I’m at the 2011 Games for Change conference today and live-blogging a few sessions! The speakers for this panel include:

  • Tracy Fullerton – Electronics Arts Game Innovation Lab
  • Ruth Cohen – American Museum of natural History
  • Elaine Charnov – The NY Public Library
  • Jason Eppink – Museum of the Moving Image
  • Syed Salahuddin – Babycastles

Elaine Cohen: The New York Public Library

100 Years of the flagship library in New York. Goal of the centennial project was to shine the light on the library’s resources and get new audiences engaged in the collections and connected to the curators and staff. Research libraries have been facing daunting challenges in the digital world, but not everything is digital in research and the library really wants to connect people with the curators and staff that can help them. Staged a major exhibition celebrating the spectrum of what is in the library, public programs partners with The Moth. Trying to engaged the teen-to-twenty-something who normally may not use the research library. They thought, wouldn’t it be interseting to create a game to get people in the library who may not have ever come?

Find the Future: The Game

Find the Future was the overarching theme of the projects. Involvement from the curators and staff to develop 100 quests that the public could participate in on the night of the 20th. An overnight at the library, only 500 people – over 5,000 entered and many more were viewing the site etc. During the period that the 500 were selected, they learned a lot about how various social networking tools could be used as they saw participants start partnering up and organizing themselves for the game. There were pregame efforts, during the night, and post-event where people joined up and have continued networking. 70 teams of about 7 people each were sent on various quests like writing about loyalty based on the Pooh series in the library. What made the game so unique is the social element – the game designers spent a lot of time writing about the participants and their visions for the future on postcards and distributing them throughout the night, giving them to random participants so they were prompted to seek out others.

The result was an 800 page book of narratives, pictures, stories, and much more that will now be part of the library’s collection. People are now coming to the library to see it as it includes content by all the 500 participants from that night. So much of the project was really about convening social groups and we see it continuing.

Ruth Cohen – American Museum of natural History

For years we have been producing digital media to fulfill our mission of educating the public about science and history. We are trying to change the visitors’ experience at the museum as well as ownership of what is in the museum, break down the walls between the public and the museum. My focus is on how children learn science.

Learning Science by Design

The opportunities for engagement now include exhibitions, digital space, and education. The goals include learning made personal, extension of experience onsite and online, and access for all learning and lifelong learning – underlying all of it is innovation in learning. Within our exhibitions, we have a focus on creating very dynamic, interactive opportunities. The Brain exhibition, for example, has a table where people can work together to put together the pieces of the brain neuron by neuron. It provides an opportunity for learning but also for strangers to connect. In our digital space, we have a new innovation called the Explorer. It is an app for iphone that started as a way for way-finding but is more: it has personalized tours, it has games, etc. Visitors can challenge themselves, each other, etc. The education work has three areas: ology (their first online game space for kids), Urban Biodiversity Network (mobile and networked, youth-driven) which brought together kids from around the world and the Bronx Zoo where kids created eco-stations around the zoo and the Museum explored if this kind of game/engagement helped kids actually learn, Virtual Worlds Camp (happening this summer in the second pilot) 3-d virtual worlds where kids will spend 2 weeks researching under seas environments, building their animals/characters, and so on. In the future, Games in Exhibition that then extend online and in class, expanded out of school offerings including space, bio-luminescence and other areas, and expand into AMNH in school partnership programs.

Jason Eppink – Museum of the Moving Image

The museum was founded in 1981, opened in 1989. Since 1989’s Hot Circuits exhibition of arcade games, they have always had arcade games on display, and all playable. In 1995, they offered downloadable ROMs to export the games. Digital Play commpared and contracted console games with arcade games. Real Virtuality had two games that were on display that augmented reality. We are also planning a big exhibition for next year.

Syed Salahuddin – Babycastles

Babycastles is New York’s first independent video arcade. We wanted to created a space where people could get together and talk about games. There are a lot of places online where people can meet up, have game jams, etc. but there wasn’t an offline space for that. When we first started babycastles, we had no idea there was any kind of community in NY for it. They knew of a few people but it was nothing like the communities on the West Coast. We started out in Queens and within a month or two had 50-60 people coming. We wanted to put arcades everywhere: museums, public spaces, insinuations, etc. Our first arcade was in the basement of Silent Barn and it cost about $650.

“There’s not much I can tell you about this game because I’m confused completely,” said Paul Cox, a first-time visitor to Babycasteles, as the attempted to navigate a game called “The You Testment,” based on Noah’s Ark. “It’s actually a blast so far.” – The New York Times

Next they were invited to start The Arcade Returns to 42nd Street, popup gallery. It game them the chance to expose people to independent games at a larger scale – we had walk-in traffic, etc. One man came in that was 82 years old and said he’d never played a video game before – he was given a controller and taught how to navigate. It lasted for four months. We started a Kickstarter that was pretty successful and were able to buy new hardware, etc.

“For the opening exhibition at a temporary space near Times Square last year, Thu Tran, the inimitable maestro of the IFC show “Food Party,” turned a former storefront into a veritable zoo of brightly-colored furniture and cabinets. In painted wood and styrofoam, it was a masterful and whimsical refusal to answer that pesky question of whether games can be art. here was a kind of proof that you don’t have to choose.” CNN

“Many of the games at Babycastles don’t fit the traditional definitions of the medium; they veer closer to artistic experiementation than they do to mass-market viability.” – New York Times

Future Babycastles is in Williamsburg, just opened. And the next location will be at MoMA where they are teaching a 10 week digital media course about building arcades and will actually build one with kids.

Questions and Discussion

Tracy: When we speak about cultureal spaces, we are really talking about caging and preserving culture. I wonder if you might speak to the excitement and interest in games from your perspectives:

Ruth: the excitement is in the potential. Your comments are close to our heart – as an institutions we make decisions every day about how people are going to engage. We want to focus on experiences and the experience of culture is an interaction, that’s why these places need to be live. There is potential for creating a game for that experience, especially with the participants.

Elaine: In terms of the compassion, and as an organization that collects and preserves, we wonder how to engage people into the real thing while also translating that real thing into the real world. We have one of the copies of the Declaration of Independence, so people can engage with the real thing but also think about the things in the 21st century that inspire them. We want to work with the real, tangible history, but draw on all the technologies and forms of play that get folks involved and excited. That’s one of the goals of research institustions and cultureal spaces in general.

Tracy: Games are about subverting a system. And here we have places where we are preserving and saving important things and then we say wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could invite people in to play. I do think it’s great to invite play into those spaces.

Elaine: We invited some people in to create a game about the museum, Accomplice, that is like real-time Clue. We think it works, it is still piloting, but that’s a big risk for an instituation.

Tracy: The problem of showing games in public spaces, it is problematic. Games, if they aren’t public events, then a lot of times they are meant to be played for longer periods of time on one’s own. Going through a public space and stopping for a few minutes to observe doesn’t work for a game.

Syed: When I went to PS1’s exhibit, it took up an entire room, the walls were the actual screen and you literally walk as you are in the side scroller. It was a beautiful exhibition, but no one was playing it. There was a facilitator there that would play it and she played it all day. But people felt weird playing with her. I’ve seen that happen before.

James: The best exhibition game I’ve seen was because all of these people were willing to play. So people were willing to try, others would watch and learn and then when they played they could get further and those watching would learn and it just helped collectively get through the game.

Tracy: When we were developing The Night Journey, we got two sets of pay testers over a few months and I thought of it as a V: gamers who were interested in experiemental play, people who had visited a gallery in the last few months – people who were far away from each other in the comfort zone of the game. They would wait for you to tell them what to do. Through the course of a lot of play testing and simplification, we got to the place where there was enough simplicity that the truly non0game playing public could pick it up and do something meaningful and the more sofisticated game-players could do something more deeper but equally engaging.

James: Yeah, it’s all about context. When someone is playing Grand Theft Auto, they have a good idea of how the controller works and they’ve gone past lots of learning but someone in public space hasn’t worked through everything with the game to know what to do.

Tracy: The questions of really of usage and usability and appeal start to sound like questions we might not normally ask when we talk about museums and preservation.

Ruth: Public spaces become known as the places where people interact with each other and where it is safe to interact. That’s the doorway into the 21st center. There’s so much knowledge and information that they are intimidated when they come in the museum. So, finding games and interactions that make it easy for people to engage with the information.

Elaine: The media often undermines the role of games in institutions as showing them just as scavenger hunts and not interaction and personal exploration of learning and information.

Games and Cultural Spaces: Live Blog Notes from Games for Change
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