Everyone realizes the importance of recycling. The problem is - it's not fun! Our challenge for this competition was to bring awareness to recycling and sustainability, and educate kids (and grown up kids) about how best to recycle or reuse different items, in a way that will make them passionate and excited. Once players have formed this habit in the game, it is highly likely that they will recycle more in real life as well. Because deep down inside, all of us can be GARBAGE HEROES!

What it does

The streets of Stinky Town are drowning with trash, and only a real hero can save the day and clear up the town! Alexa introduces different characters that need your help to get rid of their garbage. Some are famous, like Thomas Edison, Ada Lovelace, and Isaac Newton, and some are original characters with creative trash items that we wrote with our players' help . The goal is to direct each item into the right recycling bin by saying paper, metal, plastic, glass, batteries, electronics, or trash. For bonus points, players can also say "reuse" when they're feeling super sustainable. If the item can be saved, Alexa will tell them what they can do with it ("Good call! Use that piece of cardboard to make an art project")

Seeing that every country and sometimes even every district have different recycling rules, we invented a town called Stinkytown that has pretty broad recycling laws. Players are encouraged to look up their local recycling opportunities and become Garbage Heroes in real life!

How I built it

We started by writing a couple of dialogs from end to end to get a feeling for both the structure and gameplay. Once we had a clear concept, we started implementing the structure as a state machine, using the the Jovo framework for Node.js. For efficient developing and debugging we used a local webhook, and then moved the Skill to AWS Lambda functions in different regions, to minimize latency for users across the world. User data are persisted across sessions using either Jovo’s file database (for development) or AWS DynamoDB (for the live Skill).

At the heart of the Skill there’s a Google Spreadsheet we use as a content management system, which allows us to add content like texts, sounds, background images, characters and items dynamically, and which stores the daily highscores. We also designed some beautiful trash images and recycling tip screens for a good multi-modal experience. We used Polly voices and played with pitch to create a big variety of characters.

Challenges I ran into

The main challenge was to gamify recycling and garbage in a fun way!

Once we figured out the gameplay and had the skill structure working, a big challenge was to come up with enough engaging characters and interesting trash items to keep the players excited. We also had to come up with many ways to reuse our list of trash items, so users are rewarded and feeling educated, surprised, and delighted when they decide to be sustainable and say "reuse".

Then, we realized recycling laws might be too overwhelming to internalize at once. We implemented a "tutorial mode" of characters that gradually introduce different kinds of recycling. Your first character only has trash, plastic and paper. Then another one introduces glass and metal, etc.

And finally….We thought we had everything covered, until we shared the game with a real environmentalist lawyer who sent us back to a huge content editing session.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

Making garbage fun!

Writing over 20 characters and 150+ garbage items.

Creating a daily high score mechanism to engage and encourage users - because garbage is a daily challenge.

Enabling our players to be super active and create their own characters and trash items.

Bringing recycling to awareness, and personally recycling much more.

Seeing that some players have recycled 100+ items in a single session!

What we learned

Wake us up in the middle of the night with a trash item and we'll sort it with our eyes closed (plus costume making, and plenty of new things each of us learned to do with Alexa)

What's next for Garbage Hero

Tons of more characters, items, and fun surprises! We can't wait to see the content our players will submit:

Thank you for reading, now go recycle something!

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