Games at the museum: Mia Ridge interview

October 12th, 2011 by

Culture heritage technologist Mia Ridge is a champion of crowdsourced museum gaming. Mia has worked as a developer for several world-class museums and is now writing her PhD on crowdsourcing digital heritage. She describes games as the “participation engine” of crowdsourcing.

Taking time out from her busy speaking schedule, Mia told us how and why museums should be raising their game:

How did you first become interested in crowdsourced gaming?
As a kid I was intrigued by museums and also loved playing early computer games and made-up adventure games. I heard about “games with a purpose” a few years ago, then during my Masters degree in HCI I started thinking about applying crowdsourcing games to the problems faced by museums online.

Museums have vast, wonderful collections and they can make them more accessible by putting them online. The problem is that museums never have the resources to describe every single object in enough relevant detail. Crowdsourcing – especially via games – is a great way to fill this gap.

What are the best crowdsourced games in the museum sector?
I wish there were more crowdsourcing games in the museum sector! Most of them seem to be based in art galleries – Brooklyn Museum’s Tag! You’re it! is the best I know of. The Brooklyn Museum and the Powerhouse Museum both have APIs which makes it easy to design games around their objects. Digitalkoot looks like fun too, and GalaxyZoo and FoldIt have lots of fans.

Do you have any advice for museums considering “gamification”?
I’d love to see more museums making crowdsourcing games because they’re a great way to engage audiences. With crowdsourcing, the trick is finding tasks that give you the data you need, while matching the skills and abilities of your audience. Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow and the idea of the magic circle are both really useful when thinking about crowdsourced game design in intimidating places like museums. In my research, I found invoking the magic circle and providing simple tasks with immediate feedback often help “reluctant gamers” get started. People also love knowing exactly how playing a game will help a museum.

There’s a lot of debate about “gamification” at the moment and, personally, I’m a little wary of the term. Museums have so much cool stuff to share with the public that I really hope they don’t resort to cheap gimmicks. Helping museums find the best research on games, and to work together making compelling games with meaningful outcomes is one reason why I started the website Lift your (museum) game.

And what advice would you give game-designers interested in working with museums?
Gosh, worlds collide! Museums are pretty slow – they think in years, rather than months or weeks. Patience and understanding is required but, when it goes well, working with museums is a really rewarding experience. You can change a kid’s life or spark a totally new interest for someone. You also get to work with people who are passionate about what they do, and who love to share their amazing depth of knowledge about history and collections.

Finally, if you could work with any museum in the world, which would it be? (of course, you have unlimited budget and endless air miles)
There are so many to choose from! I would love to work with one of the great art galleries – exploring really creative games. But I also love the challenge of getting people excited about seemingly “boring” history and science objects. I’d also love to explore social game dynamics more. Hopefully, as museums open up their collections, we’ll see more great games emerging in future.


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