Grow the Forest

A collaborative, multiplayer, walk-up-and play game for children to work together to grow a forest from seeds, to fully grown trees.


How might we design a  multiplayer, walk-up-and-play game for children

(ages 6-10) which encourages collaboration and physical movement?


Design a game for kids and with kids using rapid prototyping techniques and participatory design methods.


Heather Hseuh

Casey Jabbour

Brenda Penn

Vanshika Swaika


10 weeks



Prototyping, Participatory Design, Game Development, Project Management


Arduino, p5.js, Laser Cutting, Electrical Circuitry


Grow the Forest

Grow the Forest is a fully developed collaborative game for children ages 6-10 with novel walk-up-and-play controllers. It encourages children to work collaboratively in order to grow a forest. Starting with seeds, they must plant the seeds in a plot of grass and must then ensure that the seed gets what it needs most: sun and water.


How to Play

Two players have to work together to grow the forest. Using four different input methods, the players have control over four aspects of the game. Each of these four aspects are controlled with its own unique corresponding input. The four aspects are: the seed, sun, rain, and clouds. The forest starts with no trees.

  1. Starting with a seed. The seed must be planted in one of the small areas of grass available.

2. Now the seed is planted it needs both rain and sun are to be given to the seed in order for it to grow one level.  To get rain to the tree, the clouds must also be moved.

3. Seeds will immediately appear one after another. They each need to be planted in the area of grass before reaching the ground.

4. Meanwhile, the other plants still need their sun and water. But be careful! Too much rain or water is not good for the trees.

5. A tree is considered full growth once it has received three rounds of both rain and sun.

6. Keep going until all trees are fully grown and you’ve created a forest!


The Controllers


The seed controller are 2 seed shaped buttons that are laser cut and made of wood. They are layered pieces that rest on top of an electronic button. Each seed button controls the left and right direction of the seed in the game which the user will use to drop the seed in the correct area.


The rain controller is made up of layers of wood that represents a ripple of water and/or a puddle of water. The layers sit on top of an electronic button. This button controls the intensity of the rain depending on how fast or slow the user presses the button.


The sun controller is made of two circles with the top circle representing the sun. The top circle and the bottom circle have two conductive materials, so when the top circle moves, the two conductive materials come into contact to signal the sun to grow in the game to represent heat being generated.


The cloud controller contains two holes, one on the left and another on the right. Depending on which direction the user wants the clouds to blow in, they have to use their breath to move the clouds.


How We Got Here

First looking at the game design space, we conducted secondary research to understand how to design games for children and to research different potential input methods we could use for our controllers. Once having an understanding of this, we used the braiding methods to ideate different potential game ideas. From these ideas, we came up with ten different game concepts. Through dot voting and feedback from the class, we down-selected to three concepts.


Co-design Session 1

Taking our three concepts, we brought them to 12 kids to further down-select. Our goals for session were:

  1. What interaction method is the most fun?
  2. What story is the most interesting?
  3. Which idea is most exciting to the kids?


We rapidly prototyped an activity for each of the kids that closest represented the concept.

    • Feather game: Working together the kids have to work together to try to keep the feather in the air for as long as possible by blowing on the feather.
    • Space and Constellations: We created constellations by poking holes in a piece 
of cardboard and by shining 
a flashlight on top into a cardboard box so the kids 
can see the constellation. 
We then will ask the kids if 
they are able to identify it.
    • Endangered Ocean Species: Using a balance board and a cardboard steering wheel, one person will steer a boat. Meanwhile, the other players are playing “I spy” 
in a print of an ocean full 
of different creatures.




1. The kids wanted to jump into playing the games immediately.

The moment the materials for the game were set out, the kids would pick them up or fiddle with them. They didn’t want to have to wait to listen to the instructions, they rather start playing right away.

2. When kids were waiting to play a game, they would explore the other games we brought.

The kids liked to explore and play with whatever was around them. They were curious and enjoyed just picking something up to play with it, even without knowing how it was meant to be used in a game.

