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Reading Images: Coyote Scavenger Hunt

By Leah Froats
A light-skinned hand holds a smartphone displaying the Coyote Scavenger Hunt game in front of a colorful mural.
An example of a successful answer screen in the Coyote Scavenger Hunt app. Photo: Bridget Reilly O'Carroll.

Intro Text

When the Design, Publishing, and New Media team at the MCA began thinking about turning Coyote, the MCA's visual description project, into a real-world game, there was some serious research to be done (read more about the original Coyote project here).

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Bridget Reilly O'Carroll, associate video producer at the MCA, explains why the team wanted to translate the concept behind Coyote into a public game. “In teaching others inside and outside the museum about Coyote, we've really come to value description as an important practice,” she says. “We wanted to bring visual description to more institutions in a fun and approachable way.”

But when it comes to creating a game that holds a player’s interest, you can’t propose a task and hope for the best. There’s an artistry in crafting a sense of challenge that tantalizes and encourages players to reach the finish line. So about a year ago the team initiated a gaming workshop with other experts from the Chicago community.

About 40 gamers and museum staff attended the workshop to brainstorm what the game might look like—almost immediately, the group arrived at the concept of a geocaching-esque scavenger hunt. As those of us who have lost our keys know, it’s not particularly fun to just … look for something, so the workshop participants began devising ways to make a Coyote scavenger hunt more engaging and challenging. Here were some of their thoughts:

• Time constraints create tension and excitement
• Tangible rewards offer incentive
• Group or flocking behaviors inspire both competition and companionship
• Intentionally deceptive clues encourage creative thinking

Since then, the DPNM team has been hard at work integrating these elements into a game that will inspire curiosity and introduce a broader public to the world of visual description.

Click through the gallery below for some previews of the final version of the game, which the public is invited to play on October 6 at museums and cultural institutions across the city—yes, there will be prizes. RSVP on Facebook to let all your friends know to tag along.

Coyote Screenshots

  • A flow chart shows the progression of a game with clues leading to squares with congratulatory messages.
  • Vivid pink text reads "MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO," "THERE ARE 8 CLUES AT THIS LOCATION," "SEE ALL CLUES," and "BEGIN GAME."
  • A block of vivid pink text labeled "CLUE 1/8" describes a photograph in great detail.
  • A vivid pink rectangle with white text reading "Viewing this hint will add 30 seconds to your score. I STILL WANT IT." and is labeled "CLUE 2/8" and "HINT 1/4."
A flow chart shows the progression of a game with clues leading to squares with congratulatory messages.
A preliminary sketch of the scavenger hunt gameplay.
The welcome screen of the Coyote Scavenger Hunt.
Vivid pink text reads "MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO," "THERE ARE 8 CLUES AT THIS LOCATION," "SEE ALL CLUES," and "BEGIN GAME."
An example of an institutional welcome screen in the Coyote Scavenger Hunt.
A block of vivid pink text labeled "CLUE 1/8" describes a photograph in great detail.
An example of an object description in the Coyote Scavenger Hunt.
A vivid pink rectangle with white text reading "Viewing this hint will add 30 seconds to your score. I STILL WANT IT." and is labeled "CLUE 2/8" and "HINT 1/4."
An example of a hint in the Coyote Scavenger Hunt.
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