The Treasure Hunt Game Generator – a system and its application at the Hecht Museum


Tsvi Kuflik, The University of Haifa, Israel, , , , , , , Oryan Rokeah, University of Haifa, Israel, Suzy Salman, University of Haifa, Israel, Israel

Abstract

Treasure hunt )or scavenger hunt( is one of the most popular types of games used to promote children's learning in general and in museums in particular. Over the years a great variety of applications, demonstrations and commercial versions were developed and successfully deployed in museums. We report on the development and application of a “Treasure Hunt Game Generator System” that was developed and implemented at the Hecht Museum, an archeological and art museum located in the University of Haifa. It is a unique, very simple, and extremely user friendly system that enables the museum staff to create new versions of treasure hunt games easily and quickly for special events, as well as for regular museum visits. The resulting treasure hunt games were found by children visiting the museum to be highly entertaining.

Keywords: Treasure Hunt generator

Introduction

Engaging school-aged children when they visit a museum with their families is challenging, as their expectations differ from those of adults (Black 2005). Museums are trying to address this challenge in many different ways, including by employing novel applications of state-of-the-art technology, as demonstrated by the vast amount of continuing research devoted to it (see related work section). Games are a very popular approach to capturing school children’s interest, as can be seen from the large number of games developed for children visiting the museum physically or virtually. Examples of many educational games that can be accessed online are http://www.show.me.uk/games/games.html and http://www.childrensmuseum.org/games. A treasure hunt (or scavenger hunt) is perhaps the most popular type of game developed to enhance children’s learning in general and in museums in particular. Over the years a large quantity and variety of
applications, demonstrations, and commercial versions have been developed (see examples in the related work section).

Figure 1: Paper-based museum safari game

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Making the museum visit a fun and appealing event for children is important not only for the museum itself, but also for parents who wish to visit the museum  with their young children and would appreciate their children’s becoming engaged and interacting with the museum content. As in learning in general, where computer games are known to be an attractive and fun way to engage children (Mitchell and Savill-Smith 2004), the use of novel technologically-based games can help parents introduce the museum to their children in a playful manner that would be entertaining for them. Hence, the use of games can enhance the museum experience for the whole family, in particular, when the parents themselves are unfamiliar with a specific museum.

The Hecht Museum (http://mushecht.haifa.ac.il/Default_eng.aspx) is located on the University of Haifa campus and contains collections of both archeological and art exhibits. Like any other museum, the Hecht Museum is interested in attracting and interesting individual visitors, and especially children. For that purpose, a paper-based “Museum Safari” (a variation of a treasure hunt) game was developed (see Figure 1). However, in order for visitors to play the game, members of the Hecht Museum staff must be available to distribute the game pages and pencils and to explain the game’s instructions. This imposes an extra burden on the staff and limits the use of the game to pre-arranged group visits, and to the time when the museum staff is available (e.g., excluding weekends when the museum is open but the museum staff is not available).

The Hecht Museum was interested in developing a computerized version of the game so that it would be available for use by independent visitors during all visiting hours, without being dependent upon staff availability. In addition, they wanted to harness state-of-the-art mobile technology to enhance their visitors’ museum experience. Like that of many small museums, the Hecht Museum staff does not have the technological skills required for developing a mobile game, nor does it have the funds to purchase one. For the last 10 years, the Hecht Museum has been functioning as a “living-lab” for experimentation with the application of novel technologies designed to support the autonomous learning of cultural heritage (Kats et al. 2006, Kuflik et al. 2011a,b, Belinki et al. 2012, Lanir et al. 2013). The project team took the idea a step further and recruited a team of third year university students to develop a treasure hunt game generator system, enabling the museum staff to digitize the existing game and generate other games at will for general use, as well as for specific events.

This paper presents the system that was designed to generate treasure hunt games for children visiting the Hecht Museum. The initial treasure hunt game was digitized through the generator system, and while the system was being introduced to the staff, two new games were also developed for specific events. The feedback from the museum staff as well as from visitors was extremely positive: the museum staff found it user-friendly and the children felt that the games were very appealing.

