There is growing interest in the interdisciplinary concept of video gaming spaces inside art and history museums. Interactive games offer a more modern approach to museum learning and attract a younger group of visitors.
Incorporating play into museum design
In February, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities (OCH) at The University of Tulsa and a group of TU’s Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) scholars partnered to host “Gaming the Museum” at the Helmerich Center for American Research (HCAR). Students and faculty from TU’s museum studies program teamed up with TURC students majoring in computer simulation and gaming. The gaming degree combines TU’s core computer science curriculum with art, graphic design and music courses from the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences.
The free symposium in February featured a keynote presentation on the role of play in museum design from Holly Witchey, director of education and outreach for the Intermuseum Conservation Association. Other highlights included a panel discussion from museum professionals, demos of games developed by TU students and an interactive series of playable activities in HCAR.
“Play does not mean frivolous, but includes voluntary, self-directed activity,” explained Bob Pickering, professor of anthropology and director of museum science and management at TU. “Play in the digital age offers even more possibility for museums to connect with audiences of all ages.”
Tulsa is a museum destination
The City of Tulsa is an ideal setting for the exploration of play in museums because of its storied history in art and music. “Tulsa is an art town, and our museum and gallery scene is booming,” said Tara Aveilhe with the OCH. “We’re on our way to becoming a museum destination in the United States. With popular interactive exhibits like “The Experience” at AHHA, we’re seeing that adults need and want the experience of play as much as kids do.”
TURC student Cheyanne Wheat and computer simulation and gaming/computer science double major Chandler Hummingbird presented games at the event that they have developed. Wheat’s project, “Virtual Fort Gibson,” investigates the fusion of interactive technology with accurate digital reconstructions of historical sites. Based on the town of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, in 1841 when it was the United States’ southwestern forward post, the game incorporates archaeological and anthropological data to create an accurate representation of the fort as a locale to layer on activities. Wheat used the Unreal Game Engine program to digitally reconstruct the historical site and extracted topographical information from Google Maps data. With help from Blender 3D modeling software, she constructed artifacts and built soldiers’ quarters, block houses and a stockade.
“The objective is to allow the user to explore the fort, see objects of the period and learn about life in the 1840s on the frontier,” she said. “The player can engage in time-accurate mini interactions and explore room interiors.”
Wheat asked attendees who played her game to provide feedback, and all participants agreed they would interact with similar projects in the future. “Overall, the event was very successful and brought a lot of diverse people together,” she stated. “I think it was a great opportunity to see how Oklahoma incorporates gaming into spaces and experiences to make play accessible to both adults and children.”