Title:Playing with Difficult Objects—Game Designs to Improve Museum Collections
Authors:Mia Ridge
Publication:MW2011: Museums and the Web 2011


Crowdsourcing data through games is an attractive proposition for museums looking to maximise use of their collections online without the requirement to commit intensive curatorial resources to enhancing catalogue records.  This paper investigates the optimum game designs to encourage participation and the generation of useful data.

Further detail

Projects such as Armchair Revolutionary[1], Carnegie Mellon University's 'Games with a purpose'[2] and InterroBang?![3] are indicative of the trend for 'games for social good'. Crowdsourced projects such as the Guardian newspapers examination of MPs expense claims[4], the V&A Museum's image cropping[5], Brooklyn Museum's tagging game[6], the National Library of Australia's collaborative OCR corrections[7]; Chen's study of the application of Csikszentmihalyi's theory of 'flow' to game design; and McGonigal's ideas about multiplayer games as 'happiness engines'[8] all suggest that 'playful interactions' and crowd participation could be applied to help create specific content improvements on museum sites. Game mechanisms may help make tasks that would not traditionally be considered fun or relaxing into a compelling experience.

Games designed to crowdsource museum metadata are particularly interesting when limited resources within museums make it difficult to enhance and publish large bodies of collections data in ways that are accessible to non-specialist visitors.  Further, museum metadata games are a form of collections access in their own right and have the potential to reach large, traditionally hard-to-reach audiences.  Data generated may include terms to improve discoverability by adding alternate terms used by the general public (as in the project); information about which objects are more interesting for different types of visitors; data that could be provided by curators and researchers if resources were unlimited but could also be solicited from specialists outside the museum; and experiential data for objects and events within living memory.

Based on a Masters Dissertation project ('Game mechanics for social good: a case study on interaction models for crowdsourcing museum collections enhancement',, due January 2011) this paper will cover three topics:

  • research summary of emerging best practice about games designed to crowdsource metadata
  • analysis of the most effective elements of game mechanics for application to interfaces for crowdsourcing museum collections enhancement, based on the evaluation of games designed as part of the project and the evaluation of data produced as the games are played.
  • an emerging typology of game designs applicable for different models of collection data, based on categories such as breadth of collection data (from selected hero objects to the entire catalogue), the type of metadata desired, the level of specialist knowledge required to  interpret objects, etc.

Games built with collections from museums of social history and history of science and technology will be available at from mid-October.