Last June during WAM16, Martha Henson taught us that anyone was all able to create a game mechanic, even if they were no game experts. Creating an efficient gameplay can be as easy as taking an existing one and changing one or two factors. That being said, it may still seem like a challenge to imagine a game that will keep players hooked and highlight your museum’s mission and collection.
But several museums have successfully achieved to strike that balance and create serious games that help them attract new audiences through smart gameplay and satisfy their existing audiences through rich content.
What ensures the success of a serious game?

Find internal and external partners

Of course, your institution has to provide the content. If you are a digital project manager, it is your call to find people inside of the museum that will help you gather the right content. Curators have expertise of the content itself, audience managers have a fine knowledge of your online and offline visitors, mediators can help you with knowing what catches the visitors’ eye and what they ask questions about – and your are the one who will feed the game with transmedia ideas. Making all those people aware that they have something to bring to the table to make the serious game a really complete project that both serves the audience and highlights the content, whether it is a cause, mission or your collection.
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Then, the gameplay and the tech usually needs to be conceived by experts, but this partition can be challenged. Indeed, when launching their serious game in alternate reality Vanished – a ecological quest in a science fiction universe, the Smithsonian partnered with the MIT. While the MIT is a great tech partner, it also is an institution that advances science and educates about it. Players – high schoolers from 11 to 14 – had to find different species and clues scattered around the real world (a gameplay that got an update in Pokemon Go) to understand an environmental disaster. To help them understand it, MIT students would discuss their theories and answer their questions on a forum, where players also could of course exchange with each other. Each found objects would bring the players closer to ending the quest, and of course, some of the objects were to be found in or close to the Smithsonian.

Drive players to your museum… or don’t

Driving the audience to the museum is both obvious and much harder than you could think. The key question you should ask yourself is: Should coming in the museum be necessary to advance in the game? Considering the serious game can reach players way beyond your local audience, it can create a frustration to make a visit to the museum a step that is required too early in the game. High Tea, a game Martha Henson introduced us too, was meant to raise awareness about the Opium Wars during an exhibition about recreational drugs in our society at the Wellcome Collection. It required no visit to the museum and gathered raving feedback from all around the world.
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With a different approach, Cherche Tom Dans la Nuit (link in French), a serious game launched by We Are Museums Founder Diane Drubay for the French Ministry of Culture, offered twelve puzzles about exhibits that could be found in museums, with the twelfth puzzle requiring to visit one of the 88 museums that took part in the European Night of Museums – and a thirteenth puzzle for those who could not make it to the event. With a peak of sign-up right before the European Night of Museums and a majority of players looking for more information about the exhibits, the game can be considered a success.
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One piece of feedback is especially interesting: 57% percent of the players found the level of the game perfectly appropriate, 43% of them finding it too easy or too hard. It shows that it is an impossible task to cater to every player’s needs, but that you should not consider that as an obstacle.

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Make it a tool for the classroom

Actually, if you want to make sure everybody makes the most of your game, you can also give teachers and educators keys to use the game and follow the players. That is what the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec did: by creating resources for teachers (link in French), they opened a door for classes and groups to play and visit the museum together with real added value. As a matter of fact, serious games guided by teachers are as ancient as… the 18th century, and they already helped King George’s 15 children (which can be considered as a small class) with their geography lessons.
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Serious games to understand news and current events

Museums are not the only ones to embrace serious games. In France, television channel have started to use them as a pedagogical way to explain the news and major issues of the current world, like Arte with Refugees.
It is exactly what the serious game launched last week by the Olympic museum in Lausanne does. Pierre de Coubertin in search of a sustainable stadium completes the exhibition Stadiums (on view until May 5th 2017) by raising kids’ awareness about ensuring the sustainability and reusability of Olympic stadiums. Following Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, children have to make the right choices to build a modern stadium that is environmentally friendly and meets the needs of the Games as well as of the local population and economy. To understand how and why this serious game was launched, here are some insights from Silvia Mosca, Senior Digital Projects Manager.

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1) Who were the different players involved in the creation of the serious game inside and outside of the museum? How are they chosen?
We worked with several players inside and outside the museum, all chosen for their expertise.
Within our teams, we involved the Head of Sustainability and Olympic Legacy who supervises the content about the topic and helped us find spot on material. The Olympic Studies Centre did most of the research, fact checking our found interesting resources. The Olympic Multimedia Library also has been a great internal partner thanks to its huge collection of pictures and films, a real data base of the IOC heritage. The Digital Manager’s role was to benchmark other serious games, design a gameplay that would match our exhibition about Stadiums in the Museum, find the right pictures, films, documentation… and also to oversee the projet in terms of both schedule and validation.
Outside partners were chosen for their ability to bring something new to the table. The web agency with whom we have been working for 3 years developed and designed the website for us, supported by a director. To create the dialogues and rewrite the content to make it easily understandable, we chose to work with a journalist. We already knew all those partners, who have worked with us on two webdocumentaries – Time and Sport (2014) and LIVE! Broadcasting the Olympic Games (2015) – and The Olympic Journey website (2014).

2) How is the serious game part of a wider educational strategy around the exhibition?
The serious game allows the player to receive information while he is playing. The format helps to deliver important facts in a light tone. Produced for the web, it is complementary to the exhibition and can reach a wider target audience.
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3. Are museums meant to be key players in social issues such as sustainable development? How does digital help them with this new role?
If they are not key players, museums are certainly important actors in social issues. Their expertise is to involve people without making them feel guilty.
Digital can provide new tools to explore new ways to get in touch with people and to invite them to participate.
The Olympic Museum talks about sustainability through the lens of sports and Olympics; this is an excellent trigger to raise people’s curiosity on a topic that also affects them in their everyday life.
With its scope for dematerialisation, the digital world opens up a huge range of museographical possibilities, going beyond the constraints, restrictions and environmental costs of “bricks and mortar”.
The Olympic Museum is fully engaged in exploring these possibilities, and has begun its digital transformation. Watch this space…
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