Carol Allred and Dr. John Murphy, Harold B. Lee Library
Since their western beginnings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the role that museums have played in society have changed. Early museums, like the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London, were initially galleries that were open weekly to the public. They primarily functioned as housing for art or artifacts collections and, later, as space and resources for research. However, over past two centuries, museums became aware of audience preference and put greater significance on the relationship between museum and visitor. Within the past 20 years, the focus for museums has centered around public service and education and have been encouraged to be more accessible and inclusive.1 This shift has prompted much research and experimentation on ways to present collections that could attract new visitors and repeated visits.
With this thought in mind, I wanted to do research on the extent and effect of gamification in museums. Game designers use specific principles and methods to entertain and engage their players, principles and methods which could be adapted to museum exhibit design for a similar effect. “Gamification” refers to the “integration of traditional game elements in a non-game context”, such as scoring systems, avatars, levels, rewards, puzzle, luck, and communication channels used in places and activities that aren’t strictly games.2 Instructional designers – those who study education and curriculum design – have done research on how to use these game principles in schools and other learning environments to increase motivation or information retention in students. My research used their theories when observing museums in Scotland to determine what sort of effect gamification in exhibits had on museum visitors. Scotland has a wide range of museum types, including high-budget, urban, and highly-trafficked and smaller, volunteer-run, rural, and locally-themed. With this range I was able to observe gamification in museums in a variety of contexts.
My data focuses on the extent and success of gamification in these museums, as well as observations of visitor interaction with them. I visited 19 historic sites, including museums, castles, and historic houses. While there, I recorded what type of gamification was present, if any, how and how often it was used (from what I could observe), which exhibits seemed to be most popular, and a brief demographic of the visitors. I was also able to interview staff from four historic sites: Gordon Highlander’s Museum, Clan Macpherson Museum, Blair Castle, and National Museum of Scotland. In these interviews we discussed measures that site had taken to attract children and youth, if they had considered incorporating game elements within their site, and any visible success from doing so.
The data showed some discernable trends in gamification but no clear determining markers as to why a historic site used gamification as opposed to other methods. 90% of the historic sites used a scavenger hunt or quiz for children to take around the site and find answers in the collection or exhibit cases. These quizzes, frequently with a small prize promised for completion, were by far the most common form of gamification. For my purposes I divided the museums into four categories: small, medium, medium-large, and large. Museum within each category share similar geographic size, visitor traffic, inferred budget, and topic. “Small” museums, museums which were smaller, largely volunteer-run, and based on local history, incorporated either no gamification principles or only a scavenger hunt-type quiz. The Ship Space Museum in Inverness had no gamification; whereas the Clan Macpherson Museum offered dress-up costumes to encourage role-play and a quiz sheet for young children. “Medium” museums incorporated a similar range of gamification principles, from none in use to quizzes and dress-up: the Gordon Highlander’s Museum had a quiz and two separate places for dressing up in a kilt and coat as a Gordon Highlander. “Medium-large” museums, such as Abbotsford, also either used no gamification or only the quiz, but offered other kid-friendly attraction such as special guided tours. Lastly, the “large” museums followed a similar pattern of no to little gamification, the exceptions being the National Museum of Scotland and the Inverness Museum.
These latter sites had comparatively significant instances of gamification: the National Museum of Scotland regularly makes a mobile or online game to accompany its current temporary exhibit, and the Inverness Museum had several varying quizzes and activity booklets. For many of these historic places, I noticed that even where gamification was sparse, there were elements of play present to interest children; in addition, many sites advertised activity days for the whole family and which offered games, tours, or workshops tailored to children.
The interviews with the various museum staff also shared common themes: that the museums were aware of the need to interest and engage children, and had exerted effort to create activities specifically for children or families. However, they also recognized that the majority of their audience consisted of adults and devoted more resources towards attracting them. Except in the interview with the National Museum of Scotland, there were no significant references to teenage-focused games, activities, or events.
Michele Dickey discusses how game design elements can be adapted for use in instructional design to increase motivation, engagement, and learning. She lists applicable principles, but also states that, rather than creating universal guidelines for their implementation, it would be more effective if each learning environment adapted these principles to suit their specific needs and goals.3 I have considered her arguments within the context of museums. It has been difficult to determine a clear pattern of gamification in these Scottish museums. An awareness of its younger audience was ubiquitous, but approaches to using gamification in these museum’s efforts to engage them has been inconstant. Its use has seemed dependent on factors such as budget, intended audience, size, and, perhaps most importantly, the other things the museum offers to fulfill this same purpose. Gamification can be an effective tool in making a museum accessible to visitors, in particular for teens and children. Research has proven its effectiveness in other learning environments, and gamification has its place in the museum context as well. Although museums continue to adapt to fit the interests and desires of their visitors, gamification can lessen the gap of exclusivity and inaccessibility still felt by a portion of the public.4 However, my research has shown me that gamification in all museums is not inevitable, and there are many other options available to museums. Many museums in Scotland felt the need to incorporate gamification, but even where it existed it was usually secondary to other activities or exhibit designs. There were a few sites that, I believe, would benefit from greater incorporation of game principles. However, as Dickey suggests, I found it to be best used when it was balanced with other design elements and child-centered activities and adapted to meet the needs of its environment.
- EunJung Chang, “Interactive Experiences and Contextual Learning in Museums,” Studies in Art Education 47, 2. (2006): 171.
- A. Dopker T. Brockmann and S. Stielitz, “Use Cases for Gamification in Virtual Museums,” Proceedings of the Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft fur Informatik (2013): 2308-2321.
- Michele D. Dickey, “Engaging by Design: How Engagement Strategies in Popular Computer and Video Games Can Inform Instructional Design,” Educational Technology Research and Development 53, 2 (2005): 78.
- Chang, “Interactive Experiences and Contextual Learning in Museums,” 173-175.