Museum Games: Dishes Best Served to Order


Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 12. Refreshing and Delicious, 1972. © The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation


The tinkling, jingling bells of the approaching ice cream truck awaken something in the soul of my oldest daughter.   My other daughter squeals with delight at broccoli.   Whatever floats your boat?  Right?

Recently, at AAM, there was a long discussion about if museum games can have spinach in the cookies?  Similarly at the MCG games, there was a lot of discussion about chocolate covered broccoli.  In other words, can we sneak something “good for you” in something you actually enjoy?

For me this whole argument is pointless.  Some people actually choose broccoli, like my daughter.  There are people for whom history, art, and science is just naturally enjoyable.  And, there are people who have no interest in playing games.   For the non-gamers, playing a game is the broccoli.

Underlying this argument is the real struggle between how much “real” content can be added to game while still keeping the game fun.  I have had this struggle for sure.  I understand this.  You are putting money and resource, both scarce in museums, into this game.  You need to make this game count.

But, what part counts to you visitors?  Enjoyment is the thing that counts the most to them.  And, there we go back to spinach and cookies.  For some people, spinach is enjoyable.  Others are always out for cookies.  But, many, many people like both.  Many people want to get something out of their museum experience in a way that is enjoyable.

If you find yourself an audience that really loves Renaissance history, they will be the people who would like a game filled to the gills with “spinach,” repleat with ruffs, trenchers, Medici, and Gonzaga.  If you have an audience of poker players who want to play at the museum, they might not want to play along with the Renaissance folk.

The thing about the spinach and cookie debate is that it boils down we are trying to hide the boring museum stuff in the fun game stuff.  It is basically implying museum stuff is unpalatable.  Secondly, the museum people who are very focused on trying to get in the spinach are often focused on their “needs.”

To create a good game, start with your audience.  Just as you might ask dinner party guests about preferences, you want to know the behavior of your intended game players.  Who knows? They might be people who like spinach in their cookies.

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