Gotta catch ’em all – Museum Edition

Today’s post is by Michelle from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are each sharing our passion and  interest in the museum and its objects.

For more about the collections at Manchester Museum, have a look at the Curators’ blogs.

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Nintendo’s new augmented reality game has taken public spaces and cultural venues by storm this summer, and the online column inches of coverage and opinion across newspapers, blogs and other websites, are already adding up to nearly as many miles as players are travelling in their quest to ‘catch ‘em all’. I’m excited to see Manchester Museum through this new lens, so, let’s get Pokémon GO-ing …

Gotta catch ‘em all – Museum Edition

Let’s get Pokémon Go-ing … some friendly faces to welcome us to the museum!

Smartphones and other mobile devices have revolutionised how, when and where we get online and access data, with information super-highways meaning that knowledge is quite literally at our fingertips. This has also been a game-changer for game-playing.

Pokémon GO isn’t gamers’ first foray into augmented reality on the Niantic ‘real world’ platform, however this is the first time it has been done with such a mass popular appeal. The app boasts upwards of 100 million downloads worldwide, with the numbers of daily users reportedly rivalling the likes of Twitter for popularity.

The popularity of the app rivalling Twitter … and here the truly ancient and the hyper-modern happily tweeting together in the Fossils gallery!

It certainly seems like a stroke of very shrewd genius on the part of Nintendo to release Pokémon GO at the start of summer holidays, with (not just) kids getting out of the house, into the ‘real world’, and through the magic of GPS, and clever positioning of Pokémon (cute – and not so cute – virtual pocket-sized monsters), PokéStops (to collect in-game virtual items) and Gyms (to train up your little creatures), in cultural and heritage venues worldwide.

The GPS location of in-game elements is down to the game-developers, but Pokémon GO is already bringing visitors into museums, some of whom have readily admitted that they wouldn’t have visited otherwise. And as a PokéStop, Manchester Museum has seen a good number of aspiring Pokémon trainers.

So, what happens when the real and virtual worlds collide?

Are the museum and its objects simply an elaborate backdrop to the action, or can the treasures of nature and world cultures shine beyond the mobile screen and capture the imagination of the Pokémon-catching visitor?

Can the museum’s natural and cultural treasures shine out from the background? A happy looking little monster getting to know Maud and Khnum-Nakht.

It is not just kids who are catching Pokémon around the museum. There is something about this incarnation of the game that appeals to all ages.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that looking at Pokémon GO from a museum perspective, there is something remarkably familiar about the idea of ‘collecting them all’. Since the Early Modern days of the ‘cabinet of curiosities‘, the idea of acquiring a complete collection has been a familiar one, with collectors travelling to the most remote corners of the globe to find the rarest and most exotic objects. This was continued with the nineteenth and early twentieth century institutional mindset of curating a complete collection, and displaying objects in an ordered, encyclopaedic fashion.

Gotta catch ‘em all – just as the Early Modern collectors had a passion for collecting the rarest and most beautiful objects, Manchester Museum’s resident Pokémon seem to have the same idea!

Museums face new challenges of engagement in the twenty-first century; physical access to objects is now complimented by remote and virtual accessibility as a way of sharing knowledge and research. We have already entered an age with the potential for digital technologies, including augmented reality, to revolutionise the way that objects can be interpreted within the museum gallery, and Pokémon GO is perhaps an indicator of the myriad possibilities for museums and galleries in the not too distant future – as so many times we have seen before science fiction becoming science fact.

‘Drowzee’ jumping for joy at the prospects of what might be in store for museums using mobile and digital technologies.

Inevitably the game has not been without its critics, and after requests from several Holocaust Memorial Museums and at least one cemetery, the developers have removed in-game objects and activities from these venues in the interests of respect and dignity. However, on the whole the reaction to the game from museums and other cultural venues appears to have been a positive one, with most institutions seeming to be embracing the possibilities of bringing their collections to new audiences.

‘Zubat’ experiencing how museums have already moved beyond the interpretation of the world as classified and unchanging in the Living Worlds gallery at Manchester Museum.

So whatever the reason for your visit, here at Manchester Museum, there will be plenty of collections to inspire you, you’ll get a friendly welcome, and when you’ve caught enough culture, you can always relax and unwind with the little monsters in the Museum Café.

‘Drowzee’ meeting the Visitor Team, and ‘Wartortle’ enjoying a well-deserved coffee in the Museum Café.

Words by Michelle Scott
Pictures* and inspiration by Luke Gleadall

*with special thanks to Sarah Scott for additional images

For more about the museum’s collections, please visit the curators’ blogs – museum.manchester.ac.uk/community/blogs/

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