Three Ways to Gamify a Museum or a Centre

What is there?

  • A building with exhibitions on cultural heritage. 
  • The building has many different spaces, also outdoor areas. 
  • There are both permanent and temporary exhibitions. 
  • Staff is always on location to educate visitors. 

The objective of gamification of the museum/centre is to create an experience and communicate information in a novel fashion. The target groups are school children and families, and the general adult visitor. 

Example 1 – school children and families in a museum or art centre 

The story: The place was burgled last night and the security guard needs help investigating the crime and finding out what was stolen.

The game: Upon entering the museum, you receive a note with instructions from the security guard. The note has a list of what you need to do and you are expected to tick the boxes when you finish each puzzle. Once you have ticked everything off, the game is completed. You get an award in reception and something to remind you of the visit when you are back home. The education comes from following clues around the museum and studying artefacts to investigate the crime. 

An example of a game in two parts which might last for 30-60 minutes:

1. We think the burglar intended to steal the most valuable pieces in the museum. Can you check if they are all accounted for? 

This is followed either by a list of the artefacts or blank lines which you’ll need to fill in yourself. Each item has two boxes; Missing or Present, you need to tick the right one. Here, the player has to think about what is most valuable in the museum and look for it. Likely items have a QR code which needs to be scanned for information, including whether they’re valuable or not. The QR code can also be used as the fingerprints of the burglar, telling the visitor what they made of this item. One item must be missing with only the QR code remaining.

2. We don’t know how the burglar got out with their catch as no doors were opened and all windows are intact. Could they have hidden the item to come back for it later? Explore likely hiding places. Maybe the item is hidden somewhere in the exhibition. 

The missing item is of a particular size and type. It is possible to place in the exhibition hall something in which the item could be hidden, something that draws attention, like a cardboard box, bag or a blanket draped over something. Beneath this or inside it are QR codes with a message from the burglar or a clue of some sort and possible hiding places. These clues then lead to the artefact which is in another, out-of-the-way place. There, a QR code identifies it as the correct item and tells you to photograph it and show to the people in the reception. You also write it down. 

Material and technology: For this we don’t need a gaming system for smart phones. However, we use QR codes which are simple to make, print and place in appropriate locations. The place needs to have good internet connection and the information which the QR codes refer to must be accessible on a website. Once the phone scans the code, the site in question opens up, with images, audio or text. You can create a few different games depending on the theme or the age of the target group. 

Example 2 – school children in botanical gardens 

The story: There is a worldwide pandemic and you need to help the scientist create a vaccine to save the human race. The scientists have written a list in Latin of the plants they need for the vaccine and you need to prove that they can be found in the gardens. Since you are not a botanist, you must also find what the plants are called in your language and give the scientists a sketch of each plant so they can be sure these are the correct ones. 

The game: In the botanical gardens, all plants are labelled with their name in the native language as well as Latin. The challenge is to find the required plants, write down their names and draw a picture of them. The sheet you receive contains their name in Latin. You are not allowed to use your phone in this game, so nobody is tempted to look up the names on the internet. The first half of the Latin name references the genus which is a clue to what it is. A list of genera can be included on the sheet to make the task simpler. This game can be played in groups that compete against each other. A winner can be based on both speed and the quality of the drawings. 

Material and technology: There is no technology involved in this game, only photocopied sheets of paper with the story, the rules and the mission. Those who play fill in their answers and sketches. You can add educational value by requiring participants to write down the medicinal qualities of each plant as long as this is listed on the information signs. Of course a similar game can be played using phones if you can ensure there is no cheating, for example by requesting a photo of the group by each plant or having participants scan a QR code found on location. 

Example 3 – adults playing orienteering in a museum

The story: You are stuck inside the museum and the only way out is by solving seven puzzles connected to certain artefacts. 

The game: Here, the clues are the fun part, guiding the user from one puzzle to another. They are presented in cryptic sentences or verses and are meant to lead the way to the next artefact with the next clue. The seven puzzles can be different and you can play the game using paper and pen or a smart phone with positioning technology. There doesn’t have to be a puzzle at each location, it can for example only entail finding a letter to bring you closer to the magic word which will get you out. Once all seven artefacts have been collected you will have discovered the magic word or solved all the puzzles. The player shows their solution to reception staff and receives a stamp or something they can hand in at the museum café for free drink. Their name might also be entered into an annual museum lottery with a prize like a year pass to the museum or a T-shirt. 

Material and technology: This is for adults so it must not be too easy but not too difficult either. The first clue should not be too hard, to get people going. Select items which are not the main attraction but carry an air of mystery because of their use or their history. The simplest way is to prepare a photocopied sheet for the player, with the story and the mission, and also possibly the prize, for example a free drink. It also holds the first clue. This sheet might have seven blank squares for the missing magic word. Each puzzle solved adds one more letter to the word. The letter can be hidden in the item’s name, be visible on the item or appear on the phone when you activate a QR code on location. 

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