Part 4: A look at Italy, “Father and Son”

The case of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN)

Father and Son” is nothing more than a project of the MANN (National Archaeological Museum of Naples), conceived with the help of TuoMuseo. It is perhaps the most interesting case recorded in Italy and consequently also worldwide.

The video game (2D narrative game) was launched on the market in 2017 and in the space of a year and a half it reached about three million downloads. The idea behind the game is to take the museum out of the museum, hoping that certain digital tools are able to increase and consequently improve the museum’s dialogue and interaction with its audiences.

The MANN management noted that, in 2016, by making a video game, it is possible to experiment with a new language to attract current and potential visitors to the museum both in Italy and in the rest of the world. In fact, precisely in 2016, MANN published its 2016-19 Strategic Plan saying that the museum “has placed its focus on innovation in order to improve the quality of the visiting experience, also providing for new forms of interaction with its users, digital and otherwise “and also paying great attention to audience development. The Strategic Plan goes on to say that the museum is also developing a video game with the aim of making the exploration of the museum engaging.

Speaking of Father and Son, in addition to being perhaps the first real video game specially developed by an archaeological museum, its biggest novelty consists in being in the form of an App (easily downloadable from your Store, be it Apple or Google Play) and usable independently of the visit to the museum. Therefore, it is the first example, worldwide, of a museum video game playable not exclusively on site (different is the case of “Secret Seekers” of the V&A in London, which can only be played inside the museum).

Furthermore, Father and Son is the first example in Italy in which a museum does not only tell about its own institution but other cultural heritages (such as Pompeian, Egyptian and Farnese, therefore collections kept inside the museum).

The approach presented by MANN is innovative because it has chosen to address not simply its regular visitors, but also potential ones, whether they are video game players.

The presence inside the museum rooms is only possible for those who want to somehow take advantage of the additional content that the game offers, according to a mechanism called “check-in” which does not bind or block the continuation of the game.

Another decisive aspect of the game in question is that it has been designed with the aim of transmitting to the user a huge amount of information that he can receive unconsciously. But one that will perhaps leave a little perplexing is that the MANN has decided to limit the amount of information on the collections preserved inside the Museum and on the services it offers; therefore the institution has taken an opposite direction to the museum level, since that type of information constitutes the content of apps developed by other cultural institutions. In fact, the educational potential is overshadowed, giving greater importance to the visibility of the museum itself, its image and its ability to attract new and varied audiences.

A typical feature of Father and Son is to create non-linear stories, through the leap from era to era, increasing the user’s emotional involvement. For example, the user, while visiting the Farnese Collection as shown in the figure, can access the Egyptian Collection by using one-way arrows where, near some sculptures, he can find the symbol of an “eye” and with a simple click he will find catapulted into Ancient Egypt, in the workshop of the sculptor who made the statue (in fact Father and Son focuses only on some iconic works preserved in the Museum, consequently creating forms of story-doing). In addition, the user can stroll through the streets of Egypt or ancient Rome and discover many curiosities. The symbol of the “eye” can have a dual function, in addition to creating story-doing processes, it can provide useful information on the history of sculptural works or paintings from the Roman period exhibited in the museum rooms.

As for the contents on which Father and Son is based, it tells the story of Michael, a boy who tries to reconstruct the past of the father he never knew. His father was an archaeologist of the MANN and in his footsteps, Michael crosses the streets of Naples and some rooms of the Museum, feeling painful feelings for the loss of a parent. So the gamer can experience the emotions felt by Michael. During this adventure, the protagonist goes through various historical eras such as from ancient Rome to Egypt, passing through the Bourbon age up to modern day Naples; a good choice to make the user understand the three thematic nuclei that the museum houses: Pompeian, Egyptian and Farnese collections. This feature allows the user to indirectly view the life that took place for example in ancient Egypt, in Pompeii or Herculaneum. The user, in the role of Michael, moves using the right and left ends of the touch screen of their mobile device to move one-way along the corridors of the museum. To get to the end of the game, the user has to go through all these areas. A not negligible but extremely important aspect of Father and Son is the graphical interface with attention to the smallest details, as evidenced by the numerous rooms and rooms of the museum and of the city of Naples itself.

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