Oh, the irony! Can technology be used in a positive way to reduce hours glaring at a screen and to get kids playing outside?

Screen time for children: a blessing or a curse? The popular new app Caper is disrupting the notion of online game play as a sedentary activity played in isolation. The start-up, designed to reduce children’s screen time and get them playing interactive outdoor adventures, just secured £300,000 seed funding from Lego Ventures. Ironic, isn’t it? Download an app to keep your children off the phone. Hmmm. Parents who look beyond the paradox see how a smartphone could coax kids into outdoor creative play.

Here are five apps that encourage users to get off their screens and out and about.


Too windy? Bit rainy? Struggling to get children outside? A five-year-old girl was the inspiration behind the creation of Caper, the new-fangled app combining fun characters with interactive activities and storylines. On a beautiful sunny day, CEO and co-founder Ben Geliher was trying to sweet-talk his daughter into a trip to the park but she was immersed in watching TV. ‘I know she absolutely loves going to the park [but] she was engrossed in what she was doing, and the lure of tech was keeping her in the house. I thought if Elsa from Frozen gave her a call and said, ‘Something’s happening in the park and I really need your help, she would instantly be up and engaged.’’ Fast forward a few months and Geliher, formerly from Moshi Monsters at Mind Candy, set to work building an app to encourage children to get moving, reconnect with family and enjoy real-world play.

The Caper app works by sending users on a mission (or ‘caper’) designed to be played by the family together either indoors or outdoors. Users choose a story, follow the guide and make it their own playtime. Every mission starts with a ‘phone call’ using the latest smartphone facial capture technology to create fully animated talking characters who give instructions to the children. ‘We know that screen time is an issue for many families,’ said Founders Factory’s chief studio officer, Paul Egan. ‘With so many apps out there designed to keep you scrolling and glued to the screen. I’m really excited by a product that empowers families to have rich meaningful experiences together.’

Pokémon Go

Those who had thought Pokémon Go was a fleeting fad or just for teens or children could not have been more mistaken. Launched in 2016, the insanely popular smartphone app, designed to encourage ‘healthy exploration and social game play’, is a record-breaking phenomenon. It generated more than £1bn revenue in its first year and remains something of a cultural movement. Users of all ages continue to be addicted to the location-based augmented reality game where players search real world maps to find virtual creatures. Players use their phone’s GPS to explore far and wide in their local area to discover wild virtual Pokémon in the real world. They then physically go out to ‘capture’ these virtual creatures, take Pokémon in ‘raids’ against others at ‘gyms’, uncover Poké Balls and eggs, then hatch and train new creatures. Wherever you are, in a shopping centre, playground, train station, there will be virtual Pokémons out there. The game constantly rewards you for playing which makes it so addictive.


Like all top performing interactive apps, Onigo, which targets teens or adults, flits between the real world and a virtual world. Inspired by Pokémon Go and escape rooms, Onigo is the escape room app that brings people together in a local park for an outdoor immersive ‘treasure hunt’. The web app uses geolocation and physical activity to combat social isolation in London parks. Users follow a storyline and trail on their phone, uncover clues and solve cryptic puzzles to complete their secret mission before time runs out. The prison breakout story and murder mystery game are popular. ‘We tried to create something that fits between the fun and games world, the social meet up world, and the exercise world. We designed Onigo around that,’ says co-founder Alex Stanley. ‘You go around the park, get active and solve tasks to unlock things, just like in a computer game. Except it’s digital.’

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Wand at the ready! Magic is all around you, if only you know where to look. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a location-based role-playing game where users explore their real world to capture and contain threats to the secrecy of the magical realm. It’s pretty well-liked and hit the top 10 apps in Google Play last year. If you’re familiar with Pokémon Go, you will recognise the same format in this Hogwarts-themed AR game. You (and wizards) walk around the real world, interact with AR, swipe and collect items. You are enlisted to help uphold the Statue of Secrecy and eventually solve the calamity of magical realm threats. You choose your Hogwarts house, design your own wand and get to cast spells. There are mysteries, challenges, potions, trolls, frog brains, leaping toadstools and of course, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hedwig. Perfect escapism.

Gruffalo Spotters 2

Oh help! Oh no! It’s a Gruffalo! Know a little person who loves Julia Donaldson’s beloved monster? Bring it to life with the augmented reality app Gruffalo Spotters 2 designed for exclusive use at Forestry Commission England sites. The app magics up Gruffalo characters by bringing the 3D character animation to life and takes photos alongside the imaginary characters. Children can interact with all The Gruffalo characters in 3D – waving, stomping, flying and dancing – as they appear magically beside them. Parents rave about the app which encourages pre-schoolers to run around parks, rather than being pushed in a buggy. You can check #Gruffalospotters on social media to see others enjoying the forest trails with their dogs. Oddly appealing.

By Annabel Jack
December 2020


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Annabel Jack

Contributing Editor

Annabel is a regular contributor to The GWG, with a taste for finest in food, fashion and interiors.