Museum Safari walkthrough
Museum Safari – finding the Lidded Ritual Ewer artefact from the Smithsonian collection
Museum Safari – finding the Buddha Draped in Robes artefact from the Smithsonian collection

Jeyageethan Mahendran

Museum Safari: Can gamified virtual museums and galleries impact the visitor experience?

In the build up to my final year project, I have looked at how museums and galleries can be represented in virtual spaces. Museums and galleries are always trying to surprise visitors with their on-site displays and excite them with their vast collections, which include works of art, fossils, historical artefacts and more. I have found great creative inspiration in how these institutions tackle accessibility and engagement within such content-rich physical spaces. I was particularly inspired during a collaboration between the Experimental Technologies Lab at LJMU and the Liverpool World Museum as part of the museum’s #WhereNext project that looked to redesign interactions and experiences with their World Cultures galleries through immersive technologies.

From this I began to investigate why virtual museums and galleries looked like their real-world counterparts, and I analysed some skeuomorphic representations of institutions and how their collections were presented versus more abstract representations. Did the real-world counterpart increase learning or engagement over an abstract version? During that study I came across gamified virtual spaces, and I could see the potential in developing gamified museum experiences. How could I represent objects that are part of huge collections in museums and galleries (most not on display), and how do games engage audiences and a broad spectrum of age groups?

I was keen to develop a virtual museum game using freely downloadable 3D models of digitized collections that are made available online by large institutions such as the Smithsonian. I wanted to embed a Constructivist approach to learning by incorporating social cultural theory into the game itself - I created a game that is open in outcome and had few visible rules to constrict the player’s movement. By having goals that did not require competition or reward, the players maintain their own agency in discovering digitized objects from collections around the world in an environment that was different to the real-world institution. There are many tools and programs that are available to create your own museum or gallery, for example, Blender and Unity, plus programmes such as Occupy White Walls. You can even curate your own museum in Animal Crossing using the Science Museum collections! My game ‘Museum Safari’ enables an individual to create and play a game that is built from scratch using freely available software environments and assets using Unreal Engine. I aim to show that anyone can make and curate their own virtual museum games without major programming or technical skills, and that in the time of Covid-19 and restrictions on visiting museums and galleries, we can still enjoy and learn about their collections.

#art in science