Learning through play

Crucial Crew helps kids navigate real-world dangers as they prepare for secondary school.

Learning through play
Crucial crew header

Cursive works with open source tech to create an engaging online ‘choose your adventure’ game. We made complex messages fun - without blockbuster budgets.

Crucial Crew sticker

Thinking big… digitally

The very best challenges involve clients being genuinely bold and ambitious. And when North Yorkshire Police approached us to re-think their kids’ personal safety campaign Crucial Crew for the digital era, they inspired us to think big.

The result is a lively and colourful urban adventure game that gallops its 10-year-old target audience through all kinds of tricky challenges, from perilous water and rail scenarios to cyber bullying and citizenship.

We knew from the outset we were in really good hands and you’d deliver something really exciting. You haven’t disappointed!

— Clare Burborough, corporate communications officer, North Yorkshire Police
Skater

The challenge

For 25 years, North Yorkshire Police’s popular Crucial Crew campaign has been coaching Year 6 pupils on personal safety. That touchpoint with 10 year olds has proved extremely valuable, teaching them vital life skills and helping to shape them into good citizens at a point when they’re about to move up to secondary school.

While the training days themselves were hugely popular with the kids, the follow-up booklet of learning materials was looking woefully out of date with illustrations of mobile phones that predate snake (for those of us old enough to remember).

The force needed a digital solution to help teachers reinforce the lessons learned, once the youngsters were back in the classroom or sitting at home.

The Cursive team asked all the right questions and guided us expertly along to ensure we arrived at a list of core deliverables that got instant buy-in from all the stakeholders. We left the workshop with a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. Everyone had a role in shaping the vision, giving us all a sense of ownership and pride in the end result.

— Clare Burborough, corporate communications officer, North Yorkshire Police

Defining the brief

Crucial Crew has an incredibly broad remit. As well as evergreen safety lessons (gas leaks, crossing the road, avoiding drowning and the like), today’s campaign includes sticky issues such as internet safety and domestic abuse.

With such a crowd of themes jostling for position, we decided the best way to marshal them into place effectively was to start with a workshop.

We locked all the relevant personnel into a room and set to work deciding priorities, brainstorming ideas and delving into years of experience and policing expertise.

The brief might have been clear but we had a lot of very serious themes to include. And by the end of that day we knew we all wanted to make a game.

The result was a clear brief, that everyone understood and bought into.

Honing the messages

Crucial Crew is delivered regionally, with several schools bused in to a venue for the day, attending a series of workshops, on a carousel basis.

We joined the 10-year-olds at one such event, helping us to understand how scenario-based learning really helps hammer home those lessons, so they’re ready for any real-life emergency.

It was clear that we needed to translate these scenarios into an interactive landscape.

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Crucial Crew Kitchen Scene

Building the game

Of course, digital-savvy kids will happily soak up information through games - but could we match NYP’s real-world budgets and timescales with the demands of an audience that’s grown up on blockbuster productions?

Many cups of tea and late-night biscuits later, our team thrashed out the answer. A skilled blending of three open source technologies: a story engine, a graphics engine, and web tech.

We mapped out the scenarios through a script builder, linking this with the gaming element. Although the game is accessible online for any device, we optimised it for touch devices, knowing children are more likely to play it on tablets and phones. It’s also compatible with electronic whiteboards so teachers can also use it as a group teaching aid in the classroom.

Crucial Crew Code

Inkle’s ink narrative scripting language for games powers Crucial Crew’s adventure story

Crafting the look

Bubbling with ideas, we needed a look and feel that was going to grab our audience - but still be simple enough for kids of varying abilities to get to grips with.

We knew bright and clear was the key and we wanted to create characters with a little ambivalence in terms of gender and race.

Fortunately, Richard Corrigan at dogeatcog was the man for the job. He translated our demands into a cast of original characters who were at once cute, cool and, in some cases, green.

Like the visuals, the script had to be simple enough for the audience to understand and funny enough to engage them. Chatting it through with our own kids, the message came through strongly: ‘Don’t try to be too cool.’

Players will have just been to a Crucial Crew event and will be clued up about the personal safety messages it teaches.

By inviting the player to choose the right advice as they move through the game, they feel they’re passing on what they’ve learned, rather than being tested. Giving the players options to choose their own path empowers them to try out different choices - in a safe way

Crucial Crew

It’s been a really fun and creative process working with Cursive. We wanted characters that are bright that kids could identify with. Rich at dogeatcog has absolutely nailed it with his designs and we’re looking at bringing the characters further into the workshops and supporting material.

— Clare Burborough, corporate communications officer, North Yorkshire Police

Testing and feedback

Now we’ve launched the game, we’re gathering wide feedback, so we can refine and improve future versions.

We’ve implemented analytics and tracking so we and our partners at NYP can learn how the game is used and by whom, without needing to watch over them.

The police already have plans to roll out the characters onto other promotional materials and use them in the workshops, to make the messaging more memorable and engaging for the kids.

What we learned

We were able to bring the game to life by standing on the shoulders of giants. North Yorkshire Police had brilliantly ambitious ideas - but real world budgets and timescales.

The key came when we found the existing technology we could leverage to bring those ambitions to life, on time and on budget.

We found an effective blend of solutions that provides great game play and we absolutely loved building it!

— Pat Smith, software developer, Cursive