A game as a museum as a game

Over at Non-fic­tion, Juha writes about a hypo­thet­i­cal game that sim­u­lates muse­um man­age­ment. He asks: 

Could this be an inter­est­ing approach to open up muse­ums and learn from our cur­rent and future audi­ences? Could a game be a muse­um? Could a muse­um be a game?”

I think the sim­ple answer to all these ques­tions is yes. But I’ve always been more inter­est­ed in the how of things. So I’m lead to wonder…

The fun of sim­u­la­tion games is derived from the fact that they are per­ceived to emu­late cer­tain aspects of phys­i­cal real­i­ty in a real­is­tic man­ner. So when play­ing a foot­ball man­age­ment game, one enjoys feel­ing like one is man­ag­ing a soc­cer team like Mar­co van Bas­ten would, although it is prob­a­ble that the activ­i­ties a play­er engages in are noth­ing like the actu­al activ­i­ties of a trainer/coach. The art of craft­ing these kinds of games is about get­ting as close to the real­i­ty of the sub­ject as pos­si­ble as it is per­ceived by your intend­ed audi­ence. So: What are the activ­i­ties peo­ple imag­ine muse­um man­agers to engage in? Buy­ing and sell­ing art, per­haps? Over­see­ing improve­ments to the muse­um space? What else? Game design is all about verbs. It’s about what you’d have peo­ple do. So on a for­mal lev­el, the ques­tion is one of mechan­ics.1

How­ev­er, at the same time, it’s impor­tant to think in terms of play­er expe­ri­ence, which is a mat­ter of aes­thet­ics. It’s help­ful to think about how play­ers should feel while play­ing your game, and work­ing back from that to mechan­ics, activ­i­ties. So, again: What should a muse­um man­age­ment game feel like? Should it be a fran­tic race, sim­i­lar to a game of Din­er Dash, to keep all muse­um vis­i­tors sat­is­fied? Or should it be a relax­ing expe­ri­ence, focused on nur­tur­ing the muse­um envi­ron­ment sim­i­lar to how one would grow a bon­sai tree?

Final­ly, as Alper point­ed out in this tweet, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing what would hap­pen when the muse­um man­age­ment game and the real­i­ty of the muse­um col­lide. A phys­i­cal, sit­u­at­ed, per­va­sive game that takes place inside the muse­um could be a pow­er­ful way to draw in an audi­ence that is increas­ing­ly dis­con­nect­ed from our tra­di­tion­al cul­tur­al infra­struc­ture. Youth nowa­days is defined by a cul­ture of play and video games func­tion as impor­tant sym­bol­ic spaces to this cul­ture.2 To engage this audi­ence, a new type of muse­um is required. This muse­um would, on the one hand, pro­vide access to cul­ture in a pro­ce­dur­al man­ner, in stead of a declar­a­tive one. (In a game-like man­ner, in oth­er words.) On the oth­er hand, it should func­tion as a podi­um for the prod­ucts of this new play­ful cul­ture. In this way, the muse­um could act as a bro­ker between gen­er­a­tions, increas­ing mutu­al understanding.

I am aware of sev­er­al ini­tia­tives in this area, and am get­ting active­ly involved with one of them, which is spear­head­ed by Jeroen van Mas­trigt.3 So I am look­ing for­ward to Juha’s piece in Metrop­o­lis M, and hope to learn more about his views on the play­ful museum.

  1. There is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for autho­r­i­al intent with these sim­u­la­tions as well, along the lines of Ian Bogost’s con­cept of pro­ce­dur­al rhetoric. What argu­ment would Juha like to con­vey about the real­i­ty of muse­ums using his game? Should the play­er think dif­fer­ent­ly about muse­ums after a ses­sion? A whole oth­er can of worms there. []
  2. One of the issues here is that most of these sym­bol­ic places are pri­vate­ly owned, by com­mer­cial par­ties. There should be pub­lic spaces and places for play, too. []
  3. To whom I’m indebt­ed for some of the above ideas. []

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

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