can be found in our design alternatives poster (click here to see!). Through our poster session, we obtained valuable feedback for each design. While the reaction to each approach was positive, there was a noticeable preference toward Whale Tale since it’s a more novel approach that can address multiple recycling themes.

The Prototype

With the information acquired from the poster session, the interactive narrative design approach (Whale Tale) was chosen. The story was embellished to a sci-fi theme titled The Galactic Voyage, since it provided more creative freedom in regards to narrative and thematic choices.

Our prototype utilized YouTube and its annotation/caption features (to simulate buttons) as well as a Windows 8 QR code scanner application. Simulated score updates and save progress indicators were placed throughout the videos to further increase the “gaming” experience of our system. To control our testing environment, custom-made QR codes were placed on recyclable items that automatically took users to the appropriate video. Furthermore, our prototype was designed to handle user error. For example, if the child scans in a non-recyclable item, a character in the narrative tells them so. In addition, a touchscreen laptop was used to simulate the mobile application interaction. The main menu of our prototype can be found below. You can also click the "buttons" (youtube annotations) on the video to navigate around the game!


Usability Testing

A pre-test survey was given to each of the 6 participants including questions about his/her demographic information, recycling habits, and recycling knowledge. After completing the pre-test survey, participants then played the actual game. A controlled testing environment was set up and divided into 3 “stations”, each representing a level of the game. Participants were assigned 3 different recycling tasks to perform throughout the course of our prototype. The tasks associated with each level included the following:

- Identify recyclables
- Sort recyclables
- Craft an item using recyclables

A dual screen setup was used for testing: one screen to scan in recyclable items, and the other to watch the associated videos. After completing the game, a post-test survey was given. This survey included Likert scale subjective questions as well as the same recycling questions asked in the pre-test survey. Through this approach, we could evaluate participants’ enjoyment of the game as well as the effectiveness of incorporated recycling themes.

Heuristic Evaluation

A hybrid approach of both Heuristic Evaluations and Cognitive Walkthroughs were used for expert reviews. Four graduate students in the Human-Computer Interaction program (designated experts) were invited to evaluate our system. The evaluation was accomplished through the following steps:

  1. Provide an overview of the problem we are solving and the solution
  2. Explain who the users are and their goals
  3. Define the tasks they will be performing with the system;
  4. Ask experts to walk through the tasks step-by-step, through the users perspective (if the language makes sense to them, what are the likely paths they would take?)
  5. Ask experts to identify problems for each benchmark based on the set of heuristics provided
  6. Ask experts to specify problems and rate the importance and severity of each problem, also proposing possible design fixes


After analyzing the usability testing results, it was discovered that not only did participants enjoy using our system, but almost all of them improved their knowledge between the pre and post-test as well. From the Heuristic evaluation, we gained a deeper understanding of the pros and cons of our system:


  1. Stimulating and appealing for targeted users
  2. Good integration of gameplay and education
  3. Users are able to undo and redo their action (if a non-recyclable item is scanned in)


  1. Users should know level number, current score, and number of items left to recycle at any time
  2. Story could be more dynamic and flexible to allow branching scenarios

Future Work

For future enhancements, the following steps would be taken to improve the quality of our system:

  1. Translate this system to a mobile application and integrate the QR scanner into the game
  2. Access Universal Product Code (UPC) databases so barcodes can be used instead of QR codes
  3. Make recycling facts more engaging
  4. Make the system status more visible, allowing users to see their current score, level, etc.
  5. Provide branching paths for the story based on the types of recyclables that are scanned in
  6. Develop a way to ensure users actually recycle items after scanning them into the game
  7. Explore more recycling themes in the story
  8. Enhance pre-test questions to lower the possibility of testing effects
  9. Test with more participants to create a more diverse pool of users, increasing the validity of the system’s impact


With The Galactic Voyage, children can gain a greater appreciation for the recycling at an early age. Taking an interactive narrative approach helps engage the child in a more active role, as their behavior directly affects characters in the game and subtly introduces them to real problems that currently affects society. As a result, recycling knowledge could become further ingrained, resulting in a more environmentally-aware population.