Zombies Vs. Knaves: Playing Games in Cultural Institutions


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Part of a panel presentation for the Meaningful Play 2010 conference at Michigan State University.

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  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum launched a new mission-based game in September titled Pheon. The game will run online through Facebook for one year.
  • There is a detailed narrative behind Pheon. The game is set in Terra Tectus, a secret world in which two peoples, Staves and Knaves, are at war. Five central characters will emerge on Facebook and Twitter over the next few weeks.
    One of the characters is Hans Christian Ørsted, a Danish physicist and chemist that lived in the early 19th century. Orsted was the first human to find his way into Terra Tectus. Orsted hopes that humans can help end the war between the Knaves and the Staves. He sets us missions, which we must complete in order to prove our worth.
    The missions are focused on the museum’s art collections, exhibitions, and program.
  • When players enter the game, they must first determine whether they are Staves or Knaves by answering a questionnaire.
    Missions exist on three levels - Neophyte, Acolyte and Lamplight Council - through which players must advance, reaching the final stage in which players may create missions for those at lower levels. Currently, only neophyte missions, assigned by Orsted, are available in the game.
  • Neophyte missions exist in four categories:  Discover, Make, Document and Perform. Missions will be added to the game periodically over the next year. We launched at the beginning of October with 19 neophyte missions, six of which are specifically based on the collections of the museum. (The museum missions are branded with the Smithsonian sunburst). The game is designed so that multiple institutions can participate, with each designing and launching missions that relate to their individual goals through a single online application.
    “Refine your discovery skills by searching for art. This doesn't have to mean a grand trek. You may have folk art in your own home. Find such a piece — or if you'd prefer, make one — and show it to us.”
    The mission also invites you to call our audio tour for a definition of folk art, if you need one.
    “Sometimes it pays to be in two places at the same time. In Terra Tectus it is a way of life. You can be in Terra Tectus, where time seems suspended, where you hardly age at all, and you can have another foot firmly planted in the real world, the here and now. Check out SAVOY We want you to find an image of yourself dancing and digitally place it inside SAVOY.”
  • 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.
  • Launch
    The game launched on September 18 with an event in the Museum. Competing as either Knaves or Staves, teams followed clues around the museum to complete a series of quests.
  • The quests were designed to engage people with the artworks and take them around the museum in unconventional ways. Tasks included:
    -- making a reproduction of a sculpture out of aluminum foil
    -- searching for information on the computers
    -- locating objects
    -- singing your rendition of the sheet music depicted in a painting
    -- deciphering hidden messages in artworks
    -- hunting for clues in a plant
  • The second quest was performed incognito; Knaves disguised themselves as Staves, and Staves disguised themselves as Knaves.
  • Thank you!
  • Zombies Vs. Knaves: Playing Games in Cultural Institutions

    1. 1. Zombies vs. Knaves: Playing Games in Cultural Institutions Meaningful Play 2010 Michigan State University
    2. 2. Georgina Goodlander Interpretive Programs Manager Smithsonian American Art Museum
    3. 3. Pheon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Georgina Goodlander Smithsonian American Art Museum www.pheon.org
    4. 4. 1. You’re having a dream about fishing, are you? a) Wading in a stream. (Stave) b) On a boat in the middle of the ocean (Knave) 2. Which would you rather untie? a) A knot (Stave) b) A bow (Knave) 3. If you played professional football, which squad would you be on? a) Defense (Stave) b) Offense (Knave) Smithsonian American Art Museum www.pheon.org
    5. 5. Smithsonian American Art Museum www.pheon.org
    6. 6. Goals • Increase familiarity with our collections • Inspire creativity • Connect art with *real* life • Raise awareness of the American Art Museum Smithsonian American Art Museum www.pheon.org
    7. 7. Georgina Goodlander GoodlanderG@si.edu | Facebook/Twitter/Flickr: bathlander | CountedShadows.com Smithsonian American Art Museum www.pheon.org
    8. 8. Thank you! Susan Edwards J. Paul Getty Trust, sedwards@getty.edu Jesse Heinzen Minnesota Historical Society, Jesse.Heinzen@MNHS.ORG Margeaux Johnson University of Florida Libraries, margeaux@ufl.edu Erin Branham J. Paul Getty Museum, EBranham@getty.edu Amanda Ohlke The International Spy Museum, aohlke@spymuseum.org Georgina Goodlander Smithsonian American Art Museum, GoodlanderG@si.edu