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How the Jewish Museum Berlin developed a hybrid game in conjunction with its Children’s Council

Listen up! The animal radio and hidden object game, photo: Yves Sucksdorff

MuseumNext catches up with the team at the Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) to talk hybrid games, consulting with children, and testing concepts in fun and engaging ways.

Having first opened in 2021, ANOHA, The Children’s World of the Jewish Museum Berlin is a relatively new addition to the institution. Designed to welcome preschool and elementary school children, it is a venue for exploration, learning and “trying things out”.

Located across the street from the main museum building in a former wholesale flower market, it welcomes visitors into the story of Noah’s Ark. 150 animal sculptures can be found spread in and around a hands-on Ark housed within the museum’s 2,700 square metres of play space.

So immersive and tactile is the real-life space that, when devising new digital layers to the exhibition, the JMB team decided that less was more: “Our starting point was to make the decision not to create a ‘dominant’ digital experience. We wanted to add a new layer to our Noah’s Ark exhibition but we didn’t want to overpower the other interactive elements of the existing exhibition,” says Lisa Albrecht, Digital Project Leader at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

“Instead we felt that we could do something effective with audio in an engaging treasure hunt format. Importantly, the exhibition works with or without the audio elements – depending on whether the visitor wants to go deeper or not.”

With a core visitor age bracket ranging from 3 – 10, pitching any exhibition enhancements presents a range of challenges. In creating an audio experience – available in both German and English – it was established that the content recordings should be aimed at visitors aged 6 – 12.

Importantly, the team at the JMB didn’t simply create an audio solution they thought would work for this demographic; they tested it extensively with the help of the museum’s very own Children’s Council. As Ariane Kwasigroch, Educational Outreach Manager at the museum explains:

“It was important to us that we consulted with children about what the ANOHA Children’s World should offer and, more recently, what the hybrid game we developed could achieve. After all, kids know what they like; what engages them; and what is boring to them. So, it felt natural to speak to teachers about creating a council made up of school children.”

Listen up! The animal radio and hidden object game, photo: Yves Sucksdorff

Meeting once a month, the museum team would spend a full school day with the cohort of children, using a variety of methods and testing formats to develop the “Listen Up!” hybrid game – based on the children’s story Why Noah Chose the Dove by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

One of the key testing initiatives for the project involved the museum team taking a group of children to the local zoo, where recordings were taken of the dialogue between animals from the perimeter of the enclosures. This approach again served to engage Children’s Council members and ensure a genuinely collaborative approach.

In order to test the narration, stories, information and sounds of the audio tour created by radio play authors Stella Luncke and Josef Maria Schäfers, the JMB team then worked with actors to test content with children. This approach was critical to developing the style of audio narration, the length of each section and the level of detail within the content. Lisa says,

“Testing with the help of actors was very useful because it gave us an insight into what would work best for child visitors before going to the studio and recording the audio for the exhibition.

“It is often tempting to put in more content and give more information. But from working with the children it was clear that we had to be concise – to keep things fun and easy to digest.”

Ariane adds, “We not only observed the way our Children’s Council responded to the testing formats but also interviewed them to get their comments – both individually and as a group. Turning our question and answers into a game format proved to be successful.

“In order to express their views, we asked them to position themselves on a step on a staircase – those who strongly agreed would stand on the top step; those who strongly disagreed would stand at the foot of the stairs.”

Children are typically full of energy but with small attention spans. So, managing their energy levels was an interesting challenge in itself for the JMB team. Ariane suggests that this became clear when entering a second testing phase for the “Listen Up!” in the museum space itself.

“We found that the shortened audio clips were still too long. Many children weren’t completing the game, so we used this information to shorten the recordings further.”

Carefully curating wearable tech

The delivery of the hybrid game focused on a few key pieces of hardware, including speakers, signs, headphones and RFID wristbands and a media station with animated films made by Monströös. As Ariane and Lisa explain, children’s tolerance for scratchy or ill-fitting wearables is significantly lower than that of adults. So, testing in the museum space with the Children’s Council was an essential step for them.

Lisa adds, “The wristbands also needed to be robust enough to handle regular use and even getting wet – because there are some water-based aspects to the exhibition.”

Another consideration when planning an audio tour or audio experience for small children is, of course, the headset itself. Finding comfortable, suitably sized headphones was an important factor in ensuring the successful adoption of the audio experience – rather than creating a barrier to entry.

In addition to the success of testing and consultation with the Children’s Council, Ariane points to collaborative partnerships with Players Journey – the digital game developers responsible for supporting on the development of the hybrid game.

Together with the authors, theatrical performers and the JMB staff, the collaborative team succeeded in delivering a coherent and well-received project. Lisa says, “Like with any agile process, you never know exactly how workshops are going to go. But, although there are always things you realise you could have done differently, these sessions were always productive.

“Importantly, our partners understood why we wanted to work with the Children’s Council and they did a fantastic job of working in ways that accommodated the children.”

Ariane adds, “Testing has been crucial for us and, following on from our experience with “Listen Up”, it’s something we are always careful to leave time for now – both in the children’s museum and the main museum. It tells us so much about what works well and what does not engage the audience.”

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