Working from home during the lockdown put me in a small room, which for much of the time sounded like a battleground.
Gunfire would reverberate off the walls and then my son would call down his headphones to his friends “I’m down, someone come rez me”.
This was the world of Fortnite. The popular online game which pits individuals or teams against each other in a fight to the death.
As grizzly as this might sound, the community aspect of the game was a lifeline for my son during a time when he couldn’t see his friends. With school cancelled and socialising not permitted they could escape into this game and play together (after homework of course).
It made me rethink massive multiplayer games, and wonder how museums might use these online spaces.
Eager to learn more I called Adam Clarke an artist who works with museums (amongst others) to create educational experiences with games. – Adam is speaking at our Culture Geek conference next month.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that he’d had a busy year. Online education has exploded during the pandemic and he’d been developing all kinds of exciting games based learning.
While in the past a museum might have commissioned a flash-based game for their website, increasingly people are understanding the value of using platforms which have millions of users already.
Take Minecraft as an example. This is the most popular game in the world, allowing kids to come together in a virtual world to explore and build.
Adam has created lots of exciting projects within this game, from recreating the Great Fire of London through to creating a Minecraft version of Tate where you can walk into the paintings.
Community plays a part in Minecraft too. With children unable to come together for a summer camp this year, one recent commission Adam had tackled was a virtual summer camp where the kids could instead login online.
Minecraft isn’t the only massive multiplayer world where museums are creating educational experiences. Animal Crossing: New Horizons to give the full name to the title, is the latest in a series of life simulator games featuring adorable anthropomorphic animals. It sold 22 million copies in its first five months on sale.
And in April The Metropolitan Museum of Art made their entire collection of 406,000 objects available to players of the game to use to decorate their virtual homes (full story here).
While the Monterey Bay Aquarium have been live-streaming their experts sharing talking about natural history in the game (more on that here).
Roblox is a free downloadable game where millions of young people hang out making and playing games.
This isn’t a space that museums are using yet, but in discussing massive multiplayer worlds and the possibilities that they offer the sector Adam Clarke suggested that it offered great possibilities for museums.
Meet me online
What all these platforms have in common is their ability to connect museums with audiences in virtual worlds, something which at the minute seems especially relevant.
Museum educators could hold events, teach classes and create games in the space that young audiences are already spending their time.
That seems far more powerful than a zoom call and much easier than trying to develop your own game.
As well as the opportunities that these games offer museums today, I also think that we need to consider how audience expectations are being shaped by this technology.
I’ve decided that I need to throw myself into this world to try and answer those questions, and with some help from my kids I’m getting to grips with these massive multiplayer games.
Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now splits his time between delivering consultancy, innovation workshops and keynote presentations.