About Harrison Baker

Harrison Baker works as an aquarist at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center. His academic background is in animal husbandry, journalism and editing. He is currently pursuing an MS in Free-Choice Learning Science Education. His board game, Deme, is currently under development as a component of his MS project on games and adult learning.

In my living room sit several boxes of LEGOs awaiting desecration. Over the weekend, I must find a way to contain the cheerful, rainbow-colored dust that this gruesome operation yields.

I have decided to give my game the working title “Deme.” I feel the word more or less sums up what the game is about, and I felt the need to call my project something other than “the game.” It feels more real, and real is what it will have to be before terribly long.

A sticking point in the concept is how we should handle mating and aggression. My instinct is to portray these things as they are, to the best of my ability. I have a couple of reasons. First, wild animals are not subject to our cultural notions of propriety. Second, these things are kind of what the game is about. It would feel weird blotting them out.

However, Deme is going to be available to a general audience. For an age bracket that might not know the ins and outs of reproduction (so to speak), these elements will need careful presentation. Unplanned family discussions about where babies come from are not among my learning goals.

A child might play the game, with the guidance of a parent or teacher, to learn why elk are important. An adult might play to see if she can breed a super-squirrel or beat her personal record for screech owl polyamory. Both learners have different goals and perhaps very different approaches to games in general.

The experience of playing a given game differs from person to person, and from instance to instance. Players can define their own roles and experiences within the rules of the game. This may make our work easier in some ways and harder in others.

Some of these issues can’t be addressed realistically until we get into technical details, but it’s worth starting the conversation now.

Kent got a new toy recently. It’s a kit by Industrial Fiber Optics, Inc. called “Adventures in Fiber Optics.” If you’re like me, fiber optics don’t exactly signify “adventure.” They may be vital components of adventurey things like airplanes and MI6 gadgets, but they don’t get your heart racing on their own:



But wait! When Kent gets done with this kit, it will become an interactive element of the Life History Transmitter exhibit. If history has taught us anything, it’s that Kent can basically deconstruct and rebuild fun itself. I won’t be moping long.

Meanwhile, Mark and I are playing with LEGOs. By “playing with,” I mean “damaging with power tools.” They’re going into the wave tank, so they should be somewhat destructible. This requires us to undermine their defining characteristic of not falling apart. A Dremel tool works well for this. The tough part is that damaging LEGOs sort of hurts. LEGOs became an internal currency of my very imagination during childhood. Defacing them feels like some sort of crime under the jurisdiction of my brain’s Secret Service.

As with Kent’s fiber optics kit, the work should be well worth it in the end. You’ll be able to play with our toys soon.


Quick post today. Linda Norris ran this piece a couple of weeks ago about novel labels at the Minnesota History Center and Mill City Museum.

“Over and over again,  text was displayed in surprising ways,  that encouraged me to read more,  to explore, and to appreciate the sense of humor and playfulness that the exhibit teams brought to projects.”

The interactive sausage grinder label is great. Have a look.


We put water in the wave tanks today. After a few small adjustments, they seem to be operating very nicely. The process of filling and testing them drew a decent-sized crowd of curious youngsters.

At Mark’s urging, I tried to create an impressive tsunami in the smaller tank. A single, mighty heave barely produced a ripple.  This is good, as it means visitors with this goal will need to spend a few seconds fine-tuning their timing and rhythm to meet it. It is satisfying when you get a nice, even stream of deep waves marching down the trough.

Alan is in the process of testing out his wave energy demonstration device, which is essentially one of those electromagnetic flashlights you shake up to charge, with a float attached. It’s simple but effective, and it seems like common sense once you see it in action.