Close your eyes and imagine yourself exploring a centuries-old, gothic Parisian cathedral that was once the site of a battle during the French Revolution. Now open your eyes—and log onto your computer where your video game guides you through the churches’ twists and turns and allows you to clearly identify architectural styles, symbols on grave markers and deteriorating elements.
Elizabeth Goins, assistant professor of fine arts and director of student research in the museum studies program, College of Liberal Arts, Rochester Institute of Technology, has won a $25,000 grant from the National Park Service and the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology to develop an interactive video game that will transport students to virtual worlds of preservation and conservation archetypes. She is working closely with co-principal investigators, Professor Andrew Phelps and Associate Professor Chris Egert, both from RIT’s interactive games and media department.
The game, a modification of the existing commercial game Elderscrolls IV: Oblivion, is the first of its kind in this field utilizing open-source technology to supplement traditional classroom coursework for undergraduate and graduate teaching programs, online professional training, volunteer training and community outreach.
“One of the big problems with training in art conservation is that students, not to mention the general public, can’t practice on real objects,” says Goins. “Role-playing games allow players to step inside a virtual world where they can handle materials and make mistakes without harming anyone or anything. While role-playing games have been popular in medical, disaster and military training, this technology has not been widely used in the preservation and conservation fields.”
In the game, the player acts out the role of a conservator, conservation scientist or collection manager by virtually interacting with objects, materials and data embedded in quest narratives. Within the game, players will be allowed to manage a library and protect it from the elements that accelerate deterioration. Another quest will allow players to take samples from ancient artifacts and analyze them to discover the secrets of its past.
“People naturally connect to material culture; they want to hold and touch these objects and these objects connect us in a visceral way to the past,” adds Goins. “Professional training in conservation and preservation consists of graduate programs that are few in number. Alternative training venues are sometimes taught online, but there is a critical lack of interactive educational material to support those who are not practicing conservators or preservationists. Museum and historical site volunteers and students needing basic working knowledge of collection management procedures will also greatly benefit from this video game.”
The game is in development and will be tested on students at RIT and University of Delaware through spring of 2012. Upon completion, the game will be offered as a free download from RIT and University of Delaware websites and supported with discussion boards. (Users will need to first purchase and install the PC version of Elderscrolls IV.)