The State of Play: An Exploration of Games and Their Value in museum Exhibitions
In the field of museum studies there has been very little consideration of games and their application to exhibiting practice. This represents a significant gap in the theory on current museum practice given the frequency of games in exhibitions and the scale of the commercial games industry in contemporary culture. This study begins to redress this issue by exploring how a significant and influential museum operating within the paradigm of the new museology views the role of games in its exhibitions. The thesis considers the central research question: what do practitioners currently think about games in museum exhibitions and how could museum games be improved. Following an interpretivist methodology the study seeks to answer this question through a case study of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Seven practitioners affiliated with this museum were interviewed about their understanding of games and their application in a museum context. The research findings illuminate the current understanding of games held by these practitioners and factors that inhibit the successful implementation of games at Te Papa. It was found that the practitioners’ opinions had not been influenced by the available theoretical literature on games. It was also found that practitioners thought games in exhibitions at the museum have not been particularly successful in achieving either the goals of exhibitions or the potential that games offer. It is concluded that the introduction of theories on play and on games into museum theory and practice has potential for significant advances in this area of exhibition development. In contemporary museums there is a shift away from presenting absolute, positivist understandings of knowledge toward the subjective, construction of meaning. Museums are also increasingly required to maintain economic efficacy while offering a valuable service to the populace. This thesis responds to this situation by proposing that a greater knowledge and utilisation of games in exhibitions offers a valuable approach in negotiating these two trends. By presenting an understanding of games, their potential value for museums and perspectives on what currently inhibits their successful application this research offers the field of museum studies a basis from which to develop knowledge of this under-theorised aspect of museum practice.