3. Kids were willing to fail repeatedly to find a way to win in the challenging games.

The kids found the challenging games more fun. By repeatedly losing, it made them want to keep playing. Each time, they would test different ways to try to beat the game.

4. For each of the games, they tended to find 
one input more exciting than the other.

In each of the games, the kids mentioned liking one controller more than the other. The games were set up so that each player only had one mode of input and so the other was stuck with an input method that was not as fun.


Refining the Concept

Our first co-design session with the kids was a pivotal moment in defining our final concept. We were able to learn key aspects that the kids enjoyed and parts that they did not. From our findings, we learned that they wanted to be able to immediately jump in and play the game. They enjoyed just picking up things and trying to figure out how it is supposed to work. Our team decided to lean into this idea and wanted to have a game where the kids could just walk up and play with no instructions.

In addition, the kids wanted to be able to play with all controllers, so we wanted to incorporate in the game a way for them to switch controllers during the game.

Taking these findings, we came up with our game Grow the Forest.


Wizard of Oz

To gain a better understanding of how users would interact with our potential input methods for our game before fully designing and developing them, we wanted a quick way to test our assumptions and to make sure our design of the controllers were intuitive.

We rapidly prototyped a game in p5js and created lo-fidelity prototypes for the four different input methods with cardboard. The controls in the game allowed us to manipulate the seed, rain, clouds, and sun, which correspond to the input methods we are testing. Meanwhile, the participants would use the four prototyped controllers, one of us was acutally controlling the game.

Through this process, we were able to learn that even though some of the inputs were not initially intuitive, the novelty of the inputs caused some of the participants to have fun trying figure out how to trigger them. However, moving forward, we knew that we needed to provide clearer signifiers for how participants are meant to interact with the controllers.

Watch the video of our wizard of oz testing


Co-design Session 2

From the Wizard of Oz testing, we modified the controller designs to ensure that they each had clear signifiers for how the users are meant to interact with them.

We iterated on the controller design we had and started fabricating the controllers out of cardboard. We programmed the controllers to act as inputs to the p5.js game we developed. Then taking these controllers and the game, we conducted a second co-design session with 12 kids. We wanted to test our new iteration of controllers to ensure that they were intuitive and the kids were able to learn how to interact with them without instruction.



1. The kids loved the game! After playing the first time and answering questions, most of them asked to play again.  

2. The kids wanted more levels to make the game more challenging.

3. All the kids’ favorite controller was the seed. But most of the kids didn’t like the cloud controller because it was too tiring and hard for them to blow.

4. Some of them were unsure when the trees were full growth. Some of the trees didn’t look full growth to them even thought they were. This made it difficult for them to know when or if the game was over.

Overall, the reaction to the game was great. The kids enjoyed it and were able to learn it easily with little to no instruction. The kids wanted to keep playing once the game was over.


Building the Game

Through our wizard of oz and co-design, we were able to ideate different controller designs before creating the final design controller. The testing helped us to ensure that each controller had clear signifiers for how the users are meant to interact with them. In addition, it helped us make sure the game graphics matched with the controller inputs and made sense to the players.  Using Arduino Leonardos we fabricated the controllers and programmed them to be inputs for the p5.js game.

At the same time as we were designing the controllers, we developed the p5.js game functions and game graphics.




Next Steps

Explore the adding more levels to the game. In our co-design session 2, the kids mentioned wanting more levels in the game to keep the game going on.


Explore the idea of modifying the game concept to include an antagonist. Some of the kids mentioned wanted to be playing against someone to make the game more challenging.


Participatory design with kids means being flexible. Even though you may come prepared with activities and how you want the co-design session to go, the kids may want to do something different. But it’s okay to be flexible and to allow the kids to explore their own ideas.


Be prepared for anything. The kids were rough with some of our prototypes that it even caused some of them to break while they were trying to play the game.