“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.
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- To whom I’m indebted for some of the above ideas. [↩]