Thursday, February 3, 2011

Museums and video games?

The stunning success of Nintendo's Wii console has confirmed that the video game industry is big business - growing this year by 12% to a $4bn sector in Australia alone.

So in this context I have been fascinated to come across a Virtual farming simulator on Facebook – Farmville from Zynga. Farmville had 62 million active users in September 2010. Facebook users can invite their friends to be neighbours and watch the progress of their crops, and even spend money to buy virtual goods within the game.

I always wonder where professional people find the time to spend playing such games, but there again I am hooked on the iPhone scrabble app, which could be seen as the thin end of the wedge. Indeed the proponents of such point out that the time we spend immersed in professional magazines could well be better spent in social media if we are really trying to understand how to make our museums more interesting and more relevant places.

Surely it is a small leap to creating some form of museum game, where you can create your own exhibitions, compete for government funds based on visitor numbers and use the acquisition budget to bid in virtual auction markets. When the stats are telling us that America teens now spend on average more than 10 hours a week on social media gaming, we need to be thinking how we take this space forward.

BUT, I hear you cry, are this generation likely to be interested in museums to want to game in this sector? A recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times shows they may be. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago sought applicants to spend a month at the Museum, during which they could roam freely, sleep where they like (e.g. in a submarine) and take $10,000 in exchange for interacting with visitors and blogging and tweeting the world about the experience.

Expecting a couple of hundred applicants at best, over 1,500 applied from all over the world. Given each applicant had to be conversant with social media to apply and submit a 1 minute video about themselves, one can conclude they were largely of the gaming generation. And their excitement was palpable, e.g. 'It would be wonderful to be surrounded by all of those achievements of humankind, the combined knowledge of which is staggering. The thought of getting to live there is so exciting for me that I can hardly sleep whilst the selection process is going on' said one hyperactive applicant.

Is this not an indication that a museum video game might have a ready audience?

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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