Museum Overview:-The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery in downtown DC. Our collection actually dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, but we have been in this building since 1968. Currently, we get around 1 million visitors to this building every year.One of the relatively new spaces in the museum is the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, which is a visible storage facility. The Luce Center displays more than 3,300 works from the permanent collection in 64 glass cases and 56 pneumatic drawers.
Ghosts of a Chance:-In 2008, the game designers CityMystery approached us about using the Luce Center as the platform for an Alternate Reality Game. They had visited the Luce Web site and thought that with all of the stories we already have, it would be the perfect venue for a game. They developed a narrative inspired by our collections that would be guided by player activity. We had three broad goals in doing this:to create an interactive experience in an art museum, a place where interactivity is usually discouraged, to attract a new audience of gamers who would not typically consider visiting an art museum, and to promote the museum.First, we had to figure out exactly what an ARG was. There are many definitions out there, and they are constantly evolving.For us, an ARG is an interactive story that demands players active participation – the story does not continue unless players do something. It takes place in real time and using real-world elements (phones, web, e-mail, physical spaces, in-person interaction), and is inspired by and integrated with our collection. We launched the game “Ghosts of a Chance” in July 2008.
We wanted to let players know about our upcoming game and the game designers told us that the best place to do this would be at the ARGFest-o-Con event in Boston. They also told us that we needed to do something unusual in order to catch the attention of the attendees. They hired national-level body Craig Torres and tattooed his chest and back with henna tattoos. Within the design was an artwork from our collection and the word’s “Luce’s Lover’s Eye.” When you googled that phrase, the first result that appeared was the object page on our web site. Within 4 hours, photos of Craig were on Flickr, and players had started a discussion thread on Unfiction.“You know, in thinking about it, this doesn't make any sense... Why would the Smithsonian send a stripper to a place like ARGFest to get this going? I mean, think about it, a borderline government agency sending a stripper to a convention in a hotel? That would be front page news on The Drudge Report!”
A clue hidden within the object page led players to the game Web site, which in turn asked them to e-mail an image of an eye and to call a phone number. The site also included a countdown, which told the players that the game would begin in September.(We received 150 images of eyes, and over 250 phonecalls)Early press also helped with the game, as we were able to conceal clues in an ABC.com article and the Smithsonian Magazine. The Museum also issued a formal press release, which was almost entirely fictional.
The story of the game focused around two young curators, Daisy and Daniel, who were being haunted by restless spirits. They shared elements of the story on the game web site, as well as through videos and comments posted on YouTube, mySpace, and Facebook.
When the game officiallylaunched in September, Daisy and Daniel announced thatthey needed to hold an exhibition in the museum in order to put the ghosts to rest and save the museum. So they invited players to create a series of artifacts. There were six challenges in total, with one being announced each week. The challenges related to objects in our collection as well as the story of the ghosts. Players had just a couple of days to answer the challenge, make the artifact, and mail it into the museum.(We received 33 artifacts from 14 players).
The artifacts were temporarily catalogued into the collection. Participants wrote their own labels, which were also included on-line. That the museum would allow essentially fake artifacts to be included in the master database, even temporarily, really demonstrated their willingness to support the game’s narrative. This element really inspired players to participate.
Final Event:-On October 25, we held the final event in the museum. This included an exhibition of all the player-created artifacts and a five-hour multimedia scavenger hunt around the museum. The scavenger hunt involved 6 quests, each of which was tied to a character in the story. As we knew many players did not live in DC and so couldn’t attend, we invited them to create one of the codes in the game from a 19th century quilt.Game tasks included: Cake Looking out of a window and reading a protestor’s sign Looking for a jacket in the coat room and answering the phone in the pocket…
Text messaging the answer to questions in order to get the next clueCreating sculptures out of foilUsing sculpture to decipher complex codeand Following treasure mapsOver 6,000 people played Ghosts of a Chance on-line, and 250 people participated in the final event.
Ongoing Game:-The final event was so successful and received such great feedback that we decided to create a module version that we could run on a recurring basis. Feedback included:“It turned an already interesting museum into a place of wonder”“I never would have spent the time staring into a painting and trying to understand it if it weren’t part of a task.”“This is the first time that it felt like the museum was meant to be fun and interactive rather than somber and pensive.”“A fantastic way to examine the collections and pay specific attention to the various works on art on display.”This version has just 3 quests, can be run by just one or two staff members, and takes around 90 minutes to complete. After a few months, we had so many people demanding a sequel that we created one, Return of the Spirits. Over 2,000 people have played these versions since we started them in December of 2008.
Evaluation:-In June 2009, we conducted a survey of players to try and evaluate the game’s value. We found that:- Every single player, no matter what age, remembered at least one artwork from the game and could describe it in detail. When asked if they would visit the museum again, 68% of players said that they definitely would, while an additional 22% said that they might. When asked to rate how “fun” the museum is out of seven, 85% of players gave us a rating of five or more, and 44% of players gave us the maximum rating of seven. The last question asked players how they would describe the game to a friend. We used all of the answers to create the word cloud that you see here. The larger the word, the more times it was used.The largest number of players fell in the 40-49 age range (14), closely followed by 10-19 (13), 0-9 (12), and 20-29. From observations, we see that it is very popular with families and young couples.
In development:-We are working with the Rochester Institute of Technology to create a Facebook game that is based around the concepts of collecting and exhibiting art. Players will receive points for caring for their collections correctly and for designing thoughtful exhibitions. We’ve given RIT permission to use 196 collection images in the game so far. We hope that the game will expand to include objects from other museums and cultural institutions.
We’re also working with the game designers from Ghosts of a Chance to create a new alternate reality game, PHEON. At the core of the game is a narrative that tells the origin story of the PHEON talisman. As with the Ghosts of a Chance game, the narrative will be revealed in sections in response to players actions. The game will be mission-based, run through an on-line component. Through this web site, players will sign on, select and accept missions, interact with other players, and post content. The missions themselves may take place on-line or in the real world, but one of our goals is that location shouldn’t matter- you should be able to complete the missions wherever you are in the world. Players must upload content such as photos or video clips in order to prove that they have completed a mission and receive points.The game is designed so that multiple entities can participate, with each partner designing missions that relate specifically to their own target audiences and strategic goals.
Learning from the Media: Encouraging Wonder and Discovery in Families and Small Children
Georgina Goodlander<br />Interpretive Programs Manager<br />Smithsonian American Art Museum<br />Ghosts of a Chance Alternate Reality Game<br />
Ghosts of a Chance Archive:<br />www.GhostsofaChance.com<br />Full Evaluation of Ghosts of a Chance:<br />http://tinyurl.com/goac-eval<br />Luce Foundation Center:<br />www.LuceFoundationCenter.si.edu <br />Contact:<br />Georgina Goodlander <br />GoodlanderG@si.edu <br />Facebook/Twitter/Flickr: bathlander<br />CountedShadows.com<br />