Game Night Gone Wild @AMNH

Do games belong in museums? Well, the 500 attendees at last night’s sold out event – Game Night Gone Wild – answered with their feet: “Hell, yes! (and pass the dice…)”

CdofbehXIAA6s0b.jpg_largeThis is not the first time the Museum has offered gaming events geared towards adults. In 2012, in association with our special exhibit Beyond Planet Earth, our planetarium hosted a space arcade, an evening event featuring games like Space Cruiser, developed by Ivan Safrin and Babycastles (with the voice talents of Stephin Merritt!) – a co-operative space game made for the Hayden Planetarium Dome which transformed the theater into a living, breathing, space ship.

Later that year, the annual Margaret Mead Film Festival included the “Mead Arcade,” a collaboration with Games For Change that featured digital games that explored cultural content. The Museum was interested in probing how, and if, games can illuminate and add to Mead’s legacy of how media newly engages people in understanding disparate cultures while asking the eternal question: What makes us human?

However, both of those events were ostensibly about something else – the games were extra, not center-stage. Last night, however, was different. Last night was ALL about the game. Playing games. Talking about games. Thinking about games. And, of course, exploring how games related to science and natural history. Here’s some copy from the online ad (which generated enough interest to sell out more than two weeks before the event):

Fire up your neurons, with a cocktail in hand, for an exciting evening of interactive digital, and physical games, that challenge, entertain, and tease your brain. Test your eye-hand coordination, memory, recognition, and creativity while scientists help you connect the goals and outcomes of each game with scientific information about our complex, mysterious, and magnificent brains. [note: emphasis my own]

I highlighted above one of my favorite parts – attendees playing a game with scientists whose expertise was related to the game’s topic. This approach was developed earlier in our #scienceFTW program (which developed our Pterosaur card game and will return this fall to create a new exhibit-based game) and was featured at our Maker-Faire booth (for which the Museum won an award).

I had a small part to play in last night’s event – recommending some games, for example – and don’t plan to offer a comprehensive overview here (for that you can download the program). I spent my time primarily focused on helping Gutsy, Killer Snails, and MicroRangers. Here’s a video connecting them together with the other games in-between:

Overall, I think it’s fair to say that games are no longer just for kids or families. We are in the midst of a table-top gaming renaissance (this was the seventh straight year of growth in the tabletop gaming industry, with an increase of 20% over last year). More importantly, as an institution dedicated to informal science learning, events like last night demonstrate the hunger and interest out there for playful learning, and the willingness of players to seek out and engage with well-design games about deep science content.

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About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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