Related work

Games in cultural heritage

Games are a well-known method of stimulating children’s interest in learning about cultural heritage and other areas of knowledge on which museums focus. Many forms of games have been successfully implemented in museums for years, often augmented through the use of current gaming technology. These applications are used to encourage active participation, enhance learning, and improve the cultural heritage experience. Over the past 10 years, a large number of studies have been published that describe the introduction of games about cultural heritage (i.e., Anderson et al. 2002, Yatani et al. 2004, Klopfer et al. 2005, Hall and Bannon 2006, Van Loon et al. 2007, ook and Hess 2007, Roussou and Doulgeridis 2007, Jackson and Adamson 2009, Yiannoutsou et al. 2009, Anderson et al. 2010, Swartout et al. 2010, Yiannoutsou and Navouris 2012). Cutting edge Web technology, along with virtual reality and mobile computation, has opened the door to new means of developing interesting cultural heritage games. In recent years, the term ‘serious games’ was coined to describe a class of games whose primary goal is not entertainment. These games have increasingly become a focus of attention among cultural heritage researchers. The researchers’ aim is to draw on these technologies to develop games that will attract young, technology-oriented children and engage them in learning in a cultural heritage setting, whether online or onsite. Anderson et al. (2010) reviewed recent applications of serious games in cultural heritage and then described the various underlying technologies that enabled their creation. Their purpose was to provide an overview of the methods and techniques used in entertainment games that can also be adapted for use in a cultural heritage context. They reviewed core games technologies, novel techniques derived from computer graphics, human computer interaction, computer vision, and artificial intelligence, all of which can be applied toward the development of serious games in cultural heritage. Thus, these researchers hoped to demonstrate the potential of game technology for cultural heritage applications and serious games, outline key challenges, and indicate areas of technology where solutions for remaining challenges may be found. Ballotti et al. (2012), claimed that serious games present a promising opportunity for learning, but that the genre still lacks methodologies and tools for efficient and low-cost production. They suggest that an authoring framework be developed to provide structured support, from the stage of content design to the final implementation of serious games for cultural heritage. They concluded that their approach simplifies and facilitates the authoring work.

In summary, it is apparent that cutting edge technology, including game technology, is continuously evolving and is gradually becoming integrated into cultural heritage applications to increase their appeal and encourage informal learning.

Treasure hunt games in the museum

Treasure hunt is one of the most popular educational games for children visiting the museum, which are used to secure the children’s active interest, make learning fun, and enhance the museum experience, as demonstrated by a recent review (Avouris and Yiannoutsou 2012). As proof of its popularity, searching the Web for “museum treasure hunt” (or “scavenger hunt”) reveals many applications and research papers on this topic. Some museums provide paper-based treasure hunt applications, as can be seen on the Van Gogh museum website (http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=265&lang=en) or on the American Museum of Natural History site (http://www.amnh.org/explore/kids-guide-to-the-museum). Some museums make these game applications available on their website, as for example The Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/itineraries/family-greece). Some museums offer the game as a guided activity, such as the Melbourne Chinese museum (http://www.chinesemuseum.com.au/whats-on/public-programs/treasure-hunt/), whereas other museums provide downloadable treasure hunt apps. In fact, some museum sites provide instructions to enable children to create their own treasure hunt games, as on the British Museum website, for example (http://www.huntzz.com/following-a-treasure-hunt.html#.Uq_dIMbxvmI). Treasure hunt game creation also became a business for individuals/groups/companies, as can be seen on the Watson Adventures Website  (http://www.watsonadventures.com/) and the Huntzz Website (http://www.huntzz.com/following-a-treasure-hunt.html#.Uq_dIMbxvmI), which enable users to play and create games using a mobile device.

Turning to research, quite a few research prototypes have been developed that demonstrate the use of treasure hunt game variants to engage children and enhance their museum experience. Doyle et al. (2004), surveyed the history of application of the treasure hunt game, which functions as a type of “experiential learning” in various topics, including cultural heritage. They suggest that these games can provide students with a quick, immersive introduction to new cultures in the form of treasure hunts when going on city tours. In fact, Doyle and colleagues’ paper (2004) described a study-abroad program in which this method was used to provide students with a transcultural opportunity through their interactions with the local Mexican culture. Laurillau and Paternò (2004) applied a treasure hunt metaphor as a framework for encouraging groups of children to interact while exploring the museum. Liu et al. (2006) described the use of a treasure hunt game as a tool for solving problems in museum learning activities that apply to tour guide systems. Schmalstieg and Wagner (2007) used the treasure hunt game metaphor to demonstrate its potential for use as a framework for the development of handheld augmented reality. They created and implemented two games, which were evaluated and permanently deployed in two Austrian museums.  Haumer et al. (2007) made use of a treasure hunt game to present information in a playful manner to visitors of a mineral exposition.

Frameworks for creating treasure hunt games in the museum

Over the years, in addition to specific applications, frameworks for developing participatory/experiential games for learning have been developed and applied in various environments, including cultural heritage sites and museums. Recently, Laine et al. (2010) presented the features, design, and architecture of the Myst pervasive game platform, which was used to create pervasive mobile learning games in various contexts, such as science festivals and museums in Finland.

Haumer et al. (2007) also reported on a simple content management system that enables the museum staff to maintain games by adding and updating the content and exhibits. Unfortunately, no details were provided and no follow-up work has yet been reported.

