The widespread adoption of digital technologies has transformed our daily routines significantly, affecting how we interact with others, carry out work-related tasks, and access entertainment and commercial services. The advent of digital technologies has transformed how tourism is promoted and the cultural heritage sector operates. By leveraging technology, these industries are now able to offer visitors a more immersive and interactive experience, empowering them to take greater control and engage more fully during outings compared to traditional methods.
One of the areas in which new technologies have shown the most potential is “serious games”.This field uses gamification for purposes that are not expressly recreational. Serious games excel in actively engaging users, thereby transforming the game into a powerful tool for delivering messages, content, experiences, and meanings. The concept of play is now regarded as a cultural phenomenon, rather than just a biological function, capable of providing entertainment and facilitating communication and interaction between individuals. It has also taken on an educational role through the creation of changeable scenarios that require continuous adaptation and problem-solving.
An increasing number of entities are exploring the potential of play as a tool for enhancing audience engagement and developing effective models for promoting museums and cultural institutions. As a result, play is now being studied and experimented with in the context of cultural heritage valorisation. Alongside traditional analogue interfaces, museums are increasingly becoming promoters, users, and producers of digital games and sometimes actual videogames. Phygital (physical + digital) games combining digital tools with traditional elements such as packs of cards, boards, and constructions are also appearing in museum displays and educational workshops.
For example, the Culturgame project seeks to study, design, and implement high-tech, game-basedsolutions at the service of cultural heritage and science. Games are an extraordinarily effective way of reaching new audiences, stimulating interest, and facilitating learning through collections and content. And new technologies can expand both boundaries and scope.
Funded by Italy’s Ministry of Education, University and Research, the project explores how (video)games can improve the relationship between museums and visitors. The project will create game-based solutions for three Italian museums, contributing to three different areas of knowledge: history and archaeology, science, and ecosystems.
By adopting innovative approaches to engagement and edutainment, storytelling, and promotion, museums can leverage new communication strategies to transform cultural heritage into a powerful narrative tool. This can have impressive educational benefits and also generate tourism opportunities. The development of playful tools can help get people interested in science and raise the awareness of a wider audience about important topics.
From this perspective, research initiatives such as Culturgame can significantly help to advance our understanding of audience preferences and behaviours. This, in turn, can inform the development of playful video products that can be adapted in the future to convey additional content.
By combining on-site solutions, designed for use within museum spaces, with off-site games that can be downloaded or played online, it is possible to cater to diverse target audiences and develop long-term pathways in collaboration with schools and associations. This approach allows for greater flexibility and enables broader reach, thereby facilitating the engagement of a wider range of individuals.
Moreover, the availability of both single and multiplayer game modes within a single game provides an opportunity to gauge the response of different user groups, including school classes, families, and individual visitors playing with strangers.
The concept of “phygital” – the seamless integration of physical and digital worlds – leverages technology to “enhance” traditional gaming tools with technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and image recognition. As such, it is now possible to improve the gaming experience with intangible elements or make invisible phenomena visible. As an interactive medium, games allow for the active construction of an experience in a way that other media cannot. When applied to cultural contexts, this approach empowers users to create their own questions and test methodologies to find answers, rather than merely receiving information in an educational setting such as a museum. The tool is particularly effective when certain characterising elements are present (challenges, clear objectives, a storyline, feedback, and control). To this end, it is important to develop a methodology for assessing the impact of game-based experiences. This may involve, for instance, conducting an initial data collection and analysis campaign following the alpha release of a game. These data can provide valuable insights to refine and improve video games ahead of their second and final beta versions. The results of this approach can help determine a game’s impact on different target audiences and its effectiveness in terms of engagement and enjoyment. This, in turn, can facilitate the development of even more effective game experiences to enhance cultural heritage and promote scientific understanding.