Animal Mayhem: Playful experience in the Cabinet of Curiosities

    DossierSeriousGamesApplied games are becoming increasingly popular. At the same time, it is still an emerging field. Although more and more contexts become aware of its potential to achieve organisational goals, there is much to be learned and to be explored. There is a growing demand for validation results, for example, does the game perform as expected? Does it have a markable impact on its target audience? How can we measure that impact properly?

    At the same time, there are many issues to be resolved from a design perspective. How do we effectively connect domain experts and game designers? How do we organise collaboration and co-creation in the design process? How do costs and benefits balance out? But first of all: how do we convert a domain objective in a game using state-of-the-art technology?

    SEA Project

    In the SEA project, knowledge institutions, domain experts and small creative enterprises are brought together to gain insights in these questions by working on innovative pilots. The project entails three application domains: retail, cultural heritage and tourism.

    We asked domain representatives for their demand. Based on this information, we invested considerable effort in methodologies to articulate demand to prepare for applied game solutions. As a consortium we then intermediated between clients and small creative game studios to find the best match in each domain. Using all available knowledge and expertise from the participating institutions we support the co-creation process in ten innovative pilots.

    Although the project is still in full swing, we like to share a number of lessons learned in the project so far.

    The Mayhem

    One of the concepts in the SEA-project is created in collaboration with the University Museum Utrecht. The concept is called ‘Beestenbende’, or ‘Animal Mayhem’ and is created by Hubbub, a small Utrecht based game studio.

    The University Museum aims to bring the fascination for science to a broader audience. The museum asked to redesign the experience of a room containing an excellent Cabinet of Curiosities. The Cabinet exists of wonderful species of exotic animals. The museum intended to increase the time spent by visitors in the Cabinet by trying to make them view the collection from a ‘scientific’ perspective.

    Various companies were asked to pitch on this assignment.

    The company Hubbub was the winner of this contest and proposed the ‘Animal Mayhem’ concept. Using one iPhone as a family device, visitors are challenged by an app to help the animals shown on the display. The animals are confused;  they believe they belong to a certain animal class, however, they are wrong. A flying squirrel thinks for example that it is a bird and an eel thinks it is a snake.

    Visitors are challenged to battle in two teams and help the ‘poor animals’ to regain their true identity by taking pictures of zoological evidence and characteristics of the true animal class. These pictures, taken under time pressure, are  tagged in the app and sent to the animals. The team with the best and most convincing evidence wins.

    The assignment to take pictures is introduced just to make the visitor focus on the collection. The app does not ‘process’ the picture in terms of pattern recognition. Nevertheless, visitors are unaware of this ‘phoney’ use of technology, but watching the collection via the phone provides for an unprecedented level of focus.

    Playing ‘Animal Mayhem’ results in great interaction between (grand)parents and children, a substantial extension of time spent in the Cabinet (up to 30 minutes, this means six times the original average time), and visitors value the playful and meaningful way in which the game and collection are intrinsically connected.

    Lessons Learned

    This is just one example of the kind of pilots developed within the SEA project. We like to end with some of the lessons learned in the project so far.

    “It’s not a problem, it is a requirement.”

    Clients often have lots of concerns regarding applied games. Many of their concerns can be turned into design criteria. A clear articulation of demand is imperative for successful applied game design.

    “Think in verbs. Actions are the bread and butter of game design.”

    In applied game design, many clients represent an extensive knowledge base. Codified knowledge and games do not relate easily. Start the conversation on desired actions and behaviour of users. Games are about actions, not about words.

    “Will they change their behaviour?”

    A major aspect of applied game design is discussing transfer. What will be the real-life impact of the game experience? Pervasive designs and mixing the real and the virtual world close this gap.

    “We have to use this new technology. Why? Because it is so cool.” 

    Do not start from technology. Technology is here to serve us and follows purpose and function. Pick the necessary technology based on the aims, objectives and desired behaviours of users. Not the other way around.

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    More Information

    The SEA project (Smart Experience Actuator) is a collaboration between Task Force Innovation Utrecht region (TFI), Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU), Utrecht University, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Reinwardt Academy and Twente University.

    The project is funded through the Pieken in de Delta-program by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the city of Utrecht and the province of Utrecht.

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    This article is brought to you by Taskforce Innovation Utrecht Region •



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