In the library world, where I currently work, gaming of all sorts is a significant trend. I’m particularly interested in large, custom games that a library would produce and operate as programs (or perhaps, “experiences”) for their patrons.
In the museum world where I want to work, I think that a game of this type could also work, offering a fun and cool program for visitors that also encourages them to interact more thoroughly with the museum and its offerings.
I think I can better convey the idea with a couple of examples. The first comes direct from libraries. Ann Arbor District Library’s Summer Game is an evolution of the summer reading program that many public libraries offer. (If you’re so moved, you can read my article about it.)
In a way, the game was modeled a bit on MMORPGs: the library set up dozens of quests that players could perform for points and badges. While the badges were just for fun, the points had value: Players could redeem them for prizes, ranging from hats and travel mugs to toys, chocolate, and packages of all of the above.
The quests all had some kind of educational benefit, and most were tied directly to library goals as well. Attending programs, checking out items, contributing reviews of books to the library catalog, and finding codes in the library’s online catalog all earned points. But it also had some intentional silliness: The point code on the remake of The Karate Kid, for example, was “MORELIKEKUNGFUKID.” As Eli Neiburger, the librarian who spearheaded the game, said, “We tried to be silly and entertaining, because that’s what fun feels like.” More than 5,000 people played, reading 5 million pages and adding 300,000 tags to the library catalog.
The second, infinitely more embarrassing example, comes from that paragon of Midwestern taste, Wisconsin Dells. I finally visited the Dells this summer, after a lifetime of deprivation, since my family would drive past it a few times a year when I was a kid but never once stopped.
One of the attractions I visited there was Wizard Quest. I intended to enjoy it ironically, which I did, but I grew to also enjoy it on its own merits. The “Quest” of Wizard Quest is finding and rescuing some wizards who were trapped by the baddie somehow. To do so, you have to earn points by finding the answers to a number of questions within the building (which is divided into four fantasy realms and really pretty well decked out.) You also have to find the wizards themselves, who are concealed in secret passages. While far from flawlessly executed, it’s an interesting and enjoyable concept.
Neither one of these games was inconceivably hard to create, I think. Ann Arbor District Library’s game was built in Drupal, the open-source content management system; it required some technical expertise to create, time to create the game economy, and a bit of money to purchase the prizes. Wizard Quest had obviously put a lot into building its realms, but the gameplay itself was much simpler. Players get a page of questions with a barcode on it; the barcode enables entry of answers into a computer terminal to earn the points.
Coming up: At least two more parts. One will examine what kind of gaming has been going on in museums already, and in the second, I’ll work up a museum game concept of my own.