Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Serious Play

I am just returning from the Serious Play Conference -- on gaming -- in Redmond, CA, heart of Microsoft, home of DigiPen, a university dedicated to interactive technologies.  OK, so why Serious Play?

First off, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (phonetically: chick sen me hi. Along with everyone else who has ever read this brilliant guy, I wondered) reminded us that play is always serious.  Play, for children, is the work of learning, how to bond, walk, talk, eat, read, compete and collaborate.  For adults, same, and then some -- rise to the challenge, necessary for personal development into old age, a component of creativity and of cultural evolution.

And playfulness?  Playfulness is the quality of experience people feel when they do something they enjoy for its own sake, usually in games, sports, artistic activities, but also in work, love, cooking, and other "serious" activities.  
And play is the a primary component of Csikszentmihalyi’s primary topic: flow. What is flow? A person can said to be experiencing flow when his attention is focused on a limited stimulus field -- like writing this article -- fully concentrating, not even thinking of what is occurring, really. But I did here that motorcycle driving by... As Csikszentmihalyi said, the roof could cave in and go unnoticed.  Action and awareness merge.  There is freedom from worry about failure.  You feel nothing can stop you. Self-consciousness disappears.  You are unaware of your body.  Time becomes distorted.  The experience becomes its own reward. You do it for the satisfaction it gives; because you love it.

What resonated with me about games for museums, seriously
    • Play can be seen as practice: Build, fail, test, do again. What better model for learning? You fail often in order to succeed. The pace is set by the player, through interesting choices, if the game is well designed, and includes meaningful, challenging choices.  All of this, just good pedagogy!  But remember, a game in an exhibit is usually played only once by the visitor so it better be easy to access.  
    • Making and playing games are an act of creativity. No systemization in place yet.  System architecture is long way off, apparently.  As when technology first infiltrated our hollowed halls in the 70s (I was there), the technology budgets are weak, and games can be expensive. Our organizational structure and staffing are probably inadequate. 
    • Building the game - 25% of cost; evaluating, tweaking, improving, the game - 75% of the cost.  Marketing is on top of that.
    • The business model for all current museum games mentioned at the conference -- in exhibits, played in the museum halls, or online -- had the museum, not the visitor (the player), paying for the game. Could we find a way to up-charge for games as we might do for a special exhibit?
    • t was reported at the Serious Game Conference that new production models frequently applied to games could bring creativity and innovation in design thinking to museums: empathize, define, ideaize, prototype, test, do over.  This could have positive effect on exhibit, publication, and program development, it was said.  This was also said in every decade since the 1970s by every group of smart young technologist with shiny new toys for us then.  Edwards Deming Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Change/Quality Management Cycle helped in the 1980s. I won’t belabor the point with Jim Collins in the 90s, etc.   

My final point: our multigenerational audiences watch and play games, in droves, online, on boards and screens of every size, on playing fields and swimming pools and woods and hiking trails, in urban environments and in the backs of cars, and they learn as they play.  We need to be aware of that and make rational decision to include game making and play, or not, in our programming mix.

Find out more and online games at the following museums:  Science Museum, UK; Strong Museum of Play, Museum of London, J. Paul Getty Museum, Indianapolis Children's MuseumNYTimesNYTimes Article by Chris Suellentrop. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rubber Tire Tour: Museums, Roanoke Region

The stone, glass and steel 21st Century Taubman Museum of Art lifts itself from the 19th Century brick surround of Roanoke.  Somehow, this building now belongs in its place; it has settled into a reflection of its neighbors, with a slight and welcome patina. Inside, even better.  Della Watkins, Director, and her colleagues, offer choice, quality exhibitions by turns tender, playful, provocative, and compelling. Programs align with the exhibitions and include many opportunities for families. The museum is free, the gift shop well-stocked, the new cafe welcoming.  

Museum visits begin with the website. Taubman writes about its exhibitions and programs with an unusually sensitive intelligence. http://www.taubmanmuseum.org/main/exhibitions/current  

Supporting a museums of this scale and quality in a market the size of Roanoke is no small achievement.  As reported by the press, the museum has faced financial hardships, to be expected of any museum opening at the start of the economic downturn.  It founders have returned to the Taubman, sometimes wishing they could release it, I’m sure, but with it nonetheless.  It looks to me as if this museum is going to be one of those that could, and did, and does for a long time to come.  www/taubmanmuseum.org

Roof Top Garden, above, Center in the Squarewww.centerinthesquare.org Roanoke, reopened, completely renovated, May 2013, houses three museums: the all volunteer Harrison Museum of African American Culture www.harrisonmuseum.com History Museum of Western Virginia, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.  

The exhibitions of the History Museum of Western Virginia are as good as history museums get. One explains the human migration through Southwest Virginia through the 20th century in the region.  A Civil War exhibition commemorates the sesquicentennial.  Both excellent.  The museum can be said to be fully formed.
Two week’s after opening, the museum laid off its director and fund raiser.  It has a debt of more than $1 million.  A board member has stepped in as acting director. This serious situation remains unresolved.  www.vahistorymuseum.org/

The Science Museum of Western Virginia remains a work in progress, rightfully so. They have not raised (or spent) the money necessary for all new exhibitions so they have smartly revitalized old exhibits which work perfectly well in their new space.  A new butterfly garden, knowledgeably staffed, occupies the top floor.  An OmniGlobe, animates weather patterns over millions of years on Earth and even other planets.  Everything I saw works and many families were enjoying, engaging, learning, having fun.  www.smwv.or
Still under wraps, before opening, Science Museum of Western Virginia
D-Day Memorial
Eighty-eight acres hugh, built in Bedford because, proportionally, this tiny town lost more men than any other town in American.  Washingtonians (me) love their memorials, so I can say the D-Day Memorial stands shoulders above anything in DC. We have nothing of this scale, grandeur, or poignancy.  Perhaps having the memorial in Bedford where so many men lost walked to school, kissed a girl for the first time, helped their fathers in the fields adds to the grace and meaning.  The artistic quality of the sculpture, the landscape -- hard and soft -- and the water features working together provide a transcending experience. 

The D-Day Memorial has undergone recent leadership transitions.  Considering the fiscal sustainability of this site might wither those with the sternest military bones. Currently, the memorial is a private 501(3)c nonprofit and no doubt must find a suitable partner to share in the on-going care of this astounding American treasure.  To my thinking, this should be a federal partner because this site has undeniable national and international reach. www.dday.org

Mr. Jefferson’s Summer Retreat:  Poplar Forrest

A website is never a substitute for an on-site visit, but if ever there was a website worth reading, www.poplarforest.org is one. Here you will find rich depth, built layer-by-layer, over years as painstaking archeology uncovered Jefferson’s creative genius.  Thomas Jefferson’s very private retreat house were nearly lost to encroaching redevelopment when, in the 1980s, a small group of local residents joined together to protect the site. Today, as they say so well:

        Poplar Forest's unique contribution lies in its unparalleled personal scale,
        its contemplative character, and the immediacy of its message for the life of the mind.
        It can stimulate reflection and learning through providing high-quality experiences for 
        smaller numbers of people onsite and through radiating ideas to greater numbers via technology.

Poplar Forest also has a new director -- Jeffery Nichols, a man with historic site experience, and like Jefferson, unbounded intellectual curiosity, dreams for a better future and a commitment to generations to come. www.poplarforest.com