SFMOMA Gets Its Game On with ArtGameLab

sfmoma ArtGameLab cards

From the museum that brought visitors the very first interactive multimedia gallery tour back in 2001 comes a new way to explore modern and contemporary art. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents ArtGameLab, an ongoing exhibition in the museum’s Koret Visitor Education Center that presents a selection of prototype crowdsourced games designed by SFMOMA’s community, for SFMOMA’s community.

Last summer SFMOMA issued an open call for simple games devised to be played inside the museum for audiences of all ages. Visitors can now view the results and pick up instructions for playing five of the 50 game proposals that artists and game designers submitted, along with a series of digital games designed by the museum’s education department. The exhibition is organized by Erica Gangsei, manager of interpretive media at SFMOMA.

In addition to playing these games, visitors are also encouraged to submit their own ideas for engaging activities in the museum by visiting the exhibition’s game-design station. SFMOMA’s social media channels will also post game-related activities, inviting the public to share their experiences, photos, and ideas online.

Reflecting the Bay Area’s renown for pioneering new technologies and ways of thinking, SFMOMA is widely acknowledged as a leader among museums worldwide for using innovative means to engage audiences of all ages, both on site and online. From its original website—one of the first launched by a U.S. art museum—and prizewinning interpretive CD-ROMS of the 1990s to its innovative podcasts and multimedia gallery tours of the 2000s, SFMOMA has consistently forged new models for museum education by developing in-house expertise in a diverse range of tools that enhance public understanding of modern and contemporary art.

Extending that legacy of innovation, ArtGameLab presents the following games and game designers:

The Curious Scholarship of Dr. Bedcannon

This alternate reality game (ARG) by a Bay Area–based interactive fiction project called the Elsewhere Philatelic Society (http://stampsfromelsewhere.com) draws on the visual vocabulary of stamp collecting, in a subtle nod to the covert world in Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49. Players explore select works from the perspective of Dr. Bedcannon, a conspiracy theorist curator who has surreptitiously provided a map and key to the visitor in an effort to reveal his theories about hidden secrets in SFMOMA’s collection. Players are led through clues embedded in SFMOMA’s permanent collection until they complete the key, which in turn leads them to the location of a talisman (or “prize”) that they may collect. Some players may note similarities in tone and format to the now-disbanded Jejune Institute; these ARG designers are carrying forward the phenomenon of Bay Area interactive fiction with the Jejune Institute’s blessing.

Super Going

Designed by Ian Kizu-Blair and Sam Lavigne of San Francisco–based game design studio Situate, this multiplayer online offering is a social adventure that takes players beyond the ordinary into collaborative and crowdsourced missions. For SFMOMA, the game’s various missions focus on possibilities for exploration, creativity, and interpersonal interaction at the museum. Players may choose from a range of missions or create their own for other players to accomplish. Super Going has a social media report-back function in which players are encouraged to log on to the game’s website (http://supergoing.com/sfmoma) and post documentation of their missions, see what other players have done, and receive additional missions.

I Know What I Like

A role-playing game created by Tom Russotti’s Institute for Aesthletics (www.aesthletics.org)—a project dedicated to “playing sports as artistic practice”—operates in the boundaries between social sculpture and performance. Players roll dice or simply select a card to become one of six characters. They must then don a mask that represents that character and explore the museum with that character’s wishes, desires, and agenda in mind instead of their own.

Dialogues in Motion

This performance game functions as a reverse version of charades. Created by Ben Carpenter and Sudhu Tewari with illustrations by Meredith Scheff, the game invites players in SFMOMA’s galleries to be on the lookout for certain vocabulary words relating to the artwork on view, whether overhead in other visitors’ conversations, spotted in wall texts, or passing through the player’s own thoughts. Each time a word is identified, the player makes a corresponding physical gesture—becoming a performer—and marks a box on a scorecard. A fully marked scorecard is the “win state” of the game.

Didactic Mad Libs

The popular activity of Mad Libs is employed in this word game as a surrealist exercise designed to question institutional authority around the construction of meaning. Before entering the galleries, visitors fill out Mad Libs derived from wall texts and descriptive object labels around the museum; later they seek out the original texts in the galleries for comparison, often with humorous results.