Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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WaterWorx – our first in-gallery iPad interactive at the Powerhouse Museum

November 1st, 2010 by Seb Chan

Last week we were installing our first deployment of iPads as gallery interfaces – and they went live on Friday night.

Now in the newly refreshed Ecologic exhibition – open right now – you can play a game called WaterWorx deployed to a table of 8 iPads.

WaterWorx is intended to convey the difficult of managing an urban water system – dams, water towers, water filtration, sewage treatment, and storm water – with a growing population. Using simple game mechanics the water system is turned into a mechanical operation where the player’s hands are used to control and balance an increasingly more difficult set of tasks.

Here’s a video of the gameplay.

Other than the obvious – deploying iPads in the gallery – I’m particularly excited about this project for a number of meta-reasons.

Firstly, this is the deployment of consumer technologies as interfaces. This brings with it an explicit acknowledgement that the entertainment and computing gear that visitors can get their hands on outside of the museum is always going to be better or at least on par with what museums can, themselves, deploy. So rather than continue the arms race, the iPad deployment is a means to refocus both visitor attention and development resources on content and engagement – not display technologies. Also, it picks up on the visitors’ own understanding of these devices and uses it to piggyback on those behaviours – whilst allowing us to leverage the existing consumer interest in the device in the short term.

Secondly, the process by which this game was developed was in itself very different for us. WaterWorx was developed by Sydney digital design agency Digital Eskimo together with a motley team from the Powerhouse’s curatorial and web teams, and programmed by iOS developer Bonobo Labs. Rather than an explicit and ‘completed’ brief be given to Digital Eskimo, the game developed using an iterative and agile methodology, begun by a process that they call ‘considered design‘. This brought together stakeholders and potential users all the way through the development process with ‘real working prototypes’ being delivered along the way – something which is pretty common for how websites and web applications are made, but is still unfortunately not common practice for exhibition development.

There’s also a third exciting possibility – the game might be re-engineered for longer term and repeat play – and released to the AppStore down the track. Obviously this requires a rethinking and ‘complexify-ing’ of the game dynamics and an emphasis on providing incentives and leveling up for repeat play.

I came in this morning to see a large giggle of school children clustered around them playing them furiously – looking deeply engaged. And that’s the most valuable outcome of all.

There will be some future blogposts with the curatorial and web staff involved in the game development shortly too.

UPDATE (5/11/10) – we’ve just added a new post that shows the honeypot effect that this interactive is creating.

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