Shakespeare’s Hunt (Video)

Shakespeare’s Hunt is a pilot of an alternate reality (also known as treasure hunt) iPad game for the exhibition of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I worked on the project as a partner of Metavore London, developing the software, designing the interface and contributing to its game design aspect. My contribution to this project is also my thesis for the second year of my MFA studies.

In the beginning of the last academic year I had as a personal goal, for my final project to work closely with a cultural institution and develop a piece of work that would serve a purpose set by the professionals who work there. Given that last year my prototype applications were designed to fulfil needs that I had only come across through my research, I got the feedback that some assumptions of mine don’t stand for the majority of the cultural heritage institutions. In particular, during a conference earlier in the year I had the chance to discuss with Nancy Proctor, head of mobile strategy for the Smithsonian Institution,  and commenting on my work, she made the point that some of the material ARS:CI is aiming to take advantage of, can be provided only by a small minority of museums that can afford it e.g. under-drawings of paintings, or 3D reconstructions of damaged sculptures.

For Shakespeare’s Hunt we had the chance to work closely with people from Shakespeare’s Globe, hence it was a great pleasure for me to have their insight and be influenced during the design phase of the project by the objectives that the Globe itself follows when it comes to matters such as the use of new technologies in exhibition spaces and education.

For my studies I have been writing a document about this project, which I am planning to circulate to a few conferences on the topic and hopefully get it published. I am still working on it, however the synopsis as of today is the following:

Museums’ missions are stated as providing education through the exhibition and interpretation of their collections [1] and for the vast majority of cultural heritage institutions the interpretative material is static, constituted by long pieces of textual or audio information. According to Georgina Goodlander, Interpretive Programs Manager for the Smithsonian Art Museum “The twenty-first-century audience has an increasingly short attention span, extremely high expectations when it comes to finding and engaging with information, the ability to communicate with friends and strangers quickly and on multiple platforms, and a very open approach to learning”. [2] This paper argues that as audiences evolve, so should exhibition spaces and Shakespeare’s Hunt is an attempt to exploit the benefits emerging technologies have to offer and provide an experience designed according to the audience of our era as described by Goodlander above.

Gaming in Museums

It’s interesting to see how ideas evolve over time appropriating and improving existing projects. Regarding gaming in museums for educational purposes one of the first concepts was Scavenger Hunt in 2004:

(Scavenger Hunt, 2004) This production thesis is to create an interactive Scavenger Hunt game for children aged 9 to 13 as a history-learning tool in a museum setting at Chicago Historical Society. The main focus of this project is to develop a usable interface and interactivity for Pocket PC PDA using Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Professional.

The production is based on “stealth learning” and other pedagogy theories that say children can learn effectively while they play games and achieve simple goals.

The software will engage the target audience to answer correctly 10 scavenger hunt questions by finding the matching history artifacts in the museum. It will also help the target audience develop an interest in learning about history.

A more advanced approach came a year later from the cooperation of MIT and University of Wisconsin with Mystery at the Museum. The innovation of this project included location-aware information and the collaboration between visitors.

(Mystery at the museum, 2005) Through an iterative design process involving museum educators, learning scientists and technologists, and drawing upon our previous experiences in handheld game design and a growing body of knowledge on learning through gaming, we designed an interactive mystery game called Mystery at the Museum (the High Tech Whodunnit), which was designed for synchronous play of groups of parents and children over a two to three hour period. The primary design goals were to engage visitors more deeply in the museum, engage visitors more broadly across museum exhibits, and encourage collaboration between visitors. The feedback from the participants suggested that the combination of depth and breadth was engaging and effective in encouraging them to think about the museum’s exhibits. The roles that were an integral part of the game turned out to be extremely effective in engaging pairs of participants with one another. Feedback from parents was quite positive in terms of how they felt it engaged them and their children. These results suggest that further explorations of technology-based museum experiences of this type are wholly appropriate.

RFID as well as GPS technology in such concepts was introduced in 2007 at The design of Prisoner Escape from the Tower, an alternate reality game for the Tower of London. [More: Article 1, Article 2]

(The design of prisoner escape from the tower, 2007) In this design case study we describe the process by which we designed, tested, developed and ran a field trial of an interactive location aware historical game called “Prisoner Escape from the Tower”. The game uses mobile devices with GPS and Active RF transmitters and receivers to trigger events and interactions around the tower and with the Beefeaters. The game is based on authentic historical events and players help prisoners to escape by completing tasks which allow them to re-enact their actual escapes. The paper describes how the game was developed between two geographically dispersed teams and the steps involved in creating a location specific interactive game.

Claimed the first Alternate Reality Game ever to be hosted by a museum was Ghosts of a Chance in 2008.

(Ghosts of a chance, 2008) In the fall of 2008, The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) hosted an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) titled “Ghosts of a Chance.” This was the first ARG in the world to be hosted by a museum. The game offered both new and existing museum audiences a novel way of engaging with the collection in its Luce Foundation Center for American Art, a visible storage facility that displays more than 3,300 artworks in floor-to-ceiling glass cases.

Ostensibly, “Ghosts of a Chance” (ghostsofachance.com) invited gamers to create objects and mail them to the museum for an ‘exhibition’ curated by two game characters posing as employees. But the ‘game within the game’ was also a challenge to uncover clues to the narrative that binds those objects, and to investigate the way objects embody histories. The game culminated on October 25 with a series of six scavenger-hunt-like “quests” designed for players of all ages. Over 6,000 players participated online and 244 people came for the onsite event.

If there is a project worth-mentioning missing please contact me. So, what’s next?