This post is a combination of two in our normal series – curation and professional development. Curation because it deals with how museums use their collections to tell stories. Professional development because, in my personal case, it’s an example of how our hobbies can influence our formal careers. And this topic seems particularly appropriate given that Storytelling is the theme for the 2013 AAM meeting.
I would like to introduce all of you to StoryNexus, a new platform for making games that’s been made available to the public this week for free. It’s produced by a company out of England called Fail Better Games. Several months ago they announced that they were accepting people into a limited beta test of the public version of their platform, which I was lucky enough to be a part of. After rigorous testing they were ready to make the platform available to anyone - anyone – that wants to make a game.
Games have a powerful capacity to engage their audiences and tell a story. I’m not a serious video gamer, but I definitely enjoy the right ones. For me this ranges from the mindless fun of Katamari Damacy to the much more serious Assassin’s Creed series. In the latter case, the story is a large part of what keeps me playing, but there’s also an aesthetic element. The game is beautifully designed and evokes such a strong sense of place that I both feel like I’ve now been to both Italy and Turkey (though I haven’t), and I also can’t escape the longing to visit the places myself (though I’ve explored them extensively in the game). Instead of ruining the experience, the game only made my desire to visit these places stronger.
I’ve often thought that the same ideas could be applied to museums – that instead of making people feel like they’ve already “been there, done that,” games could help capture peoples imaginations. It promotes a sense of ownership, if you’ve played a game that takes place around a specific setting, it encourages a connection. StoryNexus has a lot of potential to accomplish that for museums, for very little cost.
Most StoryNexus games revolve around fictional worlds. The original Fail Better Games production is Fallen London, a world in which London has been dragged to hell by Queen Victoria selling the souls of the inhabitants to save the life of Prince Albert. One of the more substantial games developed on the new free platform is Zero Summer, a post apocalyptic western. There’s a wide variety of games being developed since the closed beta test began two months ago, several of which are stable enough to be played by the general public, listed on the StoryNexus front page.
When I found out about StoryNexus, I was immediately inspired by its educational potential. I’ve been experimenting with a game I’ve titled Evolve. I’m not a game designer by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s been great fun putting this together. It takes the player from a single-celled organism up through the evolutionary chain, and so far I’ve written content up to the split between the bacteria and archaea. The possibilities with this particular topic are nearly boundless though, and players have already requested the ability to become dinosaurs, coyotes, and creatures with magical abilities. On my end, I’ll just be happy if they now know what a ribosome is.
I can imagine great things made on StoryNexus by museums, especially local history museums. Once image upload is functional (probably several months out), museums will be able to use their own collections on cards and backgrounds. Games can be used to engage a younger audience, can supplement school programs, or just help tell the story of your museum. How wonderful would it be to travel through the 1893 World’s Fair, visiting each of the exhibition halls? Or to uncover the story of how your town was founded, having conversations with local figures out of history?
People care about stories when they’re able to make a personal attachment to it. I strongly recommend taking a look at StoryNexus as a way of making our museum stories come alive. So many museums struggle to integrate technology into their outreach, mostly due to cost; that isn’t as much of an issue here. With the recent trend towards making things available through creative commons, there’s going to be an increasing number of technological offerings for museums to consider, and EMPs would do well to familiarize themselves with some of the promising ones. I would count StoryNexus among these, and it’s worth taking a close look at it.