Media & Technology on the Go

Games: the future of mobile

Posted on | February 8, 2009 | 5 Comments

When I witnessed the unfolding of Ghosts of a Chance at the American Art Museum from July through October 2009, I said to many that it was the most exciting thing I’d seen happen in the mobile interpretation space since the introduction of sign language guides in 2003. At last, the visitor’s relationship to the museum and interaction with the collection and others had been transformed in ways we only dreamed of with the introduction of multimedia guides. I watched people play from all over the world online and in the museum, creating ad hoc communities to solve the riddles of the game, telling each other stories about the collection, gifting the museum with exquisite objects of their own creation. As the players moved easily across platforms both analog and digital, I saw the technology become invisible, and as it receded into oblivion, the stories and the art shone forth all the more brilliantly. This is what I’d been working towards for nearly a decade.

I’m off to the Pompidou Center tomorrow, to speak in their seminar, “Museology, museography and new means of addressing the public,” (Muséologie, muséographie et nouvelles formes d’adresse au public 2008/2009) on Wednesday, hosted by their Institute of Research and Innovation (IRI). My talk is called, “Games in the Agora: What’s at stake in the 21st century museum,” and in it I’ll try to use American Art’s Ghosts of a Chance ARG to illustrate some of the principles I hold dear about the museum mission in the 21st century:

  • It’s NOT about the technology.
  • Interpretation is essential.
  • The museum is a distributed network.
  • We should meet our visitors where they are (on the network) and bring them ‘someplace new’ (to our collections, online or in person, and beyond). – Michael Edson, Smithsonian
  • This ethic is transforming the museum ‘from Acropolis to Agora’. – Steven Zucker,
  • Where dialogue and community are at the heart of all we do.
  • And museums become happiness engines: “…invent[ing] a better future by making us happier and helping us collaborate to save the real world.” – Jane McGonigal, Institute for the Future
  • You can download my slides here: N Proctor Pompidou11 Feb09

    View more presentations from nancyproctor. (tags: museology iri)

    And here are some other great references on Ghosts of a Chance and gaming in museums in general:

  • Jane McGonigal’s seminal talk hosted by AAM’s Future of Museums: webcast & slides.
  • Summary of Ghosts of a Chance at the American Art Museum.
  • Interview with Georgina Goodlander about American Art’s ARG on Chris Melissinos‘s SHIFT Radio.
  • Discussion of interactivity in the art museum on the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s excellent blog.
  • And for those who still need to convince their directors that user-generated content is friend, not foe, Nina Simon’s post on the indispensable Museum 2.0.
  • Please share other great reads you know of in this field with us too!


    5 Responses to “Games: the future of mobile”

    1. eleanor
      February 9th, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

      This sounds really fantastic, Nancy. And this is how I would want to engage in museums and bring friends whose eyes glaze over when I mention visiting museums. Will you be brining this presentation over to London at anytime?

    2. Chris Alexander
      February 10th, 2009 @ 12:20 am


      What if it is about the technology? What if the game was successful because it utilized technology to it’s fullest?

      You mention that the “technology became invisible”, but could that be indicative of the time that we are living in? The lines are starting to blur. Many forms of technology are new forms of communication that we are starting to take for granted.

      When I was growing up the television was always on in the background and was surprisingly easy to tune out when we were all gathered around the dinner table. Sounds sad, I know, but my generation was the first fully television saturated generation and never knew a world without TV’s. Similarly a lot of people under 30 now are the same with modern forms of technology, i.e. computers, internet, etc.

      As they say, “Content is king!” There’s no doubt that the interpretation has to be engaging and thoughtful. Delivery is becoming ubiquitous offering a variety of ways for access to fit ones lifestyle. Above you state that the museum is “a distributed network”, but 90% of the items listed on your slide are technology related. Could “Ghost of a Chance” have been as successful with snail mail and rotary telephones?

      Sorry, had to play devil’s advocate (keeps me on my toes), but having not heard the presentation perhaps you can elaborate? ;0) I’m excited about your site and look forward to reading more!

      Chris Alexander

    3. nancyproctor
      February 11th, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

      @ eleanor
      Thanks – I’d love to! Let me know if you hear of some good opportunities… Also the project manager for the game, Georgina Goodlander, is a Brit so she’d be a great person to take the story across the pond as well.

    4. nancyproctor
      February 11th, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

      @ Chris Alexander
      Hi Chris,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to think this through and pose such interesting questions.

      I think fundamentally we agree: the content has to be great, and no, GOAC wouldn’t have been the same project without the global communications and instant publishing that were possible thanks to web-based technologies.

      But my point is not anti-technology; rather that the best technology is invisible and doesn’t get in the way of the content or experience – rather like the TV, I guess… (though the little TV I’ve seen lately hasn’t convinced me that they’ve cracked the content issue yet!) 😉

      And you are right: one of GOAC’s key strengths was that it used technology appropriately and effectively, from paper & pencils, to text-messages and blogs.

      I just talked about this in the Centre Pompidou’s museology seminar and someone else made a comment similar to yours. I asked him to join us in the discussion here; I hope he will!

    5. Les jeux de l’Agora; les enjeux du musée du 21ème siècle « MuseumMobile
      February 22nd, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

      […] Wiki « Games: the future of mobile […]

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