Museum Games

I am impressed with the Musée McCord Museum, whose physical edifice rises in downtown Montréal across from McGill University. It is one of their virtual spaces that recently caught my attention: Mind Your Manners! a game of The Victorian Period. Although presented as a virtual role-playing game of Victorian manners, game hobbyists would call it too linear and more like a one-real-choice “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Certainly I would expect a “role-playing game” to offer decision points leading to optional or at least different consequences, depending on the choices made.

In this case, you take on the “role” of a Victorian gentleman or proper lady in order to play the game. In the course of play for up to 1000 points — 500 for the gentleman, 500 for the lady — you make decisions that determine whether you are capable of making the “civilized” choices in dress, behavior, and reaction to circumstances. You make choices, receive feedback on the quality of your decisions until you get it right, and then move onto the next scene.

Victorian Manners is a Flash game, and the designer clearly enjoyed his or her work. The character-choice screen has a fly tracking your cursor, and inevitably you will make the portraits’ eyes cross by bringing the fly to alight on the tip of their noses. (Or is that just me?)

In any case, once you chose a location to explore where you are immediately presented with multiple choice selections for how you might choose to dress, with pictures. You may be at home for a proper dinner party, in the park en promenade, at the ballroom, and so on. Once properly clothed, you are presented with situations: a guest breaks a plate, you wish to offer a gift to the hostess, and so on. If you make an error in choice, action, or reaction, you will be genteelly informed of the nature of your transgression, often with a clever dose of humor. A correct choice not only affirms your civilized ways but offers a morsel of explanation of just why, in terms of the bigger picture, this was the proper and surely the only right-thinking decision. For example, if you discreetly ignore the fly in your soup, it’s because even if your appetite is ruined, you understand that it is proper not to inflict that discomfort on any of the other esteemed guests!

After tinkering around with this game a little, I found the Musée McCord had invested in quite a number of other games. There is another “role-playing” game for the Roaring Twenties, as well as association games, observation games, and quizzes. You can superimpose historic photos with their modern counterparts and see what has changed. In a matching game, you drag and drop adornments for the appropriate aboriginal group. Lend a hand to the museum by playing the keyword matching game to improve the quality of the search engine that digs through its collection of 135,000 historical images. If you’re a member, you rack up points in the process! I’m not a member so I’m not sure what the points are good for, but they’re at least as substantive as any Foursquare Mayorship.

The games have certain problems. Chief among those problems is a lack of sufficient horsepower (I am still stuck on that Victorian paradigm, evidently), meaning that the museum’s ability to serve data with speed has a pretty severe bottleneck somewhere. I was occasionally able to play smoothly but most of the time, lag was deadly or crashed the program. It is possible I was trying to access the museum about the same time as Quebec students would be getting out of school and beginning their afternoon homework, and I am on the other side of an international border as well.

Those things the museum cannot control, and perhaps they cannot afford the servers or bandwidth to squirt out more data faster. However, the museum can fix one thing: they should have a “mute the music” button in there somewhere, and if it’s there I never spotted it. I like having the time-appropriate music associated with the games, just as I enjoy new compositions in video games, but sometimes I want to Turn. It. Off.

Museums are libraries’ sister-institutions of learning and self-improvement (with a nod to our Victorian forebears!), and the Musée McCord is making learning fun for old and young alike. Problems aside, I recommend you check it out. It’s pretty cool to see museums sharing their content and knowledge with games like these.



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