Treasure hunt game generator system

Following the museum’s request, our aim was to create a treasure hunt generator system for the Hecht Museum that could be operated easily by the museum staff members without their previously having had specific computer knowledge backgrounds. Unlike the applications and frameworks described above, our emphasis was on simplicity. The requirements for the system were relatively straightforward (similar to what Haumer et al., 2007 described): an easy to use content management system that facilitates the creation of simple games; and a technology that can enable visitors to play the game independently without needing assistance from the museum staff. The main contribution of the system to the museum was in that it enables the museum staff to create new games at will, both general and for specific events, quickly and easily, while they are free to select any object and provide any description that fits the specific context. In order to ensure high usability, the system was developed following user- centered design principles, where users are deeply involved in the design of the system they are going to use (Norman 2002). As part of the process, the system was also evaluated together with the museum staff continuously throughout the development period. Meetings were held with museum staff to examine prototypes on a bi-weekly basis, where comments were noted and addressed by the developers for the next meeting. As for the game, it was developed for independent use by visitors. For that purpose, Web-based technology was adopted, as current smart phones have Web browsers that enable their users to access Web-based content. As a treasure hunt game is about finding objects and getting to the right place, and for that purpose there is a need to know where the visitor is located, and in order to free the visitor from needing to borrow/rent any specific equipment, QR-codes technology was selected for both positioning and initial interaction, as QR-code readers (like Web technology) are widely available in today’s smartphones. The game creation system contains three simple components: 1) game position definition/management – physical places at the museum represented by unique QR-Codes; 2) objects of interest definition/management – artifacts/exhibits located in the physical vicinity of the QR-Codes defined earlier, together with clues how to find them and questions to be presented to the visitor; and 3) game definition/management – organized collections of exhibits, plus additional information. The system enables the museum staff to define objects of interest in the museum and link them with physical positions marked by QR-codes and then create games by selecting and linking the objects they find relevant to a specific game. The system’s components are detailed below.

Game stops definition/management

The basic task of the treasure hunt game is to find an object through clues provided by the system. When the visitor arrives at the correct position, he/she scans a QR-code associated with it. The game position definition/management component comprises a simple form through which the museum staff member can define a new position at the museum, associated with a unique QR-Code (Figure 2, left). A position is defined by its  page).

Figure 2: Position definition

Fig 2 leftFig 2 right

This step involves defining  the physical locations that will eventually be associated with objects of interest and used for game definitions. In addition to defining new positions, the museum staff member is also able to update existing positions in case changes are needed, or even to cancel existing ones. The existing positions are represented by an organized list of their names accompanied by their images. To edit a position, it must first be selected from among the other positions (Figure 2, right), after which the user clicks on it to open an editing form (similar to the new position creation form).

Objects of interest definition/management

Museum exhibits/objects are the key components of the game. The exhibit management component enables the user to define new exhibits using a simple form (Figure 3, left). An exhibit is defined by a provided description and an image of the object of interest, linking it to a specific position, and defining a clue that can help the  visitor find it. After reaching and viewing the object, the visitor is asked to answer a multiple-choice question related to information that can be easily obtained by viewing the actual exhibit. The user can also update existing descriptions by selecting an object from the list of all existing objects and clicking on its image (Figure 3, right). Then an editing form (similar to the new object creation form) opens.

Figure 3: Exhibit definition

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Game definition/management

Once exhibits and their positions are defined, the user can start creating games using a special form just by selecting the relevant objects and arranging them in a desired sequence (Figure 4, left). Each game is given a name, an identifying image, and an organized list of exhibits associated with it. Note that the same exhibit may be part of  different games. Once the game setup is completed, it must be activated to make  it visible to users. This enables the museum staff to offer games that may be suitable for specific holidays or special events. Existing games may also be modified or deleted simply by selecting a game for editing from the list of existing  games and then clicking on its icon (Figure 4, right).

Figure 4: Game definition

 Fig 4 leftFig 4 right

Playing treasure hunt

A Hecht Museum visitor who wishes to play a game must first scan a QR-Code at the entrance to the museum. Once the QR-Code is scanned, a list of all available games and their icons are presented (Figure 5, top right). Once the visitor has selected a game, a screen with the game’s general instructions appears (Figure 5, top, second from the right). The visitor can then start to play the game. It begins with the  presentation of a clue for the first exhibit (Figure 5, top, second from left). As described in the game instructions, the visitor must go to the correct position and scan the QR-Code there. If the visitor did indeed locate the correct place, a multiple-choice question is then presented (Figure 5, bottom, right). If the visitor went to the wrong position, he/she is notified of this (Figure 5, top left) through a graphic feedback display. A graphic feedback display also appears to notify the visitor whether he/she gave the correct (Figure 5, bottom, second from left) or incorrect (Figure 5 bottom, second from right) answer to the multiple-choice question. Once a correct answer has been given, a new clue to help the visitor find the next position is presented.

