Prototyping “the Community”

Hi Nashwa,

Thanks for your comments on our previous post. I thought I’d start a new one, so we can easily share your screen-caps of work so far. (Just to recap, we’re using this blog as our dialogue in the spirit of sharing implicit in the Opposites Attract Challenge.)


Lets start with this one. The functionality on the top half is exactly what we talked about. I just need to think of some words that “gamify” it – turning it into an adventure rather than a form. It was easy coming up with the ideas visually in our previous thread, but when it come down to actually writing, making the story fit into the tiny number of words we have on the screen is a challenge in itself. We’ll return to this subject.

The lower half of the screen isn’t doing what I imagined when we last spoke. Or rather its DOING exactly as I imagined (excellent work on your part), but it doesn’t have the effect I imagined. Lets work it through…

We wanted to include the idea of time counting countdown, not to help the tutor plan their work, but rather to add a sense of jeopardy to the challenge. Correct me if I’m wrong, but because we decided to set the challenge as the completion of all the first four blocks on your original gameboard, these four different timers will always display the same number? I mean to say, the challenge is that the tutor has (in this case) seven days to complete the last task on the list. But s/he must complete the first three tasks before s/he can start that last one. So if indeed, it takes seven days to complete the first task (discover students’ learning preferences), then they will have run out of time to do the other three. So would it be better to have just one timer counting down and a checklist, something like this?


And I wonder whether it might be more fun to have the timer counting down days, hours, minutes, seconds and hundredths of a second (if that’s even possible in Visual) so that its changing all the time, giving an increased sense of urgency to the task. I also wonder if this lower half would work best as a window/page/tab of its own? (If it did, I imagine it would become the main screen when the app is being run.)

Each block of text could act as a button to take you to the activity, so for example when I click on “Discover Students’ Learning Prefs” it would take me to this screen:


This functions pretty much exactly as we discussed, but I have a couple of questions. What does the “Show Students’ VARK” button do? Does the validate need a button? I was hoping that, if the number of against each style didn’t total the number of students on the course the “Next block” (task? challenge?) button would be ghosted (or replaced with a message like “Get your students to complete the test and tell you their preference”) and it would only become operational when the total matched the number of students.

Next couple of screens. Does selecting a plan on this screen:


… lead to this screen?:


I thinking about what the app is asking the the tutor to input here. It’s offering links out to (in this case) services that might be useful, but what does the tutor have to do to say “Yes, I’ve completed my pedagogical planning!” We need to think a bit more about this.

I’m running out of time her before I need to pick up my boy from school, so two things. First of all, I like this screen:


But we need to settle of a fixed aspect ratio to build our screen designs into – at the moment, I think they are adapted to whatever we’ve asked them to do. And secondly, check out this link. My wife’s company is gamifying the selling of financial products, and here they are using a superhero narrative to give basic financial advice.



I dreary day to photograph a fine building, but the meeting made up for the weather!
A dreary day to photograph a fine building, but the meeting made up for the weather!

Just a quick note today to reflect on the meeting I had this morning with Gillian Dow, Executive Director of Chawton House Library. This place has been preying on my thoughts since I visited for the last Sound Heritage workshop. In fact, somebody (my friend Jane and her colleague Hilary) had suggested last year that it might be the perfect place to try out my Responsive Environment ideas. But my visit for Sound Heritage made me think more and more that they were right.

  • The place has many interesting stories but ones that can conflict with each other. Do people what to know about it’s centuries as a residence for the Knight family, its connections with Austen, and/or its modern day research into early female writers?
  • It’s a place that hasn’t been open to the public long (this year its its first full season welcoming days out visitors) and is still finding it’s voice.
  • Its relatively free of “stuff” and has modern display systems (vitrines and hanging rails), which means that creating the experience should not be too disruptive.
  • It has pervasive wi-fi (the library’s founding patron Sandy Lerner, co-founded Cisco systems) which will make the experiment a lot easier and cheaper to run, even though I’ve decided to Wizard of Oz it.

So today I explained my ideas to Gillian and, I’m pleased to say, she liked them. We’ve provisionally agreed to do something in the early part of 2017, before that year’s major exhibition is installed. I brought away a floor plan of the house, and I have just this moment received a copy of the draft guidebook, so I can start breaking the story into “natoms”. It looks very much like its all systems go!

I have to say I’m very excited.

