Narrating The Story of Water to Children

Little Weirdos is a video game designed for children in response to the water problems that are happening in Florida and all over the world right now. It aims to engage children and reveal to them how human behaviors can affect water and animal species that live in the water. My goal was to promote awareness in children to value our water resources and encourage them to participate in both water conservation and preservation practices in the future.
1. The start page
4. Water pollution challenge
2. Choose your character
5. Water shortage challenge
3. Read character story
6. Conquer challenges, little weirdo back to normal
The game starts out with a scene that has six little weirdo characters you can choose from. They all have different levels of deformed features on their bodies.The second scene gives children a short background story of the little weirdo they choose. And then they will help their characters go through two water problem challenges—water pollution challenge and water shortage challenge.
The logic in the two challenges is pretty simple: first, reveal problems—showing human influences in a negative way—which tells children how the little weirdos became deformed and what happened to it; and then provide solutions—show human influences in a positive way—let children know how they can help the little weirdoes getting back to a normal and natural state and thus engage them in the water conservation and preservation practice. After finishing both challenges, the little weirdo will be back to normal and become healthy again.

A Visit to The Rainbow Springs State Park

The summer of 2014, I visited the Rainbow Springs State Park in Florida. It was the first time I ever been to springs and it was a quite wonderful first time experience. Like most people, I was fascinated by the vast blue and clear water. Water grasses are growing along the waterside, moving with wind and water flow, with small fishes and turtles swimming through it.
However, this harmony was interrupted: I saw some kids were spitting into the water and a small turtle was swimming with gum in its mouth! Since I returned from Rainbow Springs, I can’t get the picture out of my mind, I’m really worried about what will happen to that small turtle.
The trip raised me one question:

How human behavior can affect water

and animal species live inside of it?

Water Problems + Threats on Animals

Water covers about 71% of Earth’s surface and it is home to as many as a million species of animals and plants. However, human activities have brought various environmental impacts both to water and animal species live in it. Two major water problems we are facing right now are water shortage problem and water pollution problem. The result is like a domino effect: less clean water on earth—aquatic animal habitats are threatened—fewer food sources for them—species numbers are declining—death, the end result. And for the hidden side we barely notice: more environmentally related diseases on animals, abnormities in their second generation, genetic changes, and what’s worse—an unbalanced ecological system.

Idea Exploration–Patterns Inspired by Deformed Animals

The 2 headed, 5 legged turtle picture really shocked me, but also inspired me. It reminds me my experience at the Rainbow Springs. From that, I came up with my first concept—a series of pattern exploration inspired by deformed aquatic animal species. My initial idea is revealing the problems to people by using aquatic animals—whose lives have been affected by water problems. I called those creatures Little Weirdos.
 I chose some feature elements from aquatic species such as shrimp’s eye and crab’s claw, manipulated and combined them into different patterns. I wanted to create something that combines both ugliness and beauty, something that looks interesting yet weird in a good way. So that when people see these strange patterns, they might inquire further into the background stories.
While my concept kept changing by doing research. The deeper I dug in the more I realized my first concept was not the best way to solve the problems. Besides showing problems I need to provide solutions.

A Change in Direction–The Game Little Weirdos

More questions were brought up from my research. This time I narrowed down my audience group to children aged 5–8. I tried to understand how human behavior can affect water, and vice versa. Specifically, I asked what is the relationship between young children and water and why water is important.
I wanted to link up the causes and impacts and distil the information in a logical way and make it into different themes, like telling different stories to children. Since children are much more inclined to visual elements with motions like animations or games, an interactive game would be a suitable form. With different themes, it could reveal the different causes and consequences that come from humans to water/animals. Interesting visual elements as companioned with soundtracks will help children learning the logic through playing game also can help them build long time memories.
Pollution / Threats / WWF
The character designs were based on species that had been impacted by water problems. I continued the visual language from my pattern exploration. The Little Weirdos, they all have different levels of deformed features on their bodies. These deformities make them looks interesting yet “weird” in a good way. Children can still recognize which animal it’s transformed from. Instead of showing them some intimidating dead animal pictures that will scare them away, this approach will work as a metaphor that conveys both positive and negative messages to children.

The Clickable Prototype

I used Adobe Flash to develop this prototype to communicate the game interactions. With the help of ActionScript 2.0 I made the prototype clickable. The debugging process was really frustrating but I’m glad I didn’t give up. 
Little Weirdos was awarded Silver District during the 2016 American Advertising Awards (ADDYs).