“Purely educational games tend not to work well,” said Fourcast Lab member Patrick Jagoda, a professor of English and Cinema & Media Studies and director of the Weston Game Lab. “Instead, we wanted to embed safe and healthy behaviors within more engaging or creative quests.”
Led by six core members—Jagoda, Heidi Coleman, Ashlyn Sparrow, Marc Downie, Kristen Schilt and Ben Kolak—the Fourcast Lab designed quests in conjunction with UChicago faculty. The quests varied from baking cookies, to creating a comic book, to writing a song using an unusual instrument.
They were organized around four key themes: reinforcing behaviors for students, staff, and faculty outlined in the UChicago Health Pact; experimenting with remote teaching techniques; promoting student wellness both physically and mentally; and, finally, connecting the UChicago community to staff and faculty by highlighting their research, interests, or art practices. To bolster the student wellness elements of the quests, the Fourcast Lab consulted medical professionals, including Assoc. Prof. Emily Landon of UChicago Medicine.
The initial “rabbit hole” style puzzle which launched ECHO on Instagram saw over 4,000 total visits in 36 hours. Participants ranged from current UChicago students to Halo creator and alum Alex Seropian, SB’91, who played alongside his daughter.
Part of ECHO’s appeal mirrored that of another campus tradition: Scav Hunt. Like UChicago’s storied annual four-day scavenger hunt, ECHO tapped into its participants’ creativity and desire to collaborate, fostering cooperation among team members. “I loathed group projects growing up, because people never did their fair share,” said Somaiyya Ahmad, a member of ECHO team Quantum Leap and a staffer in the Office of the Provost. “My experience with this group project was completely different. Everyone was clamoring to do more to help ... I loved it.”
For Mahmoud Yousef, captain of Pritzker Scrubs, a team of first-year medical students, the game helped him get to know his peers in ways that hadn’t been possible because of COVID-19. “I haven’t been able to meet most of my classmates outside of Zoom lectures,” he said. “With ECHO, we were able to get past the ‘breaking the ice’ stage and actually work together on something that is completely outside of academics.”
Some quests explicitly asked participants to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic—but to imagine their perspective from the future. “It’s difficult to gain critical distance when you’re in the middle of a situation,” said Jagoda. “So we tried to defamiliarize the COVID-19 pandemic by thinking back to the 1918 influenza pandemic, and then asking people to speculate about a possible future engaging with our present.” In total, UChicago faculty and staff created over 24 challenges.