(But right now, I’m meant to be taking the boy camping so, I’ll leave it there…

The Community (of Practice)

Hi Nashwa,

I have taken the liberty (and I hope you don’t mind) of trying to be really open about our collaborative process. As I explained when we met, my blog is sort of like my notebook, wherein I reflect on my reading. It’s more often that not off the top of my head – I type and publish, without much editing (which goes some way to explain all the typos) or structure.

We agreed that, due to our various commitments beyond university, most of our collaboration would be on-line. So what I’m typing here might be what I’d written to you in an email, but given the experimental, open and collaborative nature of the Opposites Attract Challenge, I thought it might be fun to share our thoughts and discussions in this public way. Then, even if we fail to produce anything that works in the next six weeks, we’ll at least have a series of posts on this blog to share at the Festival! If you’d prefer not to communicate quite so openly, I totally understand. We can go back to more a private medium like email.

So anyhow, the challenge we set ourselves when we met was:

We are going to prototype an app for tutors and course leaders that will gamify the objective of creating on-line Communities of Practice among their students.

It might be worth catching up on what we mean by “gamification”, and handily, I recently wrote a blog post on that very subject. A paper linked to in that post suggests that gamification uses “motivational affordances” like: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge. Some of the other ludic affordances I’ve encountered in my reading include things like music and presence (the feeling of being in the virtual world) which might be affordances too far in the six weeks we have to complete this project.

You’ve already got a “game metaphor” going for your research work, and that’s a board-game, like Snakes and Ladders, wherein course leaders work their way up to a winning square. So in gamification terms, you’ve already been thinking about affordances like Acheivement and Levels, Clear Goals and (on squares 5 and 11) Feedback. What we are looking to add (I think – but stop me if you disagree) are some of the other affordances, like Story, Rewards and Badges.

So, I thought I’d share with you, to kick off the discussion, some cuttings from my sketchbook, and my thoughts so far. Our clear objective is the creation of a Community of Practice, and a story that I’ve been playing with (but I’m not committed to) comes in three acts: Gathering the Tribe; Settling the Farmland, and Founding the City, which correspond with the three levels of your original game metaphor.

So, for example, the first part of Gathering the Tribe, is the first square of your game board. (Actually, no, the very first thing our player does is came his/her course and input the number of students on it, on a simple screen I’ve sketched above, with some ideas for badges won for simply adding classes – the proportion of returns s/he gets from students will very likely be the trigger for badges as you will see later.) The first square of your gameboard is about getting students to do a self-assessment learning preferences test. As the cohort share their results, I imagined the tutor inputting them into the app – not as individuals (likely to be all sorts of DPA issues around that) but simply number of students of each type in the class. Of course, s/he could input them as Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinaesthetic and Multimodal, but I thought it might be fun instead to represent them as characters within the story or theme, thus:

  Quite why our tribe needs safe-crackers, I have not yet worked out, there may well be a better role to represent those with the Auditory learning preference. Here’s a question for you, does the VARK test return simply these four types plus multi-modal? Or are there other results that we’d need to find character classes for?

I thought of a couple of other badges the tutor might win during this process, which have no real impact on the game result, but may well act as motivators. When the tutor first gets one student of each type, s/he might win a “Full House” badge:  

 And when the total number of students of each type matches (or exceeds) the number in the class, s/he wins a 100%! badge (this might be a badge that appears, possibly in variant form for other challenges too):

 Maybe on completion of this first challenge, s/he also gets a “Behaviorist” badge:

   (A rather poor rendition of a jug of knowledge, about to be pours into an empty vessel.) Of course our tutor might offended by being called a behaviorist, but if they understand that they can win a “Constructivist” badge by completing more of the quest, this might be a very effective motivator 🙂

Your squares 2 and 3 appear in my level 2, Finding the Way. As they complete the tasks set by your recommendations, the path to a place to settle becomes clearer. And our tutor might win Explorer and Map Maker badges too:


With Pedgogical and Technical plans completed and the Wiki Framework in place, we are into Act Two, Settling the Farmland (your square 5). I’m less certain about what the tutor’s tasks should be for these next few squares on your board, and thus the rewards, but for some reason I thought this “Dib Dib Dib” badge would be a good idea (it probably isn’t):

   I did think though, that we should reward those disgruntled behavioursists with a shiny new Constructivist badge as soon as they’ve completed your square 5:

  And square 9 should be when they get their Socio-constructivist (or should that be Connectivist? I’m a bit confused) badge:  

 Between those two levels, I was floundering a bit:  

 I thought that at square eight is might be fun to reward our tutor with a role/grade according to what proportion of their students are suggesting topics and resources. Using a corporate metaphor for example, just 10% of your students suggesting topics would earn you the lowest Team Leader rank, 100% would make you Chairman of the Board, and in between you might become Assistant Manager; Manager; Head of Department; VP; President; or CEO. The whole corporate metaphor doesn’t fit very well with my Tribal story, but I’m nervous of making up ranks in a tribal society for fear of being too “orientalist”, and I already discarded a military one from Cadet to General. Given that by square 8 we’re about to move in Act 3 of our story Founding the City, a civic ranking system, with Mayor at the top might be more appropriate. What do you think?

