Norwich, UK

Getting kids interested in churches and cathedrals can be hard – but Hereford Cathedral, a Church of England cathedral located close to the Welsh border in England's west, has identified a fun way of doing so. It has just launched a children’s story based gaming app designed to make exploring its treasures and heritage entertaining.  

The move marks the first ever USEEUM gaming solution for cathedrals and has already aroused considerable interest since it provides a useful way to balance heritage tourism, a working church with the need to keep kids interested.

Uk Hereford Rapscallions Revenge app screen shots

Screenshots from the app, Rapscallion's Revenge.

Looking at the app, it’s easy to see why it’s proving so appealing. Rapscallion’s Revenge, The Hoodlum of Hereford, is colourful, cheerful and engaging. Kids are expected to be actively involved, reading a short story excerpt, then immediately being asked to seek out answers to questions and riddles. Standing still can provide none of the answers– you have to walk around, look around and search closely. Moving on in the game is only possible by providing the correct answer, which then leads to the next problem to be solved. Typical questions include ‘how many candles are in the candelabra?’.

Riddles to be solved include this one:
"The south of the nave has a bowl made of stone, 
Where twelve holy men form a ring of their own, 
A place where a baby is brought to be blessed,
And sat amongst flowers four animals rest."

As children follow the storyline, they are given historical information as well as information about the use of various parts of the cathedral. Participants are helping to solve the cathedral from being taken over by Lord Rapscallion who is trying to secure his legacy by tricking famous cathedrals and cities into creating monuments and chapels in his honour.

Jess Stallwood, events officer at Hereford Cathedral, said feedback has been positive.

"One family who enjoyed the game with their six-year-old commented that the youngster was engaged by the video and watched each clip without losing interest, enthusiastic to complete the game.”

Uk Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral in England. PICTURE: Jonny Gios/Unsplash

Adrian Smith, from Your Heritage Ltd, started working on the project with Hereford Cathedral late in 2020. He said that while there were tech issues that had to be overcome - “We had to bear in mind what can be done in terms of design because it can use up so much of a phone’s mobile capacity", one of the biggest problems facing the app's developers was creating a storyline.  

“You had to be totally careful what could be done within a church," he said. "You couldn’t have evil characters, ghosts or a thief trying to steal from a cathedral. We went on the basis that when churches were built they would have benefactors who would pay to have a monument or a chapel built. They would put money into the church for that purpose, and could say what they wanted and it was done. In Canterbury, for example, a donor didn’t like the original style of a chapel and, as a result, a monument ended up with feet sticking out of the exterior wall and the remainder inside."

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It was that idea which helped them come up with the character of Rapscallion.

"We knew we needed an antagonist and came up with Rapscallion who was doing just what people had done through the years by making alterations to the cathedral," said Smith. "Rapscallion is an engaging character and it is a way of exploring the history of the cathedral in a fun way.“

Smith added that the app was designed to that users wouldn't be "just looking at the phone all the time".

"The app is a means to encourage them to explore. It is more than just a digital media guide.”

Ultimately, it is hoped that other cathedrals will adopt bespoke versions of Rapscallion’s adventures, encouraging children to explore other ecclesiastical buildings.