Pheon: The Concept


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Presentation for Smithsonian staff as part of the 2.0 Forum on March 24, 2010.

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  • Introduction:- We are looking for ways to connect with our audiences in different ways. Rather than thinking about the museum’s on site presence and its on-line presence as two different venues for programs and interpretation, we want to create experiences that span them both.
  • Ghosts of a Chance:- In 2008 we ran the world’s first museum-based Alternate Reality Game titled Ghosts of a Chance. It ran for 3 months and attracted over 6,000 on-line players. It included fake artifacts, actors posing as curators, and a tattooed body-builder. The game was hugely successful, bringing the museum (on-line and on site) to a new audience, encouraging interactivity around our collections, and making people think about art museums in a different way. Comments about the game 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.” We wanted to build on the success of Ghosts of a Chance to create a new game for the museum.
  • PHEON:- The new game will run for 12 months, primarily on-line. It’s titled PHEON, inspired by the name for an ancient arrowhead. According to legend, the talisman was created by the gods for Achilles, and has been passed down through the ages, awarded to only the most worthy. In our game, the PHEON is a virtual talisman. The game operates like Capture the Flag and players complete missions in order to win points and gain possession of the PHEON.
  • Beginnings:- 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. We anticipate that the narrative will be available in e-book format as well as on-line. 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. Each partner in the game will issue their own missions, which can be designed to fulfill their own programmatic and strategic goals. 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.
  • Audience:- The audience will be gamers and people from the “maker” community. The maker movement celebrates arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset, and has a large, active following of people who actively seek participatory projects like PHEON . We also hope to attract many of the artists and crafters that participated in Ghosts of a Chance.
  • Example missions:- An existing street game that has a similar format is “SF Zero.” This takes place primarily in San Francisco, but has players from across the country. Instructions for new players on the web site say:- “play the game by completing tasks and proving that you have completed them. Each task has a set of instructions, a score, a required level, a group and a number of players. Your goal in SFZero is to complete tasks according to the instructions, using your creativity, skills, guile, and imagination.” Example missions from SF Zero include (illustrated here): Create a sculpture by arranging things you find on the street. Acquire a small potted plant. Leave the plant in a store, cafe, or a location of your choosing that has lack of potted plants. Go to a street corner of your choosing and wait for something fantastic to happen. Make a sundial and use it. And some more (not illustrated): Eat a food that frightens you. Insert information in a place that has an absence of information. Surreptitiously place a book of your creation into a public library, such that it will likely be mistaken for part of its collection.
  • Goals:- We will tie our missions to collections, exhibitions, programs, and on-line activities. Our goals are to:- Increase familiarity with our collections . Players should leave the game with new knowledge about the types of work we have in our collection. Inspire creativity . Players should physically do something that has a tangible and documented result in order to progress through the game. The missions will be open to many interpretations so that imaginations can run wild… Connect art with *real* life : Players will discover connections between the artworks and artists represented in our collection and their own lives. This might be a simple connection – such as finding out an artist came from the same town as you, or attended the same school. It might be illustrative – understanding the scene in a painting, or recognizing how an object is meant to be used. Or it might be more abstract – such as taking elements from existing artworks to create something personal to you. Raise awareness of the American Art Museum (and other partner institutions): As with “Ghosts of a Chance,” we hope that this game will attract new audiences, primarily on-line, but also in the real world. Players should discover our collections through the game and be inspired to visit our Web site or even our physical museum.
  • Possible Missions:- We do not have any missions designed yet, but we have been thinking about possibilities. We know we want to experiment with setting missions that ask people to help with real museum work. These tasks might include:- Finding a public sculpture, taking a photo, and uploading the GPS coordinates. and Translating content into different languages. We also want the missions to inspire creativity and fun around our collections. These tasks might include:- Making a costume inspired by an artwork Creating a memory vessel for a friend Reenacting a scene from a painting Finding an artist from your hometown and pretending to be them for the day and Manufacturing a fictional artist and building an identity for them on-line We plan on holding brainstorming meetings with every department in the museum to see if we can design missions that relate to their work. We would also love to create missions that connect our museum with other units in the Smithsonian.
  • Process:- We started a conversation with CityMystery about a new game last spring (2009) We submitted a proposal and a statement of work to the office of contracting in the fall (2009) We executed the contract in March 2010 and started work on discovery We plan to launch the game during the summer. It will run for twelve months with at least one new mission every month. Ultimately, the game designers, museum staff members, and experienced players will all be able to create new missions through Playtime Engine. We intend to formally evaluate elements of this game. This was not something that we did with “Ghosts of a Chance,” and I regret it. The advantage with PHEON is that players have to sign up on-line in order to play, so we should be able to administer surveys and gather user data directly through the site. An important aspect of alternate reality games is the archive. As the games take place in real-time over a set period, it is important to keep an archive of the on-line activity to refer back to once the game has ended. The archive of “Ghosts of a Chance” has been an invaluable resource.
  • Lessons Learned/Hurdles:- As with all complex contracts, it took a long time to process this through the Office of Contracting. We also struggled with the intellectual property of the game. The museum will own the rights to all content created for our missions, but the contractor will own the rights of the game design itself. We have struggled to find other partners to participate from the beginning. This was not a particularly good time to be asking other cultural institutions to spend money. Many people were interested in becoming partners in the game, but could not justify the cost. The game is designed so that people can join at any time, however, so we hope to attract partners once gameplay begins. Hopefully once the game is up and running other institutions will be able to see the benefits of being involved. Games are not currently considered a core activity by many museums. With PHEON, we hope to show that programs like this can be integrated successfully into your institutions’ existing goals, and that they are a great way to engage and inspire both new and existing audiences.
  • Pheon: The Concept

    1. 4. PHEON: Beginnings <ul><li>Core narrative </li></ul><ul><li>Mission-based gameplay – on-line component </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple entities can participate </li></ul>
    2. 7. PHEON: Goals <ul><li>Increase familiarity with our collections </li></ul><ul><li>Inspire creativity </li></ul><ul><li>Connect art with *real* life </li></ul><ul><li>Raise awareness of the American Art Museum </li></ul>
    3. 8. +53° 13' 53.97&quot; -1° 36' 58.39&quot;
    4. 9. PHEON: Process <ul><li>Proposal from CityMystery </li></ul><ul><li>Executed contract! </li></ul><ul><li>… Discovery </li></ul><ul><li>… Design </li></ul><ul><li>… Launch </li></ul><ul><li>… Evaluate </li></ul><ul><li>… Archive </li></ul>