By your level 10, I was feeling more confident suggesting  an “Architect” badge:

  And on your square 11, the tutor earns a “Wise Old One” badge, because at this point we are preparing the tutor to let go of his/her community building, and let the Community of Practice that they help create survive on its own terms (I think? Am I right?).
  And that’s about as far as got. How about you?

Time Explorers

Time Explorers Pastport, can you decrypt the puzzle?
Time Explorers Pastport, can you decrypt the puzzle?

To Hampton Court, to meet with Beatrice and Katherine, colleagues from Chartwell, my Marketing colleague Philippa and, from Historic Royal Palaces, Jane and Fenella. We looked in on some atmospheric live interpretation (this time not by Past Pleasures but a company of actors recruited for a more dramatic presentation of the Tudor apartments over the summer) but the main business of the day was to talk with them about their Time Explorers digital missions app, which I’d first encountered on a recent visit to the Tower of London.

I’d blagged my way on to the visit, which Beatrice had organised, because I wanted to hear first hand the thinking behind the app. At a very basic level, its a children’s trail. Aimed at groups with children aged seven to eleven, it can be downloaded, prior to visiting on on the Palace’s free wifi (iOS only, at the time of writing), or picked up on up to 50 pre-loaded iPads, that the palace offers for free to visiting families, or at a reasonable charge to school groups.

The same app offers three digital missions at Hampton Court, and another two at the Tower of London. There are plans to offer more content at both places, and eventually at the other Historic Royal Palaces. The app framework cost HRP around £200k to commission (from GR/DD), and each new mission will cost something like £10k-£15k to produce. This investment isn’t just in the app, but in the Time Explorers brand, which will widen to include other digital (on-line) content, printed trails and other activities on-site, and possibly even retail products.

We each took a pad and split up to make sure we could cover all the missions. I took the architecture trail, and was charged by Vanbrough to help him assess the Tudor palace for renovation. As anyone who has ever done a paper children’s trail will agree, most are simply spotters’ lists – “can you see the (x – either historic feature/detail or partially hidden soft toy or similar anachronistic item)” – and within these digital missions there were indeed a few activities that followed along similar lines. I had to identify some of the creatures carved on top of the great hall for example. Using my favorite list of ludic motivation triggers, this is the basic acquisition trigger.

There was an added twist in that if I claimed to see a creature that wasn’t actually there, I’d lose a “time gem”. I had five such activities to work through, and any wrong answers would cost a time gem. If I didn’t get any wrong then each activity would earn me five gems. This loss of time gems is what I’d describe as a challenge trigger. One of my colleagues valiantly got all her answers wrong to see if it was possible to lose all her gems, and it is, but game takes pity on you and returns one gem to avoid saddling parents with distraught (if unobservant) children. Not all the activities involved observation skills, some asked participants to speculate on behaviours, or the order of importance of things. And these arguably did little aid the stated aim of lifting children’s heads from the screen to look around them. But as they construct meaning in this way, then the learning trigger definitely kicks in. When they do look up, the environment offers them presence triggers, spectacle and sensation.

What the game does not have, ludicly, is a social trigger, Fenella explained that the game is mean to be played with groups sharing one machine, but there is little in the game play to encourage social interaction (though I’ve just remembered a feature wherein you can take a photo of a friend and dress him – but make sure its a He, choose a female friend and you’ll lose time gems). The designers eschewed music too, and speech, so as not to disturb other visitors – which may have been a wise decision. There is much story in each challenge either, which is rather a waste of the patrons (like my Vanbrough), my collegues commented that after the Venician spymaster had given the players their objective in another mission, there was no story that made them “feel like a spy.”

Challenge returns at the end of the mission when the time gems you have retained define the number of seconds you have to get as many questions as you can right in a quiz, testing what you’ve learned so far. Here I found a bug. My architecture mission crashed when I tried to take the quiz. The application recovered very well and I hadn’t lost my progress in the mission, but every time I tried to take the quiz, it would crash and recover again. In the end I took another mission, and completed that quiz. The number of correct answers to got are added to the number of gems to retained to give every player grade from bronze to gold.  A nice acquisition trigger, and then you can claim your Pastport and badge (again, acquisition) as pictured above. It a nicely considered decision, if you complete more missions, at any palace, you can collect the relevant badges to add to your pastport.

I did try that architecture quiz again, and having completed the second mission and quiz, it didn’t crash, but repeated the second mission’s quiz!

The badges have given me plenty to think about for my Opposites Attract challenge, which I’ll consider over the weekend.

Another day, another Escape Room

Hot on the heels of my first Escape Room experience, I joined the leadership team from Polesden Lacey on Wednesday, for an intensive day of learning from London heritage and tourist attractions. The day involved the recently refurbished Museum of Childhood, theatre in museums at the V&A in South Kensington, and a pop-up catering experience, but the most relevent element to the subject of this blog was Time Run, a very different escape room to History Mystery.

Built into a very unprepossessing industrial space near London Fields, Time Run did not connect with the place in the way that History Mystery did. The mystery was entirely made up, based on the myth/legend of the Spear of Destiny, or Holy Lance, which (according to the Gospel of St. John) a roman soldier (named as Longinus, but not in the bible) used to stab the crucified Jesus to make sure he was dead. According to some conspiracy theorists, the whole second world war was started by Hitler in order to obtain the magical power of the relic.

Which of course makes a great premise for a game which took us players to a future Space Station, orbiting the earth, had us raiding an ancient temple, and finalling sneaking into the office of fascist architect Albert Speer. (aha I just realised Speer – Spear! I must be slow on the uptake).

Our property team was divided into four competing teams, with two starting at the same time, and the next two starting 45 minutes later. So the space duplicates the rooms and puzzles and obviously expects each team to take about 20 minutes in each room, and then the operators to take about 20 minutes putting the room back together for the following group. This set up seems a lot more time efficient and sustainable than History Mystery, but does rely on being able to replicate sets within a “white space”. Trying such dual operation in an historic space would be more difficult. Having the teams progress through three rooms though, would mean a higher turn-over of customers and thus be more sustainable, as the tidy up team doesn’t have to wait for the whole experience to be over before getting to work. After the experience (my team were the only one of four to complete the puzzles, by the way, but even we went three minutes over time) we asked what sort of staff they had to operate the venue, and they said there were eight people.

The sets and puzzles, unrestrained from conservation concerns or fact, where rich and more detailed than those of History Mystery. The temple for example had “stone” pillars that could be swiveled, wall panels that slid away and statues that could be moved about (the house conservation team joked about having to put on cotton gloves before daring to touch the them).

All in all it had more of the feel of the 80’s channel four show The Crystal Maze (which has now become an escape room experience of its own).

Now I have to dash, I’m joining other team who are visiting Hampton Court Palace today.

Opposites Attract

Today I met with Nashwa Ismail, my collaborator for the next six weeks on the Opposites Attract challenge, which I first wrote about a couple of weeks back. We had some say in our collaboration partners, but the final decision was made by the organisers, which I’m thankful for because everyone I’d met at the earlier session was so good it would have been very hard for me to choose.

We talked a little bit about each others studies. Nashwa shared with me her “game metaphore” for building interactive communities of practice among students using on-line collaboration tools (such as wikis). As I read, way back in August 2014, students get more out of online discussions, the more they put in. So Nashwa’s efforts are about enabling course leaders to better encourage that on-line interaction among their students. *edit* I forgot to mention we also discussed the debate around learning styles, which I prefer to think of as preferences, and Nashwa shared another free on-line test, the VARK questionnaire, which I hadn’t seen before. I’m pleased to see that, although headlined “learning styles”, it tells me I have a “learning preference.” I had a go this morning, and I’ve posted my results above.

The game that she is using as a metaphor for the process is a board-game a bit like snakes and ladders. We talked about the different motivational mechanics that games use, and soon we were talking about gamification. In the end we had the beginnings of an idea about creating a motivational app for course leaders.

More anon.



I had my first Escape Room experience last weekend. You may recall my post about History Mystery a while back. Well, the stars aligned in a way that saw me taking my son, a friend’s boy and an old schoolmate of mine to Norwich for the last day of the Norwich Game Festival, and a visit to the Guildhall for an hour trapped in an an Escape Room.

