Museum Visitors Are Players, Too


The sharp cookies at the Center for the Future of Museums recently published TrendsWatch 2012: Museums and the Pulse of the Future wherein they cite seven potentially (and preferable) transformational pivots they believe are “highly significant to museums and their communities”:

1. Crowdsourcing
2. Threats to nonprofit status
3. Mobile, distributive experiences
4. New forms of funding
5. Creative aging
6. Augmented reality
7. Shifts in education

    The report is chock-full of foresightful goodies and current/recent examples of these trends in action. What sent our collective mind buzzing was how applied gaming clicks with most, if not all, of these categories.

    In fact, our own Mathias Crawford presented at SFMOMA’s “Museum as Game Board” panel discussion in April about this very topic. He said:

    “When we talk about where museums and games might intersect, I think that there are a few dimensions that are useful to articulate. On the museum side, it is helpful to get a sense of whether we are talking about the physical space within a museum (e.g., the lobby, café, gallery floor) or about the mission of the museum itself (e.g. providing education about a particular time) regardless of where the public intersects with that mission.

    On the game side, on one hand we can talk about games that are designed to draw attention to things that already exist within the museum space, or we can refer to games that are intended to serve as physical, emotional, or intellectual experiences in line with the museum’s content – that is, not as a supplement to the museum experience, but as an entirely other way to experience the museum.”

    Ultimately, the seven trends they identify weave together several themes present in our work: context, usability, and reward. And at the center of each of those is a person – a player – motivated by expectations that are deeply informed by prior experiences with similar alternatives or by remarkable experiences with something new.

    Dr. John Falk, president and founder of Institute for Learning Innovation and author of the book Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, classifies this idea as “identity-related visit motivations”. That is to say an organization must design its services (in our case, games) from its customers’ perspectives; in other words, their context.

    Only by rigorously attempting to understand and design for individual contexts can we create systems, interfaces, stories, and you-name-it that not only satisfy a player’s or group’s expectations based on their motivations and identity but increase the probability that she, he, or they will enjoy a rewarding experience time and again.

    Call it flow, replayability, churn, or whatever floats your bloat. The basic idea here is that motivations and identities ebb and flow over time. “Here today, gone tomorrow,” so the old saying goes. But since we all have a say in it, let’s make museums better for generations to come.

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