Meaningful Play in Cultural Heritage

Going beyond the semantics of play and game, I’d like to propose a session discussing how play can be utilized to further the aims of cultural heritage programs. At MSU, the Campus Archaeology Program was created to mitigate and protect the historic and prehistoric archaeological resources of the campus. During the MSUĀ Cultural Heritage Informatics field school this summer, students are being asked to create mobile and locative applications which will use Campus Archaeology Program for its content. The aim is to create applications which are both useful to archaeologists, and engaging to the broader public. Instead of focusing on a balance between education and fun, the focus is on creating applications which fall under both categories. By creating games which use real cultural and historical data, the hope is to engage and interact with the campus and wider community in a new way. This includes the use of applications like SCVNGR, FourSquare, Look Back Maps, and others, as well as designing new ones which will find new ways to connect people to the past.

Using this type of program as a starting point for some topics for discussion, there are a number of questions that would be interesting to address in this type of session including:

  • How games can be used to support alternative interpretations of the past and culture, while also revealing the bias in some mainstream conceptions
  • How can we construct games that are fun, that maintain their educational and outreach goals
  • Can meaningful games aid in dispelling inappropriate, biased or incorrect perceptions of cultural heritage, such as archaeology’s connections with games like Tomb Raider which focus more heavily on looting than actually archaeology
  • How do we connect modern people with a historic past that is no longer present using locative applications (thinking here specifically using Mark Sample’s concept of Haunt and how this can be further expanded to archaeological resources)


  1. Mark Sample

    I really like this idea (not surprisingly!). I’m eager to hear more about your experiences with SCVNGR. I have this dream that the hype over geolocation apps like Foursquare and Gowalla dies down (perhaps it already has?), so that we can forge ahead to more critical uses of geolocation, for pedagogical, preservation, and procedural uses.

  2. Ethan Watrall

    you know I’m down with this idea.

  3. Brian Croxall

    I’m into it. And I think that Andrew’s idea about using mobile devices for data collection could play well too.

    I’m also interested in thinking broadly about building a framework for easy geolocative data. How can we make it easy for people with geolocative stuff to get it onto the web or into an app that can be used in a broad strokes for exhibits / haunts / or anything like that?

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