As an undergraduate, I was taught that ‘edutainment’ was a taboo within museums due to the reluctance of staff members wanting to engage with new-fangled digital practice, and because it was where all of the little funding was being focused. Now, however, the tables have turned and this concept has become almost wholly integrated into everyday practice for a lot of museums (whether the staff like it or not!). As such, I was initially a little sceptical about the increased focus of museum ‘gamification’ and was wary of the number of museums using Minecraft as a way of enticing children through the door. However, having read through many articles describing the successes of this foray into the virtual, playable world, I can more readily see its potential.
The only connection I’ve personally had with the game Minecraft is watching my brother play it, but recently it seems to be following me everywhere: in shops, in books, and now in museums. The more I Googled, the more museums I found jumping on this pixelated bandwagon. There have been Minecraft projects at the V&A, Norwich Castle Museum, Gallipoli Museum, the British Museum, and Tullie House Art Gallery, to name but a few.
I remember seeing a poster advertising ‘Tate Worlds’ last time I visited Tate Britain (it is free to download but only if you have the game installed already). The worlds are designed to look like paintings from the Tate collection, aiming to create an immersive and challenging game environment that ‘uniquely’ combines “art, history and adventure”. As I begrudge paying £17.95 to purchase the original game, my only window into ‘Tate Worlds’ is through watching the accompanying videos that, from a non-player perspective, didn’t really capture my interest. The paintings they’ve chosen – in my opinion at least – are lesser-known pieces from the collection. Although this gives them a chance to shine over the more popular or favourite artworks, it may not work as effectively if they are not currently on display. How would the players then be able to engage with them in real life?
Although I could not find anything specifically relating him to ‘Tate Worlds’, artist Adam Clarke was shortlisted for the 2014 IK Prize at Tate Britain for his Tate-Minecraft game ‘TateCraft’. This, in a similar vein to ‘Tate Worlds’ uses the game as a foundation for engaging players with British Art – even recreating the galleries using the pixelated blocks. Not only does it teach history, art, and architecture, but it promotes teamwork, friendships, creativity and imagination and – perhaps most closely linked with the Tate’s mission statement – having fun with learning. As Clarke said, “[i]t doesn’t seem like education but it is… It feels like an adventure in art and culture.”
The intricacies of the Minecraft world are only really known to the initiated but, as Rhiannon Looseley discussed, this can be empowering. With the Museum of London workshop, there was an obvious shift in power as the children were explaining things to the adults, helping to create a more engaging experience whilst building relationships with the museum, the collection, and their family and friends. The adults came away from the workshop having gained new knowledge.
With this move into the digital realm, why not utilise a popular game such as Minecraft to help attract new audiences? It is something that already has an established following, so it seems beneficial to use it as a means of ‘learning through doing’ – interacting with a subject on a more experiential level (using the senses as well as bringing in personal experience and emotions). It’s taking something that children are already interested – and obsessed – with and using it as a platform to create a new fun but educational experience. It is introducing them to history, art, and culture through a medium they are happy and comfortable with, helping to eliminate any ‘threshold fear’ barriers they may have about the museum environment.
The Minecraft fad won’t last forever, of course, but neither will it be the end-all museum experience for these children; it will open doors to new opportunities and introduce them to an alternative way of viewing art and history. It is an accessible pathway in to the museum, which the children may not have had otherwise. If playing it – and, indeed, any museum based game – sparks a little bit of interest or imagination in the children, then it is a success. The inspiration, of course, can work both ways: the museums might want to use this as a learning opportunity for themselves, finding similarly creative ways of encouraging and engaging children.
As a final closing thought, the V&A held a very interesting Minecraft event that saw specifically-created physical objects placed within display cases across the museum. The real life and virtual worlds collided – something that becomes even more interesting if thought about in relation to the ongoing debate about how to display the digital within physical spaces…
What other popular games could be utilised by museums?
‘Tate Worlds’ requires Minecraft to already be installed. Could this be seen as an act of exclusion against those who are not able to afford to buy the game, but want to join in?
Anstey, Tom. 24 June 2014. Revealed: How Minecraft can get more kids into museums and galleries [http://am2.jobs/index.cfm?pagetype=news&codeID=309986], accessed 08/12/15.
Anstey, Tom. 29 September 2014. British Museum turns to Minecraft in attempt to lure new audience [http://www.attractionsmanagement.com/detail.cfm?pagetype=detail&subject=news&codeID=311657], accessed 08/12/15.
Lefebvre, Rob. 14 August 2014. Minecraft lures kids to museums like nothing else [http://www.cultofmac.com/291089/minecraft-brings-kids-museum-like-nothing-else/], accessed 08/12/15.
Lufkin, Bryan. Date unknown. How To Keep Museums Alive In The Age Of Minecraft [http://www.fastcolabs.com/3026074/how-to-keep-museums-alive-in-the-age-of-minecraft], accessed 08/12/15.
Reynolds, Matthew. 8 September 2013. The World of ‘Minecraft’: How the V&A Museum has embraced games [http://www.digitalspy.com/gaming/news/a512151/the-world-of-minecraft-how-the-va-museum-has-embraced-games/], accessed 10/12/15.
Warr, Philippa. 30 September 2013. Games and art: Minecraft at the London Victoria & Albert museum [http://www.pcgamer.com/games-and-art-minecraft-at-the-london-victoria-albert-museum/], accessed 10/12/15.
Gallipoli Museum project: http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/exhibitions/gallipoli-in-minecraft [accessed 13/12/15].
British Museum: http://www.thespace.org/news/view/british-museum-minecraft [accessed 13/12/15].
Norwich Castle Museum: https://www.facebook.com/NorwichCastleMuseum/posts/1083945931645054 [accessed 13/12/15].
‘TateCraft’ project: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/ik-prize-2014-shortlist-tatecraft [accessed 13/13/15].
Tate Worlds: http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/tate-worlds-art-reimagined-minecraft [accessed 13/12/15].
Tullie House Art Gallery: http://thecommonpeople.tv/bringing-history-to-life-with-minecraft-for-museums-at-night/ [accessed 13/12/15].