MW2011: D. Birchall + M. Henson, Gaming the museum


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Why, with the vast resources, and fundamental human subjects at our disposal, have museums failed to make more than a handful of really compelling games? Are we too wedded to the idea that games must be educational? Do we lack the in-house skills to make subject matter and game engines gel, or are we simply trying to enter an overcrowded marketplace with too few resources? Should we leave making games to the professionals?

At Wellcome Collection, we are beginning the process of making games for our website that put compelling gameplay at the centre of the experience, building our subject matter and resources around that experience. Games have their own logics and structure, and there's no reason these should be subjugated to narrow educational aims any more than the physical layout of the museum should determine the information architecture of our websites. The playful and exploratory impulses that draw gamers towards great games are still largely untapped as a means of engagement.

Using the mini-workshop format, we will present our progress to date and open up a discussion of other museums' experience, sharing our ideas and understanding of games. We will use simple exercises to look at matching our available resources (narratives, photography, object databases) to modes of gameplay, as well as investigating reusable game engines, game syndication, and building enthusiasm for games inside the organisation.

A presentation from Museums and the Web 2011 (MW2011).

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  • Our approach to games 2010 we began thinking strategically about games rather than ’interactives’, ‘Flash’ etc. Our approach evolved: Interesting games can only be made by collaboration between people within the instition, and with people outside Games need to have real, meaningful content – a museum can’t simply hand over the brand to an agency to make a game like a biscuit company Compelling gameplay is not the only, but a very important reason people play games – it’s not the only thing in a museum game, but it has to be at the heart
  • The Memory game A simple, well-known game, no innovation But we filled it with over 1,100 images from our collections (every single one of which linked to catalogue) A job our picture researchers were enthusiastic and inventive about Carries the ideas of multiplicity and repetition (key themes in our collection) through gameplay
  • Quiz engine Again, no innovation, but we made it nice, with lots of multimedia capacity It’s repurposable for new exhibitions and initiatives Curators and librarians write the questions – producing each quiz is a collaboration
  • High Tea A strategy game, based on an element of one of our exhibitions, the opium trade The mode, a strategy/trading game matched the history Sensitive subject, so had to be historically correct & morally robust --- we needed the exhibition curators to work on it It was phenomenally successful – over 2.5 million plays We evaluated the hell out if it – analytics, survey, focus groups, monitoring discussions
  • Some of the things we’re begiining to learn You don’t need to come up with a radically new game concept to make an effective game Gamers play games (of the sort we’re talking about anyhow) on games portals. Games don’t necessarily spread through facebook and twitter (we put all the right likes & links in – it wasn’t a significant means of communication about the game) People will engage with the material content of your game, and thinkabout it even in ways you hadn’t anticipated
  • We set up a special server for the game, tested it, nice branded background etc. This graph shows how just few people actually played it there. (This is just one part of a much bigger evaluation project that looks at everything from portal comments to focus groups)
  • We thought we’d made a strategy game that was about history This is a blog discussing High Tea in terms of contemporary economics
  • Questions that we want to ask ourselves (and that we hope this workshop might address some of Can we replicate a success like High Tea? What does it take? What are the important ingredients? How much intra and inter- collaboration can we achieve? How can we establish communities and places where we can share knowledge rather than reinventing wheels? How do we preserve an idea of playable games when ‘everything is a game’ now?
  • This workshop is not for us to teach, it’s for us to learn We want to test our ideas about making museum games together with you We want to look at the idea of reusing game models that work We’d like to think about how to develop collaboration We’d also like to think about how to effectively share the knowledge & experience in this room beyond the conference.
  • We’ve found in other situations that brainstorming is a good way to come up with new ideas, but more importantly helps understand some of the issues in collaboration & creation. The workshop works like this: Divide yourselves into groups of between 3 and 6 We have some cards representing modes of gameplay (platformer etc) that we’re going to dish out at random Each to select from among you a particular collection, aspect or educational mission of their museum (we have bunches of postcards for if insipration fails you) You collectively brainstorm an idea for a game that brings the two together Report back with an idea & issues that arise from your discussion
  • We’ve set up a forum thread on the conference website for you to share some of the ideas that came out of this exercise, and your thouhts on the process, and on sharing experience & knowledge.
  • MW2011: D. Birchall + M. Henson, Gaming the museum

    1. 1. Gaming the Museum Martha Henson and Danny Birchall Wellcome Collection, London @marthasadie @dannybirchall Mini-workshop Friday 8 April 2011 Museums and the Web, Philadelphia
    2. 2. Approaching games <ul><li>Collaboration </li></ul><ul><li>Real content </li></ul><ul><li>Gameplay </li></ul>
    3. 6. Learning <ul><li>You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be effective </li></ul><ul><li>There’s a bigger audience on other websites </li></ul><ul><li>Social media doesn’t necessarily spread games </li></ul><ul><li>People will think and talk about your game in unexpected ways </li></ul>
    4. 9. Questions <ul><li>Replicating success </li></ul><ul><li>Extent of collaboration </li></ul><ul><li>Sharing/learning from each other </li></ul><ul><li>Gameplay beyond ‘gamification’? </li></ul>
    5. 10. Goals for this workshop <ul><li>Testing our ideas </li></ul><ul><li>(Re)using what works </li></ul><ul><li>Sparking collaboration </li></ul><ul><li>Sharing knowledge & experience </li></ul>
    6. 11. Brainstorming exercise <ul><li>Groups of 3-6 </li></ul><ul><li>Random game types </li></ul><ul><li>Select a collection, aspect, mission </li></ul><ul><li>Bring the two together </li></ul><ul><li>Present your game, and issues </li></ul><ul><li>Q&A </li></ul>
    7. 12. Share and reflect <ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>( gaming_the_museum_share_and_reflect) </li></ul>
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