Museums Use Online Games to Make Learning Fun

Online games are usually thought of as a means of entertainment.  But, as a platform, online games have virtually limitless possibilities – especially since digital technology is expanding at such an incredible rate.  Unlike diagrams, video, or books, games are interactive and multisensory.  Even a simple game can create an encompassing experience for the player.  It is no surprise that museums are embracing games as part of their exhibitions.  Not only do games make learning fun, but they draw in a whole new audience.

One of the most intensive educational online gaming projects has been initiated by the Science Museum of South Kensington, UK.  As part of a program called Talk Science, the museum has commissioned games where players take on the role of scientists and must complete complex tasks to save the world.  For example, in one online game, the players must modify E. coli bacteria into something useful while still making sure that they don’t accidentally create a more dangerous mutant form of the bacteria.  In another game called Thingdom, players get to choose a globular-looking creature, nurture it, and then mate it with other creatures to make new breeds.  This game makes understanding genetics easy and very fun.

The games aren’t just being put on museum websites.  Curators are working to incorporate games into their exhibits to make them more interactive.  Visitors are increasingly being invited to hunt with the ice men, walk with the dinosaurs, fly rocket ships, or engineer their own machines.  The Smithsonian even hosted a scavenger hunt type game where teams of teenage visitors ran throughout the exhibits looking for objects which fit the clues.

Since the introduction of games into museum exhibits and websites, we have seen an increase in museum popularity amongst young people – the demographic which had been turning away from museums because they were “boring.”  According to Jane McGonigal of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California, games are successful modes of education because they make people happy.  When you play a game, you are engaged in the process and feel rewarded for your efforts. She says, ‘Games work better than most of reality because they give us clear instructions. We know exactly what we’re supposed to do. They give us better feedback; you can’t be good at something unless you’re getting feedback … Gamers don’t mind criticism.”

Thanks to the efforts of innovative curators, museum games are being taken to new levels that people wouldn’t have dreamed about a few years ago.  The Smithsonian even hosted an alternate-relative game based on over 3000 objects which have over 3000 stories associated with them. The game, which is called “Ghosts of a Chance” and is played on social sites like Facebook, took place for 3 months and involved clues hidden throughout the sites. Instead of advertising the game as educational, the museum advertised it as a fun, interactive experience – and this is what made their educational online game successful in reaching such a large audience.


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