Though, it wasn’t us that was trapped, it was city’s absent-minded historian who had managed to get himself locked in his own Archive. The override code would only work for one hour every day, and luckily for him, we had arrived in his office just moments before that hour started. But he could not remember what the code should be, he had made all sorts of cryptic notes to himself all over his office to help him remember, and it was our job to decrypt them find the override key-pad and enter the code. If we didn’t get him out this time, after three days trapped in the archive, there was every chance he wouldn’t survive until tomorrow!

This premise slightly jarred with us having only just met the same Historian, otherwise known as Richard Crowest of Corvidae, out in the Norwich Games Festival marquee, promoting History Mystery. But never mind, we were all willing to suspend disbelief. And in fact the sense of urgency was reinforced, not by Richard’s imagined peril, but by the understanding that we were competing against everyone who had already played the game or would in future. Our time would be recorded and compared with previous players. One team had managed the complete all the puzzles and free the historian with sixteen minutes still on the clock. Could we do better?

Obviously, I can’t reveal the secrets that we found inside the room. That would give teams following us an unfair advantage, but what impressed me was the wide variety of puzzles which meant that everyone from my 11 year old son to my 90, sorry 49 (almost 50) year old school-mate contributed usefully to the problem solving, without anyone feeling patronised by a “children’s” clue or anything like that. We worked together yet separately,  shouting codes and discoveries across the room and trying combinations in every one of numerous padlocks (the historian was a very data-security conscious fellow). One clue especially required two of  us to work together at different ends of a piece of complex plumbing.

There was one moment which both delighted and dismayed me. I can’t of course tell you want it was, but I think I can get away with saying that it involved a clue in the C.S. Lewis book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. We had great fun and the hour passed incredibly quickly. Almost too quickly…

But only almost. We released the historian with over five minutes to spare. Not a record breaking time, but given that many parties don’t quite manage to complete the puzzles at all, we didn’t do too badly. It helps that the organisers keep an eye on progress and speak to you on a walki-talky, if you don’t tug hard enough at a padlock for which you’ve actually got the right combination.

We were rewarded with History Mystery badges (most escape rooms don’t give prizes, so this was a pleasant surprise) and a personal, live thank you from the Historian himself, who had come up from the Game Festival marquee the archive. This live appearance was an honour we shared only with the very first party to try the experience. In fact we did better than them because he took us to a pub and got the first round in!

When we’d first entered, I was disappointed by the tidiness of the office. I’d imagined a cluttered and object rich environment full of antique furniture when I booked the session, and was surprised to find that our historian had a desk not unlike that of a local council official. (Which of course he was.) I should have been thankful for the tidy desk though, because my the time we’d finished turning things over, pulling stuff off shelves and emptying lock-boxes, we’d made an almighty mess. We left all that behind us when we went to pub, and the History Mystery crew had the unenviable task of putting it all back together for the next session. Given that we’d scattered padlocks willy-nilly about the room, moved items, stacked boxes (or left them scattered over the floor) I wonder how long it takes to reset the puzzle.

I’m sure the crew are well practiced, but I’m intrigued about the operation. It costs each player something over £15 pounds to join in (its more as the group gets smaller), and I am curious about break-even and profit – how quickly can the room be reset, how many sessions can be booked in a day, and how many of those sessions need to be booked for the hardworking crew to get paid and the company to be sustainable?

Still, as I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, the Escape Room phenomenon seems to be every growing right now. There’s already a second company operating in Norwich, my boy pointed out that last year’s Van Dyke Vanishments was a sort of escape room, and in way, so was Against Captain’s Orders, the recent Punch Drunk production at the National Maritime Museum. I’ve heard that despite Arts Council funding and a reasonably high ticket price, that venture lost money, but I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of escape rooms in museums and heritage sites.

Whether its a way of learning about the past, I’m less certain. History Mystery’s USP is that all the puzzles are based on real historical facts. But given the constraints on time, the players skim over the facts looking for clues. And so all I can confidently recall is that once in the middle ages, the whole city of Norwich was ex-communicated by the Pope. I think it was something to do with Monks getting into fights with townsfolk, but honestly I can’t recall the context, though of course I’m now inspired to look it up.

