In June 2015 The Field Museum opened the Cyrus Tang Hall of China, a permanent exhibition spanning over 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture. Due to the depth and breadth of this scope, the Museum created an experience tailored specifically for younger visitors and produced the Ancient Cultures Interactive, an interactive kiosk that hosts a series of short narrative games inspired by key artifacts in the exhibition. It was installed approximately one year after China Hall opened.
The Museum’s educational and exhibition teams, along with support from outside producers, partnered to develop the interactive. The material and user experience are based on the core tenet that students learn best when they feel a personal connection with content: by navigating a choose-your-own-adventure platform, users have the option to prepare for a civil service exam by packing supplies in a basket, design an imperial robe using powerful symbols to earn their people’s respect, learn about the lives of important women by exploring an array of symbolic gifts, and test their ability to make a merchant trek across the Silk Road. Because these four stories are fleshed out by historically accurate characters, users absorb more than facts about the objects and grow to understand the contextual history.
The interactive is displayed on a custom built kiosk located just outside of the China Hall entrance. The interactivity is facilitated on a 65-inch touch screen while a monitor mounted above mirrors what’s happening onscreen, an inclusive design that encourages group collaboration. To keep the element anchored within the context of China Hall, the overall design directly reflects the exhibition aesthetic. The stylized, whimsical treatment of the illustrations and animations, however, were created with younger users in mind. The use of humor also reinforces the interactive’s approachability--one can’t help but giggle at the exasperated desert camel as he’s squashed under the weight of the trade goods that were meant to travel by sea. To complete the experience, all of the stories are narrated by professional voice actors, with captions included. The custom soundtrack and responsive sound effects throughout further enhance the game-like quality.
The team had general ideas for artifact stories at the concept stage, but because the experience comprises an intricate blend of scripted material and interactivity, each storyline was iteratively prototyped. The activities that emerged range from open exploration, such as the emperor’s robe, to more choice-based games like the scholar’s basket and Silk Road trade journey. Current backend analytics reveal high completion and low drop off rates among all four games. Additionally, almost half of the users who play one game will opt to play another. The Museum hopes to build upon the success of this content-righ gaming platform to further engage younger audiences and spark their inquiry.