Part 2: Interpretations of Museums in Videogames: A Possible ‘Marriage’?

Museums and video games. Two apparently different terms, but increasingly associated both in literature and in public debate. These reasons can be traced back to two main issues: the entry of video games into museums as objects that can somehow be defined as worthy of preservation and the use they make of them for educational or marketing purposes. However, it seems complex to associate these two entities: on the one hand, the museum is nothing more than “a permanent, non-profit institution at the service of society and its development, open to the public, which carries out research on material and immaterial evidence. of man and his environment, acquires them, preserves them, communicates them and specifically exhibits them for purposes of study, education and pleasure “(ICOM 2007), on the other hand the video game is devoted to entertainment and profit, but in recent years gaming has also been considered on the entertainment side.

By analyzing the five main tasks of the museum that emerge from the ICOM (International council of Museum) definition, we can identify: research, acquisition, conservation, communication and exhibition. By considering them in relation to videogames, one can realize how the objectives of the museum have changed over time: if at first it was considered a place for the conservation of art objects or artifacts, in recent decades it has distinct from other cultural institutions for greater openness to the public and for the attempt to propose engaging experiences. Communication and exhibition seem to be the watchwords for this new era. For the museum, communicating means spreading the knowledge of its heritage using different communication channels; exhibiting, on the other hand, means allowing visitors to enjoy the works on display. It can therefore be said that a museum can fulfill its tasks only if it follows its mission: the conservation, protection and enhancement of the cultural heritage. For this reason, it can no longer be reduced to simple conservation and display, but must include the approach to heritage and its transmission in terms of content and knowledge, reaching a wider audience. In this regard, the ICOM definition of a museum can be read from a user-centric perspective and from a strictly museological perspective: if the services that the museum makes available are related to the acquisition, conservation, research, exhibition and communication of various testimonies , this means that the museum must also be attentive to all the moments in which it comes into contact with the users who visit it and to any activity that can contribute to their satisfaction and knowledge.

Returning to the relationship we are trying to establish between these two entities, it must be said that museums and video games share common aspects. The first is certainly of a planning nature, because at the base of both is the need to build and organize viable spaces in which to set up a story (not only of storytelling, but of planning, setting up and level design). A second aspect is given by the activity that is present in the nature of the videogame, that is “collecting” and indicates an optional activity of the player in the game world which consists in collecting objects, resources and places. Finally, both the museum and the video game share a social dimension of the experience, which for the museum seems obvious, while for the gaming it is the result of a debate that started from a perception of the medium as antisocial and which has been questioned since the birth of online multiplayer video games and the creation of other forms of entertainment, such as seeing other players play. In this regard, it is possible to understand the various contaminations and or relationships between museums and video games, and thus how the museum is re-interpreted in the eyes of gaming.

In fact, the idea of ​​a museum is continually reworked by cultures and subcultures that re-adapt it in various ways, representing it, quoting it, using it as a set or simply in a simply rhetorical key (think of the world of cinema); but as regards the video game, it too has used the museum with the media specificities that distinguish it, such as being able to give an immersive interaction with explorable virtual environments but always based on narration, to give examples just think of the classic Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis made public by LucasArts in 1992, which in addition to being a cross-media example (i.e. from cinema to video games), the museum is the nerve center of Indiana’s investigative activities. The game, based on the “point and click” philosophy, takes place for the most part inside the Barnett College museum where Indiana teaches archeology. The museum is perceived by the user as a bare and dark place, in which the objects (mainly artifacts, sculptures of various sizes) do not have a well-reasoned and precise museographic arrangement, on the contrary, they are stacked.

Also in Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Lara Croft is seen sneaking into the Louvre to get hold of confidential documents from the curator of the mysteriously murdered archaeological section. In the corridors of the reconstructed “Louvre” it is possible to admire Veronese’s Wedding at Cana, the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (incorrectly exhibited in the Louvre in the game, but in truth it is located in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence), the Immaculate Conception by Tiepolo (also not exhibited at the Parisian museum but at the Prado in Madrid), the Coronation of Thorns by Titian and obviously the Mona Lisa, above which there is the air duct to exit the building. It is also interesting to note how the zenith light, typical of the Grand Galerie of the Louvre, is re-proposed in the videogame. So, in these first two examples, the protagonists are real “professionals” such as art historians or archaeologists who use the museum as a place to collect clues for adventures and research outside the academic schemes. The museum is consequently the place reserved for the specialist who, going beyond what is exhibited, can access truer meanings.

Another type of museum that is reproduced in video games is the museum as an instrument of power; a completely limiting museum, which tells a truth that represents the narrative context of the game itself, as evidenced by the Bioshock saga, a series developed between 2007 and 2013, by the International Games.

The Bioshock museums are visited by the player in moments of decay and abandonment and not in full swing, a typical element that feeds the horror atmosphere and restlessness, thus representing a despotic and indoctrinating place for teaching the masses.

Finally, there are cases in which the video game has been adopted and promoted by the museum for other purposes, such as as an educational and marketing tool. And this is precisely where our two greatest examples fall: the case of the MANN (Father and Son) and the case of the Victoria and Albert (Secret Seekers).

The examples made so far are nothing more than cases in which the video game becomes a tool for transmitting educational contents connected to the museum in an autonomous way: the use, the actual gaming activity, takes place in contexts inside and outside the museum and represents a way to approach a wider audience (audience development, a process aimed at expanding, diversifying audiences and improving the conditions of use and in the museum environment the premise for the massive involvement of visitors is that the museum must present itself not as a place that the public appreciates for its cultural qualities but also as a tool that makes its resources available for the effective growth of the community and consequently the cultural institution must be able to make people come back to visit) which is not easily accessible in the context of marketing strategies linked to the enhancement of assets, however, perspectives are always at the center of The attention of the institutions themselves. So the museum reflecting itself in the video game and vice versa, mirroring a smoothed out version of their respective natures and their complexity.

The storytelling, the collecting drive, the tendency to deepen the experience, the return to relive the activities already done in the previous visit with other users and the interactivity that must be increasingly individualized, are all activities attributable to the museum that attempts in these recent times of relating to the video game from various points of view: including it among the objects worthy of being preserved and exhibited, but also using it in a conscious way of its narrative and interactive skills as a place in which to experiment completely new forms of involvement.

Consequently, the museum must not renounce the complexity and the critical vocation that it must maintain and care for in a contemporaneity that questions the assumptions on which it is based. The museum then, in getting in touch with the videogame, is exploring a path that proves to be of great value both in terms of teaching and in the design of new ways to communicate and organize new content.

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