(See part 1 of this story, revealing some non-museum models for experiential games.)
Recently I’ve been exploring some examples of games that museums have hosted as programs. I’m focusing on alternate reality games–defined by Wikipedia as “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.” I suppose the Ann Arbor District Library game that I wrote about in part 1 would qualify. It certainly uses the real world as a platform, although there isn’t so much a narrative beyond “do a bunch of quests.”
Ghosts of a Chance: The grandpappy, which ran at the Smithsonian in 2008.The elaborate story incorporated puzzles, a multimedia scavenger hunt, communication with actors playing the story’s characters, and in-person events, all with an eye toward investigating “the way objects embody histories,” as the final report said. The story also encouraged participants to create their own art objects and send them for display online and in the museum.
Pheon: The Smithsonian’s follow-up to GOAC, starting last September and concluding this month. The Facebook-based game is mission-based: players make, perform, document, or discover things, and post examples of those activities. There’s also a social component to it: players earn game currency when they comment on others’ work, or when other people comment on theirs. Missions are based on the Museum of American Art’s collections, exhibitions, and programs. There’s also an in-person version of the game, which appears to be similar but not directly connected to the online game.
REXplorer: A mobile cultural heritage game at the Rex Regensburg Explorer Museum in Regensburg, Germany. The game encourages exploration of the city: players use a Wiimote-like device to interact with the city’s monuments, solving puzzles along the way. The game’s story involves helping a professor understand and research Regensburg’s “perpetual magic.” (In reality, exploring the history of the city.) The game also automatically blogs the experience for players to revisit as a memento of the experience.
Jewel of the Valleys: A mystery puzzle from the National Civil War Museum that could be solved using Civil War communication technologies and museum documents. Sadly, the game’s not still online; the link goes to a wiki of all of the game’s clues.
An Expedition with Mr. Mirrors: A one-day game at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, a Victorian-themed game where amnesiac players met strangers in the museum and solved puzzles in hopes of regaining their memories.
One thing all of these games has in common is that they were built in conjunction with an outside company. My goal here is to develop a model for a homegrown museum-based ARG, which I’ll try to tackle in part 3.
NOTE: I’ve omitted other types of games, notably location-based games built with mobile apps like SCVNGR, in which players finish treks by visiting places and performing tasks at each. I think these have strong potential for museums, and they are probably significantly easier to create. I may well go into them in the future. I’m ignoring them here because a) they seem to be less unique an experience than these ARGs and b) I can’t say that with any confidence, because I really don’t have much experience with them, so I’d rather do some research before writing about them.