Outside the Guildhall we had a look around the rest of the games festival. Meeting among the crowds, the developers of the current iOS timewaster of choice Super Arc Light which was fun but has nothing to do with cultural heritage. (Though, touching upon the yesterday’s post, this has a game with the simplest of interfaces  – “touch the screen, anywhere” and yet is fiendishly difficult.) Slightly more historical (but only slightly) was Ironheads. We managed to grab the last two fights of the day, one for the boys, and one for me and my old school-friend. It’s good to know I still have it where it counts (he said smugly).

Walking around looking at stuff

Image from Aalto University, Media Lab Helsinki

A few weeks ago, I was presenting my work to a group of my supervisor’s Masters students. I joined in on the preceding seminar session, during which they talked about a number of experiments in digital interpretation in museums.

One thing that struck me about many of the experiments was that they each required the museum visitor to use a new interface. Some were simpler interfaces that others. One involved shining a torch, another was planned to involve gestures to navigate a reconstruction of a sunken ship. This second interface, a Vrouw Maria exhibit at a Finnish maritime museum, challenged users who “would not understand what they were expected to do or, when they could start the navigation, problems that were accentuated by the tracking system, which was not completely reliable at that point. […] The navigation itself was not error free either: people had difficulty stopping the motion and steering up or down. In addition, it was hard to hit the info spots without running past or through them. Again, tweaking the parameters of the gestural interface was needed. Pointing around for 10 minutes or more with the arm extended started to get tiring—something that cannot be completely solved if the input is so heavily based on pointing.” (REUNANEN et al, 2015). The discussion made me think about, not just these experimental interfaces, but pretty much every museum interactive kiosk or app created since digital technology arrived on the scene.

To a lesser or greater extent all these technologies involve museum visitors having to learn a new interface to access data. Some may prove easier than others to learn, but all of them are different, all of them need to be learned. Which makes accessing the data just one step more difficult. On the other hand there is a generic interface which museum, gallery and heritage site visitors learn (it seems, for most individual) in early childhood. The default museum interface is:

Walking around and looking at stuff

… as I said to a colleague yesterday. (Well actually I said “walking around and looking at shit,” but I meant shit in the most inoffensive way. And though I’d dearly have loved to headline a blog post with this more colloquial version, I’m mindful of my curatorial  and conservation colleagues, and I don’t want them to feel I’m demeaning our collections.)

What prompted me to write about it today was the news yesterday that Dear Esther is to be re-released for  the Playstation 4 and X-Box One. Dear Esther is “credited” with kicking off a genre of games known as “walking simulators” or “first person strollers”, and criticised by many gamers as not being a game because (among other things) there is no challenge (unless you count interpreting the enigmatic story that your simulated walk reveals).

I’m reminded of Gallagher’s (2012) observation (in the brilliantly titled No Sex Please, We Are Finite State Machines) that “Video games are unique in the field of consumer software in that they intentionally resist their users, establishing barriers between the operator and their goal.” This contrasts somewhat with what Nick Pelling (who coined the term Gamification as I discussed last week) said about game interfaces “making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use.” So which is it? Are game interfaces easy or difficult? Juul and Norton give a pretty conclusive answer: its both.

“Games differ from productivity software in that games are free to make easy or difficult the different elements of a game. While much may be learned from usability methods about the design of game interfaces, and while many video games certainly have badly-designed interfaces, it is crucial to remember that games are both efficient and inefficient, both easy and difficult, and that the easiest interface is not necessarily the most entertaining.”

The team behind that Vrouw Maria experiment had considered making users mime swimming for the gestural interface, but they rules it out because it was “engaging but at the same time socially awkward in front of an audience.” What they ended up with was an interface that was neither efficient, nor entertaining. While it may indeed have been socially awkward for many, the swimming gesture control would have been very entertaining. Their final decision indicates that they considered the transmission of data the more important purpose of the exhibit.

Last week I discussed how gamification is most often used as a way of motivating behaviour: drive more efficiently, take more exercise. “Explore more” is something many museums and heritage sites wish for their visitors. An interface that is challenging but entertaining may well motivate more exploration. But there is an alternative.

Dear Esther is arguably not a game, because its interface (basically Walking Around Looking a Shit Stuff) is too easy. Yet it’s designers would argue that it is a game, just that uses story as a motivator rather than challenge. For museums and heritage sites, where Walking Around Looking at Stuff has long been the default interface Dear Esther might offer a model for digital storytelling that motivates more exploration.

This is what I’m trying to achieve with my responsive environment: Digital content., compelling stories, that are accessed by Walking Around and Looking at Stuff.