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, http://www.osc.org/pompeii/. Accessed 5 November 2020.
Underberg-Goode, Natalie. “Chapter 4: The Home Computer and Hobbyist Programmer.” The Evolution of Video Games. Great River Learning, 2018. https://ucf.grtep.com/index.cfm/videogameevolution/page/chapter4section2.