Figure 5: Playing treasure hunt

 Fig5ahttps://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Fig5a.jpg 336w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Discussion

Games are a well-known and highly applied approach for engaging school children visiting a museum. A treasure hunt is one possible way to motivate a child’s involvement in the museum’s exhibits and displays. Novel information and communication technology and the widespread use of smartphones enabled us to offer an updated, more technological version of an existing treasure hunt game. The original game version was adapted to the state-of-the-art mobile technology, so that individual visitors to the museum can operate the game independently. Moreover, current  omputing technology also enabled us to go one step further, providing the museum staff with an easy to use tool for creating new games as the need arises. It is worth noting the specific context of the project, its benefits, limitations, and lessons learned. The goal of the project was limited: to translate the existing, paper-based treasure hunt game into a game that can be played using mobile technology and to enable the museum staff to easily create new games, as needed. These modest requirements were defined in collaboration by the project team: two third year double major psychology and information systems students, interested in human-computer interaction. Given the context of the project, its scope was appropriate, and there was no attempt to explore different types of games and activities. It is worth noting that the current project is a good example of the potential for collaboration between museums and university staff members and students. The museum has less than 20 staff members with little technological skill, who are all busy in their daily tasks, and hence, they can neither develop such a system nor obtain funds to purchase one. However, the museum is located within a university where students study and acquire technological skills that they want to practice. The students who contributed to the development of this project were enrolled in a double major program at the time, studying psychology and information systems, a perfect combination for user interface developers. This was a perfect teaming that can serve as an example for small, local museums that can collaborate with local colleges/universities for developing such small-scale systems for the benefit of their clientele. The system was developed according to user-centered design principles, while maintaining continuous and close contact with the Hecht Museum staff and scrupulously attending to its usability and aesthetic characteristics. This collaborative project resulted in an easy-to-use game generator system and an engaging, user-friendly game. Museum staff members can easily create as many games as needed. They must only define the relevant physical positions and exhibits of interest and link them to the appropriate positions, as defined. Thus, any configuration of museum exhibits can form the basis for a new game, simply by defining the game and the sequence of relevant exhibits to be viewed in order to play it.

Our goal was to develop a user-friendly game generator system that enables users to easily create fun and motivating treasure hunt games that can be operated by individual museum visitors without requiring staff members’ intervention. A combination of QR-Codes with standard Web techniques (PHP, HTML, JAVA SCRIPT, MySQL) was adopted for this purpose, as these are readily available and suit the need for completely independent use by the visitor. The adopted technology had its share of challenges: QR-Codes proved to be challenging. They should be visible, but not disturb the visitor, and hence, they should be small, but not too small, and they should be placed where there is enough light so they can be read by the mobile device. Indeed, lighting conditions became the main challenge, given the lighting conditions of the Hecht museum.

The system was deployed in the summer of 2013. The project commenced with the development of the first game (“Museum Safari”) and its delivery to the museum. Immediately afterwards, the museum staff found that they were able to independently develop two new games, demonstrating to all the simplicity and the user-friendliness of the system. During the first two months of the system’s deployment, we recorded that the three versions of the treasure hunt games had been implemented 80 times altogether. The museum staff reported that children enjoyed playing the game, and in fact, some played more than once, just for fun. Moreover, the museum staff appreciated the importance of these games as a tool to help parents introduce the museum to their children in an engaging and attractive manner. Unfortunately, we did not conduct any formal evaluation of the system, mainly because a large scale visitors study and data collection and analysis were considered outside the scope of this project. Thus, we are limited to reporting the museum staff’s feedback, and the highly positive impression that these games made on the children who played them.

Conclusions and Future Work

With relatively little effort (one year of work on the part of third year information systems university students, novices with respect to software development), we produced a highly flexible and user-friendly system through which a high quality product (the treasure hunt game) was successfully operated and enjoyed by museum visitors. The system proved to be extremely simple and easy to use and required very little effort to learn and operate. According to the user-centered design approach, this highlights the importance and the contribution of close interaction with the end users. The end result, the treasure hunt games themselves, proved to be attractive and engaging as well.

Given the small scale of this project, we were able to tailor the system and games carefully to the specific structure and needs of the Hecht Museum. The project demonstrates the potential of close collaboration of small, local museums with nearby colleges/universities, where the two parties collaborate fruitfully for the benefit of both parties. Following the success of the project, we are now adapting the system to suit another, larger museum and launching a follow-up project to develop a generic treasure hunt creator system that can be deployed in any cultural heritage site, whether indoors or outdoors. Moreover, we also plan to collect usage data and analyze them in order to determine the actual usage of the system and determine whether possible improvements are needed.

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Cite as:
. "The Treasure Hunt Game Generator – a system and its application at the Hecht Museum." MW2014: Museums and the Web 2014. Published January 15, 2014. Consulted .
https://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/the-treasure-hunt-game-generator-a-system-and-its-application-at-the-hecht-museum/


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