Friday, January 30, 2009

"Gaming the Future of Museums" webinar

gaming, museums, alternate reality, social frameworks, superstruct, mortati

Many of you participated in the Center for the Future of Museums "Gaming the Future of Museums" webinar this week. It was one of the best I've seen- clear meeting prep, use of technology, one speaker, and she spoke to the slides so you could keep up with the chat, etc. Note: Nina Simon had a good follow-up to the ideas about happiness motivators in gaming with her post: "Should Museums be Happiness Engines?". Take a look.

This webinar was a video of Dr. Jane McGonigal, a gaming and futurist aficionado, talking about the social framework of gaming as applicable to the museum experience. She is convinced, as are others, that museums stand to benefit by applying the philosophies, social structures, and rewards embedded in multiple player ARG games, such as World of Warcraft, World Without Oil, Superstruct, to their museum experiences.

The conversation was a bit hard for some folks (myself included at times) to understand what we were be asked to try on for size. This is not a reflection of the webinar itself, but rather, my own confusion over whether we were trying to make a game on our museum floor, or were we trying to impose a different paradigm about how we think about developing exhibits and experiences?

That's the crux of it for me. It's a great idea, but it's also part of a cultural mindset. Ok, gaming provides a ready-made architecture to hang a social experience off of. That said, when I "played" Superstruct last fall, I had a hard time understanding things like: Where were the edges of the game? What was game and what was a web site describing the game? I was confused, felt kinda dumb, and in the end, decided to focus on contributing to the Wiki. Which was, btw, very rewarding.

I love the similarities I see in the cultures of the game developer and the exhibit developer worlds. I think that museums have a free 'exhibit as social experience' model there for the picking. It's just not a simple thing to put it into... play.

I'm curious to hear from others who are trying to wrap their heads around what an application might look like in their museum. Are you thinking you'd literally have a game? Are you thinking of framing part of your exhibit experience as a social experience with built-in rewards? From the chats during and post-session, I know I wasn't the only one mulling this over. Let me know your thoughts or experiences- it would be great to embrace these ideas... but perhaps we need to do it in a shared way.


mg said...

The concept of comparing a museum exhibit to a game is interesting. People who already attend museums on a regular basis are probably comfortable with the idea of having to work a bit to find the message in the museum – like visiting a brick-and-mortar library instead of just googling. However, most of our information just isn't packaged that way anymore. There is a premium on getting to the essential facts quickly and easily and it must be as compelling as possible.

The reasons given by Dr. McGonigal to explain why games are so popular could be applied to almost any situation that is competing for the attention of the public. The question is how could those be applied to a museum exhibit without trivializing the experience? It is a fascinating challenge.

Terah said...

So, I didn't actually get to participate in the online webinar, but I have seen the ppt by Dr. McGonigal and thought it posed some interesting ideas about how gaming and museums could overlap. I could go on and on, but I'll just say this: I took a less literal interpretation and thought about how gaming strategies could apply to exhibit development. For example, incorporating more visitor-visitor and visitor-staff social interaction, creating 'levels' of participation, etc. I know Nina Simon has talked about this on her blog.

Although, I think that games can also be successfully integrated onto the museum floor, like Operation Spy at the Spy Museum (also involving Nina Simon). I know there are more examples out there.

Maria Mortati said...

MG- thanks, yeah, I agree about many folks used to coming to museums are accustomed to work a bit. Think that's definitely a generational thing. You bring up probably the key question that museums will wrestle with, which
is how to make their experiences (more) meaningful- but I also took away the idea that making it more shared = more meaningful.

Terah you hit the nail: how literally are we to take this, and/or how loosely? I definitely suffer from being too literal sometimes.

Nina Simon said...

I think that Jane McGonigal's new game, Signtific is much easier to see as a potential platform for a kind of civic dialogue around a provocative topic. It is card-based, and playing the virtual version, I found myself wishing for an in-museum manifestation with real cards! Check it out--curious what you think.

Maria Mortati said...

Hey thanks, Nina- at first blush it looks much more applicable. I'll check it out more deeply when I'm through this deadline!