Edited to add: The framework in this post is based heavily on Ann Arbor District Library’s Summer Game, which I wrote about in part 1 of this story. Part 2 has some real-life examples of museum games.
This post is kind of down-and-dirty: I’ve come up with this model for a summer game for a hypothetical museum. Since it’s a hypothetical museum, I’m inventing the particulars of its situation, and not surprisingly, I’m inventing them to be favorable to this kind of project. I think they’re still feasible in the real world, and regardless, I hope that this model can at least spark some ideas for whatever situation your institution may be facing.
I’ll call this game ArtSummer, and it will be played at the Anytown Art Museum. Its goals are to encourage the use of the museum through museum visitation, attendance at museum programs, and engagement with the museum online, as well as to encourage engagement with art more generally by seeing, learning about, and creating it.
ArtSummer is a mission-based, rather than story-based, game. For players, the goal is fairly open-ended–earning points for doing things–rather than reaching some specific end condition. I think this will be a simpler game to design, and more flexible (when opportunities come up, you can simply add missions to take advantage of them), and it would be easier for new players to get involved in and for people to join in even if they’re not there at the start. This is not intended to denigrate a more thoroughly plotted game, because I suspect they could also be a fantastic experience. It’s just the approach I’m taking.
As its name implies, ArtSummer will run through the summer months. It’s open to all ages, but children and teens will likely make up a significant part of the player ranks. Running the game when they are out of school seems like a good approach.
Tracking for the game is based online. In most cases, getting credit for a mission will require players to go to a game page and enter a code–some snippet of text that they find while playing. QR codes could also be used to automate this process, but as they aren’t so widely adopted, they shouldn’t be the only method of participating.
This is where the gameplay comes in. It’s the designer’s job to come up with things to do that are fun and that support the museum’s goals, and turn them into missions for players.
That’s a bit intimidating, so let’s back up and ask a question: What’s fun?
Exploring is fun, as long as it’s not turned into a grind. Learning is fun, or at least it can be, if it’s not a dreary, angry lecture. Creating and sharing is fun. Silliness is fun, but “fun”–that corporate, approved-by-twelve-layers concoction that winds up bland and mushy–is just sad. Nice surprises or gifts are fun. Competing is fun, as long as you’ve got a legitimate chance at winning. Succeeding at something is fun, especially if it’s hard-but-not-too-hard; adding pointers along the way to give clues and encouragement can help with this a lot.
Designing missions, then, becomes a matter of fitting what you hope players will do into these frameworks.
Museum Explorer: Simply coming to the museum will earn you 200 points; admissions staff can explain the game to visitors or direct them to a nearby table where they can get started. Hidden throughout the museum are several codes that players can redeem for 300 points each, with a 500 point bonus if they redeem them all. Players would receive the following clues:
“Time flies when you’re having fun, but as you see this surrealist painter’s work, the clocks might melt off the wall.” (Leading players to an exhibit on surrealism, if they aren’t able to guess Dali outright, where near the entrance they will find a game logo with the code HELLODALI.)
“Some artists can’t be contained by two dimensions. Search the sculpture garden for another work by the man who made The Thinker.” (Near the museum’s Rodin sculpture or its informational placard, players will find the code AUGUSTENIGHTS.)
“You might have seen his Last Supper, but we remember this Renaissance man as an engineer, scientist, and inventor. Spot the game code among his notes.” (In a special exhibit on da Vinci’s scientific notes, players will find the code NOTTHENINJATURTLE.)
Budding Artist: Every few weeks, the game’s web site will announce a new mission for players to create their own piece of art in some specific medium–painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. Each time, players can take a photo and submit it through the web site for 500 points. Plus, if they choose to make it public, they can share their creations for other people to see.
Social Sharer: Each week, the museum will post an open-ended question on its Facebook page related to its collections; say, “Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings divided critics. Some found it liberating; others random and meaningless. How do you feel about his work?” Respondents earn 300 points. Or give a flat 50 points for each museum tweet that players retweet.
Mega Tagger: Anytown Art Museum has digitized some of its holdings and made them publicly available. But the metadata isn’t necessarily complete. Players can score 100 points for each piece they add relevant tags to, or 250 points for posting a comment about any piece. The museum could also create online scavenger hunts, giving clues to specific pieces that have codes on their pages for a number of points.
Play At The Museum: Anytown Art Museum has a weekly art jam session, where people can come in and paint or sculpt or try something new. Players who come and try it out get 250 points per session.
Random Point Bombs: On the museum’s web site, drop the game logo on a few individual inside pages and with a (possibly cryptic) note that it’s worth some points, and you’ve got a new entryway into the game, as well as a reason for existing players to explore the website.
… and so on. You can be as devious as you want in puzzle creation, as long as you’ve got some simpler ones that will encourage more casual players.
And with that I’ll leave off this post. Part 4, which should come much quicker than part 3 did, will address other issues in operating the game.