Pathways of the West is a location-based game played on a handheld GPS unit that leads 5th and 6th grade students through the American West Heritage Center (AWHC) while providing a realistic time-place experience. The AWHC is a nonprofit indoor/outdoor historical center, located in Logan, Utah, and is devoted to celebrating and preserving the heritage of the American West from 1870-1930. The game was created by a team at Utah State University from the Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences. They used instructional and game design theories, a Garmin GPS system to deliver the game, and open software Wherigo to create the application that guides and helps teach the students. The game consists of three stories that relate to the content areas of the AWHC: pioneers, mountain men, and Native Americans. The goal of the game is to not only guide the students to different locations of the AWHC, but also to enrich their educational experience. This gaming activity at the Center differs from what they would get from a book because they are physically at specific locations, seeing and participating in activities of the past. This location-based game places people in the real environment, letting them see and experience things of that time and place. The game, through its descriptions, facts, narratives, and authentic locations, helps the player relate to different lifestyles and time periods.
Beginning the game, the student is presented with a choice between three time-period characters to play, each with their own story to follow. Carrying the GPS unit, the students are led through the grounds of the AWHC by following challenges designed to educate the player about the life and times of the chosen character. The students learn by interacting with virtual characters and objects presented within the game. For example, if the student chooses the pioneer character, they will be led on a scavenger hunt while "performing" some of the pioneer activities, like gathering virtual eggs and watering virtual horses. As the player walks from zone to zone, events within the game are triggered and the player is prompted to execute a new challenge or solve a new puzzle. Engaging in the virtual activities advances the storyline in the game. The players make choices and perform actions within the game in real time, using real-world GPS coordinates, and incorporating elements of the real environment.
Placing them in a specific location at the AWHC gives students the opportunity to see how people lived in this region during this time period and educates them about the daily activities of the past. The game gives the student a way to "hold history"—to learn about and participate in the activities of the past and, because they are on location, experience that environment through all of their senses. This dynamic of holding current technology while participating in activities of the past helps students understand how different life has become and engage them in a living-history environment that may otherwise be unvailable to them.