Games in Museums

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Orlando Science Center and see Pompeii: The Immortal City. This exhibit focuses on daily life in the titular Roman town, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 BCE. (“Pompeii: The Immortal City”) I had been looking forward to visiting this traveling exhibition for some time. In addition to having an interest in ancient history, I was intrigued as to what the advertised “multimedia experiences” would be. (ibid) As a game design student, I was hopeful said experiences would provide an opportunity for me to enjoy some educational computer games, also known as edutainment. (Underberg-Goode)

Unfortunately the multimedia used in Pompeii: The Immortal City consisted mostly of videos recreating what life was like prior to the eruption. There were a few screens spread through the exhibit where visitors could play a brief game where they had to excavate a small area by picking the right tools, and then tapping the screen to uncover artifacts. This game was straightforward to learn and effectively got its education message across (i.e. different tools are used to excavate different things), but I wish there had been more than just this one game. For example, the part of the exhibit that focused on what food the ancient Romans consumed could have benefited from a game where players have to put together a plate of food that an ancient Roman would eat. Ideally, they would select food that was mentioned in the exhibit (e.g. bread, wine, dormice), and be awarded with positive feedback (e.g. an image of a Roman mosaic showing a feast). Conversely, should they choose food the Romans did not eat (e.g. pizza, Nutella, spaghetti) a fresco of a battle would display, indicating the player’s choices would not have gone over well with the Romans.

Although Pompeii: The Immortal City is a traveling installation, the Orlando Science Center also has permanent exhibits. Thankfully, these offered more examples of edutainment. The Our Planet exhibit in particular offered an impressive variety of interactive opportunities, including a make-your-own-weather-forecast video game, and a cyclone simulator physical game. While its temporary nature would make it difficult for Pompeii: The Immortal City to include larger physical interactive games such the cyclone simulator, it does offers an ideal environment for the use of video games. Due to there digital nature, video games are not hard to transport. They can also be designed to be played on platforms that are often already available at museums, such as TVs and computers. Video games also have an edge over physical games since they are easier to duplicate. Looking at the earlier examples from Our Planet, to set up another make-your-own-weather game (acquiring another terminal/computer and installing a program) would be relatively simple compared to creating another cyclone simulator (acquiring wood/plexiglass/sand/particles/screws/adherents, constructing a new simulator from scratch, testing to see make sure it works like the existing simulator, etc.). That said, I’m not recommending that physical edutainment should be phased out. Instead, I believe museums can benefit from a mix of physical and digital game models. Similar to what we find in game design prototypes, digital versions will often be more complex, but physical models can be just as important by showing people the nuts and bolts of what makes something work.


Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 7: Prototyping” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.

“Pompeii: The Immortal City.” Orlando Science Center, Accessed 5 November 2020.

Underberg-Goode, Natalie. “Chapter 4: The Home Computer and Hobbyist Programmer.” The Evolution of Video Games. Great River Learning, 2018.

The Effectiveness of Procedural Rhetoric

In middle school my classmates and I would spend our free time in between classes playing video games. However, the school IT department was relentless in blocking any sites that might distract us from academic work. Amidst this student vs. IT cold war, word started spreading about an unblocked game that allowed you to manage a McDonald’s. There was great rejoicing among the student population upon this discovery of a new unblocked game. I was particularly excited to try it out, since my health-nut mother forbid our family from patronizing the golden arches. Little did I know when I started up McDonald’s Videogame that I was about to get schooled on the dark side of fast food. I recall when I cut down my first swathe of rainforest thinking “it will be OK, more forest will just grow back,” only to realize too late that there was no way to replant the destroyed resource. The longer I played the game, the more ethically questionable choices I was forced to make. Eventually I decided on a strategy of intentionally sabotaging my operation. If I don’t have enough meat to make burgers or intentionally serve illness-inducing food, surely people will stop coming and I won’t need as much, right? Wrong. I asked a teacher if the game accurately depicted how McDonald’s works in the real world, and to my horror she confirmed the game’s accuracy. After that day, I never begged my parents to take me to McDonald’s again.

How does this tale of youthful ignorance relate to the dry academic title of this post? It’s because when my classmates and I played McDonald’s Videogame we unknowingly came into exposure with procedural rhetoric, or “the practice of using processes” (in this case videogames) to persuade. (125) In his article “The Rhetoric of Video Games” Ian Bogost gives a thorough explanation of what procedural rhetoric is and why it is useful. While Bogost does mention how not all games have intentional procedural rhetoric, he does not touch on what might happen if an audience is unaware of procedural rhetoric’s presence. Based on my own experience, I would argue that regardless of whether or not an audience is conscious of procedural rhetoric it will still work. In fact, the persuasive power of procedural rhetoric could be enhanced by the audience being unaware of it’s presence. This is because if they were aware, they might not be open to the process or hold bias. For example, if my classmates and I had been told McDonald’s Videogame would teach us about the ethical ills of the titular fast food giant, we likely would not have been keen on playing it. This is because the implied educational intention contradicted our reason for playing video games (i.e. as a way to take a break in between being educated). While Bogost does not highlight it in his article, I believe an audience’s awareness of the presence of procedural rhetoric can influence it’s persuasive power.


Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games.” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117–140.

McDonald’s Videogame. Molleindustria, 2006.

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