Video Games in Art Museums?

It might seem that gamers and art museums have nothing in common. Two different worlds that rarely intersect each other, says common sense. But, a new series of events organised by We Are Museums In Cooperation with the Smithsonian Presented by the Villa Albertine and the The Cultural Services of the French Embassy In the U S tries to prove the contrary.

Video games and art have common grounds, and if they don’t, they should.

Video games are considered a form of art, but nowadays museums also need games and/or gamification elements in order to attract new audiences and engage with the public. 

Professionals that already have experience in working with video games and were early welcomers of video games share from their experiences and learnings.

Centre Pompidou was among the first to welcome video games, by organising a series of workshop Ateliers de Machinima, curated by Isabelle Arvers. More about Machinima workshop

The Art of Video Games was an exhibition by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2012, with a huge media coverage, announcing that the art world is officially prepared to embrace video games. you can read ”Videogames Politely Invade Smithsonian Art Museum” by Chris Kohler

The first session has as guests: Brad MacDonald – Creative Media, Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building, and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History , and Augustin Pagenot from Centre Pompidou with Olivier Mauco Director, Game in Society  were the guest in a discussion moderated by Host: María Luján Oulton, Directora de Game on! El arte en juego, Game Arts International Assembly (GAIA), Women in Games Argentina (Argentina).

They presented and debated what are the challenges and opportunities when museums want to create video games themselves to expand exhibition, as a way to interact, to think of new ways of education, and obviously in a world with more and more games, how can your games stand out?

Prisme 7 is the first game developed by Centre Pompidou and co-conceived in collaboration with the agency Game in Society and Bright, in partnership with Ircam Amplify (that created the sound design for the game), with the support of the French Ministry.  Please read about on official page of Centre Pompidou

This was also the first video launch by a French Museum. It was launched in the pandemic in april 2020, and currently it is available in 4 languages: French, English, Spanish and Simplified Chinese. It is a 7-level game that lasts about 1.5 hours, got a 4.3 rating (out of 5) and it is free available on PC, Mac and smartphones. 

Augustin Pagenot from Centre Pompidou explained that Prisme 7 was conceived as a medium to get youth into the collection through a video game, thus encouraging youth according to the principle of ‘learning by doing’.

In addition, Prisme 7 had to be a game, not an educational tool, but a fun, immersive element. Educational aspects come across the games, but not as leading elements. And here came into the equation the video game agency Game in Society. 

You can download Prisme 7 here

Further, Augustin Pagenot meentioned that the idea and decision to make a video game had several reasons: the institution wanted to open a new conversation between art and museum and to reach to younger audiences (teenagers 12-16 years old), innovate in the field of outreach and education, to bring closer gaming and museum visiting. 

After the launch, different events followed like “Chill & Game Jam” in spring 2021.( Please consult the event page) The idea was to let participants to present and pitch game ideas, create game models and present them to a Jury without competition. The game can be showcased in other Centre Pompidou Centers from Malaga (Spain) or Shanghai (China). 

The release of the video game led to some learning on both parts. For Centre Pompidou, the game came with new opportunities such as:


Infusing gaming and gamification elements into museum visits
-As Centre Pompidou is rich in collection, presenting artists and art by using new media and games
-Being present for afar – The game was played from countries such as Brazil, is an incredible opportunity to have a Centre Pompidou experience through a video game.
-From a video game agency perspective, Olivier Mauco from Game in Society highlighted that:
-Games might act as a social space, designing playful spaces where you can spend times on cultural and artistic opportunities might be the road to Metaverse
-From a Content perspective, there can be mini-games or long formats and developers can adapt content to the audience.
-Balanced Business Model is also a question, more specifically how to develop sustainable models and invent new business models via paid games or NFTs?

Having huge experience in gaming and also years of collaborations with museums, Brad MacDonald, Smithsonian highlighted that when deciding on games, there are some aspects to be taken into consideration as early as possible:  

Platform– will this be a VR, AR, Mobile game? The platform selection is critical and has an enormous impact on the type of game. All of these are good platforms, depending on what type of games and its objective.
Portability – as most games are portable, as a museum would you plan to leverage that portability of the games, for example for travelling or for partner initiatives. The game could be a browser-based game or it can be stored on a dedicated machine
Accessibility – if you want to be as accessible as possible, you have to plan early for example for audio, screen caption, or it can be adapted for people with reduced mobility, etc All these have an impact on how it is made
Process – Developing games is an iterative process, the developer team learns from the prototype what is fun, if the players are learning or can complete the experience, and what has to be changed, improved, adapted, shortly: what works and what doesn’t work.
Manage scope and expectation – Games can inflate quickly, can become complicated, and the advice it to keep them compact and focused, reminding the team the objective.
Embrace paper prototyping – to better understand the games, the systems mechanics, even before engaging the developers teams.
Research games and Play games! – if your museum team is considering developing games, start by playing them, you can’t develop something that you don’t know. Don’t have to become a player, but you have to familiarise yourself with the games, and research what kind of games are already on the same topics.

Before start developing a game, Brad MacDonald suggested that museums should also consider that followings:
Be clear about the learning outcomes: what do want players to get from the experience?
Do you really want to make a game? A game is competitive, has gains and losses. Is it that you want to make or you rather want an experience that is interactive with game-like elements?
Replayability – games are not a once and done model
Time – what are your anticipated times?
Accessibility – games have consequences, are competitive, and how does that relate to your institution? Does your institution want that? Or you would prefer everybody to be a winner? Or how do you manage for example someone with impaired visibility to play against others?
Learning – Games aren’t didactic. Let your players explore, or fail and learn and improve next time.

The first session organised by We Are Museums In Cooperation with the Smithsonian Presented by the Villa Albertine and the The Cultural Services of the French Embassy In the U S

In case you want to join other session please consult the AGENDA of the EVENT…