Games at the Grant
By Dean W Veall, on 11 August 2015
Dean Veall here. I bring you the second of our Museum Events blog series. How do you turn research ideas into participatory gaming activities? This was the challenge we set ourselves in a Grant Museum and Public Engagement Unit collaboration. We invited participants to shuffle their cards and roll a dice to win on this night of fun and fierce competition. UCL researchers inspired by their research art, language and literature and the Museum’s collection were the games masters for this very special games night.
Games at the Grant
Wednesday 20 May, 6.30-9pm
As head Games Master, I was in charge of keeping time and co-ordinating the games for the evening. Then the running order was:
Simon is a researcher from English Department investigating Medieval literature. Simon utilised the classic game Top Trumps to engage visitors with his research on the old English poem Beowulf, turning aspects of characterisation of the protagonists into scores pitting visitors against each other.
Another researcher from SELCS, Elizabeth is a research associate looking at the development of the Breton Lai, Medieval French fairy tales. Participants played a game of consequences following some of the common rules found in the Breton Lai, creating their own fairy tales.
A reader from the School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS) Katherine work on seventeenth century literature, culture and political thought in France. Taking inspiration from what was known as the Map of Tenderness, a salon game invented in 17th Century Paris by Madeleine de Scudery. Katherine invited participants to take a journey on the map friendship to attempt to achieve a true tender friendship, without falling into the dangerous seas of passion.
Based at Genetics, Evolution and the Environment, PhD student Victor is investigating the origin of life. Victor brought along his DNA jigsaw to help explain his research on the evolution of eukaryotic organisms.
Just finishing his PhD in the ideology of Greek military thought in 490BC, Roel naturally turned his research into a warfare strategy game.
Facts and figures
36 people attended this event, and for 23 of whom was the first time attending a Grant Museum event. An overwhelming 94% of the attendees were in the 18-35 demographic with the rest over 36. Total cost of the event was around £50 including free wine and printing of resources.
The event was warmly received by attendees with most people rating it ‘good’. Via feedback forms participants particularly seemed to enjoy the novelty of using games formats to share a variety of research areas over the course of the evening as well as the opportunity to hear from and engage in conversations with researchers directly:
‘The research of the game creators was very interesting and they were very friendly and helpful‘
‘Great way to be introduced to new fields of research‘
‘Ability to ask experts is always great!‘
‘Enjoyed the diversity of topics’
The visitors were a little unsure of what this event would involve with some expecting to play conventional board games or for it to be more zoological in content. Suggestions for improvements involved making the evening more competitive with prizes to be won, more time between games to speak to researchers about their work and smaller groups to facilitate more participation:
‘DNA game wasn’t really a game, but it was very interesting!‘
‘More wine, plus prizes!‘
‘Smaller groups to help discussion and could do with more time to find ways to let each person participate”
Lessons from Programming
Difficulty rating: 4/5.
Reaching an audience of 36 may seem small (but almost reaching the capacity of 40), especially considering the heavy resource involved in developing this event such as large number of researchers with various needs. However, the benefits both for us programmers testing a new events format and researchers challenged to make their work accessible, was a useful exercise to take part in.
What worked well?
The Grant Museum is fortunate to be part of UCL’s Public and Cultural Engagement department which also houses the university’s Public Engagement Unit, who we collaborated on this event format with. This collaboration was beneficial to us both, for the PEU it was a chance to offer an opportunity to researchers for developing their skills in public engagement and for us an opportunity to generate content for the programme. In working in collaboration with the rather brilliant Lizzy Baddeley on this event we had the opportunity to share our practice in event programming and learn from each other, which is itself a rare opportunity when working in a team of one (sad face).
Variety of Research
Visitors mentioned in their feedback the variety of subjects presented during the night: this was a result of the collaboration with the PEU, through their team they have a wider network of researchers from across the university who are interested in sharing their research with the public. This variety provided new perspectives on the collection for audiences and allowed us to engage with researchers who had not encountered or used the collection before. As a result of this event one of the researchers has started using the collection in their teaching which is a fantastic unexpected outcome of the collaboration.
What could be done differently?
Brief for researchers
During the development we spent time with researchers to support their development of research into games formats. However, as a new format, it was difficult to offer a detailed brief and hints and tips from other researcher’s perspectives. This is definitely something that can be offered the next time we run a Games at the Grant.
The development of games went right up to the evening of the event. Allowing time for prototyping of games on gallery would definitely improve visitor’s experience of the evening and allow the researchers time to tweak any games.
Would we run this event again? Yes it was a exciting way to engage an audience with research that I think was mutually beneficial for our programme and for the researchers involved.
Dean Veall is Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology