Presented as part of the Spotlight session, "What's Happening at the National Museum of American History," at the American Association of Museums Technology, Interpretation, and Education 2010 online conference.
The museum received funds in the fall of 2009 to research and think about a national game (or experience, adventure, or competition)—that will merge historical scholarship and inquiry with new media tools. The scope of the project was very open—no target launch date, audience, or specific goals. We are still in the very early stages of development—in the past few months we’ve been working to define our approach, to explore platforms and techniques, and to determine what kind of a game the Smithsonian could develop that would be unique for our audiences.Because we are still in the planning stages, this talk is about our research phase and the process we’ve been following to further define the project. We’d like to hear from you about your thoughts on what makes games compelling activities for museum audiences.
In December 2008 the American Association of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums hosted a lecture by Dr. Jane McGonigal, researcher and games designer with the Institute for the Future, titled "Gaming the Future of Museums.” She talks about why games matter and how museums might consider using games to engage their audiences and even to change the world.For more, view the webcast: http://www.futureofmuseums.org/events/lecture/mcgonigal.cfmDownload her slides:http://www.slideshare.net/avantgame/gaming-the-future-of-museums-a-lecture-by-jane-mcgonigal-presentation
We have just completed the research phase of this project and are moving into concept development. During the second phase of the project, we will be contracting with a game developer to help us design a concept package for the implementation of a game. The concept package will help us to solidify goals, define the game experience, and provide a set of materials to help the museum with fundraising.The third phase of the project will be prototyping--actually designing, building, running, and evaluating a game for the first time.
During the research phase, we talked with dozens of experts. We conducted research on existing models and emerging trends in gaming, technology, museums, and learning theory. The kinds of questions we asked people included:-What are the biggest factors in motivating people to play a game?-Are there audiences for games that you feel are interested but underserved?-How do you define the success of a game (beyond the number of players)?And we asked ourselves: -Who do we want to target and why?-What will those players get out of participating in the game?-We can’t compete with major video game empires. What can we add to the world of gaming that is unique?
Our goals for this project are simple. The most important is the first: to experiment. This project to develop a game is largely about giving the museum a chance to try something new, to see how a game works and what the opportunities are.We also want to be sure to bring attention to the treasures in our collections that make the museum unique. Our artifacts, more than anything else, is what will set the museum’s history game apart from other game experiences available to our audiences as entertainment options.Finally, we want to facilitate a learning experience for players. However, the focus of this project is not on formal or classroom-based learning but on a wider definition of education and life-long learning.
In thinking about what is important to the museum in developing a game experience, the museum came up with a short set of characteristics—or values—that we think are important for the project to adhere to. POLLIf you were designing a museum game, which key characteristic would you focus on?-Accessible-Inspirational-Inclusive-Demonstrative that your topic is complex-Challenging-Fun
The experts we talked with offered many ways to think about development of a game. Audience: Some told us to choose an audience that we want to reach and develop a game with that audience in mind. Game play:Others told us to focus on a great idea and entertaining gameplay and do NOT try to target for a specific audience. “This is the thing that’s special about games. Instead of thinking about content, think about what the players are doing. The mechanic becomes the message.” Story:Several other experts told us that they start with a good story before anything else. They said: “The story is what matters: it has to be ‘epic’ and attention-grabbing if you want a large audience . . . game developers look for conflict, controversy, change.”
We are still working to define who our target audiences might be for the game we eventually develop. We’re looking at the benefits of promoting the game to visitors who are already on-site, to reaching out to underserved audiences in our local community, and to looking much more broadly and expanding our outreach nationally.
We began the project with an idea to develop a history contest similar to a spelling bee. We quickly came to the conclusion, however, that such a contest—which involves rote memorization of facts—is not the kind of history education the museum embraces. Instead, we focus on critical thinking skills and the work of actually doing history.We also knew early on that we didn’t want to compete with popular video or computer console games—which require massive budgets and is an already crowded and competitive market.We started to look at other kinds of technology which might allow us to experiment with having players NOT sit in front of a computer or television screen for hours on end. Mobile and social technologies provide interesting opportunities to connect people with one another as well as to places around the country—including our own museum facility.
Another important factor in our planning is budget. This chart by Gary Hayes, a new media producer based in Australia, helped us to think about the amount of time we might expect players to engage with the game and the museum (the x axis) versus the quantities of money that would be required to develop that type of game. ARG= Alternate Reality GameMMOG= Massive Multiplayer Online GameWe’ve decided to pursue a type of game called a “transmedia game,” which we believe will allow us to leverage the untethered nature of mobile games, the mass appeal of casual games, the problem-solving focus of a “serious” game, and the interactive narrative and real-world-as-platform aspects of an ARG.
Transmedia games weave together multiple media—such as online, email, mobile—and live-action. Such games have the potential to get people up out of their chairs to be resourceful and actually do things in the real world. They can be designed to bring people together in teams to collaborate and solve puzzles. This game platform provides players opportunities to interact with others, with places, and with objects—traits that makes this genre of game well suited to the Smithsonian’s mission, museum buildings, and collections. Example: The 39 CluesThe 39 Clues is a multi-media adventure series for children ages 8-12, published by Scholastic. The series combines a 10-book series with collectible cards and an online game where students can solve puzzles. Each child becomes a member of the fictional Cahill family and joins in the pursuit of the clues to find the ultimate source of the Cahill fortune and power.While the story is primarily told through the books, each novel serves as a launching pad for further exploration, with clues hidden within each book’s pages. In ”The Maze of Bones”, a series of apparently misnumbered pages spells out a secret message that aids the reader in solving a puzzle on one of the six collectible cards that came with the book. By going to the 39 Clues website, the reader can complete a puzzlesolving mission that explains the message. The story also branches through other products including a board game and an iPhone application.
The museum is really excited about the potential of a transmedia game to engage people with history, provide a platform for players to interact with the museum and with each other, and to try something new with emerging media and technology.We plan to have a concept completed by the end of the year and hope to launch a prototype in 2011. Please use the open chat to let us know what you think about our ideas and please do share any thoughts you have on bringing history to life through a multi-platform experience such as a transmedia game.
Developing a transmedia game at a history museum
Developing a Transmedia Game for a History Museum<br />
Smithsonian Mission<br />"I then bequeath the whole of my property...to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge...“<br />-James Smithson (1765-1829)<br />