Most video games are built as museums of their own – within the menus and beyond are collections of items and lore. Rather than house a world of information in large, historic buildings, these museums are code-based. Each is an abstract retelling of the player’s journey so far. This “museum” looks different in every game. to the Red Dead Redemption 2The memories and history of the game are stored in a notebook for easy browsing. in the Assassin’s Creed ValhallaUbisoft has stored its lore on menu screens that unlock new information every time the protagonist encounters a new character. Even the achievements or trophies of a game can be viewed as elements in these museums – notes on the journey through these digital spaces.
Sometimes a video game’s museum is more literal, as in Animal Crossing: New Horizonswhich has a museum that houses the things that players collect. Information about discovery and life on a particular island can be found in these individual museums. It is both goal setting and memory retention. There are many other current examples as others have noticed – the small museum of objects in Hades, a collection of ancient artifacts in a classical museum in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the PlayStation History Museum in Astros playroom. Each of these video games contains a “museum” in the truest sense of the word, but also serves as a museum on a more abstract macro level.
“There’s something interesting that so many games, including The Last of Us, have a museum inside the user interface,” Neil Druckmann, creative director of Naughty Dog, told Polygon. “You can examine these artifacts, items, and character models. And that’s kind of a museum. I think there is something innate that we hoard and collect items and that we are nostalgic – our own history and memories. “
Video games themselves are goal-oriented. There’s always something to do or unlock, and players expect not only a reward, but a record as well – a reflection of that virtual achievement and the time spent on it. Museums do this, but record something much bigger: life on earth, experienced from a narrow human perspective. When you enter a museum of any kind, you get a collection of works of art or artifacts that tell a story – about the development of life, about the history of human civilization, about our collective intellectual and artistic achievements.
[Ed. note: This article includes spoilers for both The Last of Us Part 2 and Spider-Man: Miles Morales.]
The idea of a video game as a museum in itself feels like a major Shower thoughtbut it also feels very appropriate. For example, The last of us Part 2 is a museum dedicated to the player’s achievements, but also a game that has both a museum and an aquarium that the main characters visit and explore. Video game designers keep coming back to museums as an interesting place to place integral moments of a game’s story, as these spaces reflect the core concept of video games.
“We use our experiences when we go to museums, and there is often a sense of wonder – imagination and learning – but sometimes there is also a sense of creep when you see all these stuffed animals and cavemen,” said Druckmann. “Then there are only basic design things, like how we play with light and shapes and what is hidden at every corner.”
The design of the museum can inspire how a gamer goes through it, and it can also set the mood the developer is looking for.
“When you enter the museum for the first time [in The Last of Us Part 2]It’s very open – you can see almost all of the displays, ”said Druckmann. “And then when you get to the other area where you want to add the creepiness we started using all of the light and the position of the displays. It creates a different feeling because you can’t quite see. “
Inside the museum, beyond the overgrown world, Ellie and Joel can take in amazement and awe as they explore the space without a single threat – until the moment there may be one. Ellie and Joel interact with the museum in a way that, despite the ruin outside, is almost ambitious: they get into a spaceship and pretend to actually fly away.
The science museum in Spider Man: Miles Morales is similarly an echo of the game’s history and themes – both the past and the future are represented by the various states the museum is in, both pristine and ruined. The player hits the museum at two different points: a flashback where Miles and best friend Phin (who later turns into a hobbyist) celebrate their award-winning science fair project, and another when Miles and Phin (as Spider-) Man and hobbyist compete against each other in their final battle.
“The museum tells us what could have been: two brilliant children admiring displays and dreaming about their future before it falls apart,” Mary Kenney, advanced writer for Insomniac Games, told Polygon.
It’s representative of Miles and Phin’s scientific expertise, of course, but the name also implies the company’s influence that Oscorp (and others!) Have on this version of New York City. During the flashback, Miles and Phin try to visit their exhibit at the science fair at the museum, but are turned away because they don’t have tickets. It’s a moment that in its simplicity says so much about where these two middle school students fit in this world that belongs to Roxxon and Oscorp. It says a lot that the museum as an institution will “accept” students into its world and benefit from their talents, but not literally involve them – they shouldn’t need tickets to see their own work.
As Miles, I can interact with most of the exhibits, each of which plays a voice-over explaining the science and technology behind the glass. The world’s scientific achievements are portrayed as innovation – but as gamers we also know a little more about Oscorp and know that its research isn’t always as innocent as it seems. That affected my perception of the museum in a threatening way as various scenes played out in the room.
That first look back at the museum was a quiet moment before this action started again, much like The last of us part 2Museum scene. Neither of these sequences really reflects the nature of the collection, but they touch the past in a way that mimics the setting itself as well as the overall themes of the story. in the The last of us part 2 and Spider-Man: Miles MoralesThe museum scenes touch on childhood and loss – often in a violent, catastrophic world. Again, it all works because video games are Museums and the museums in these games reflect the games they are in.
This whole idea is of course not new. In-game museums were a big part of the Uncharted franchise, and they’re in many other major franchises from The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim to BioShock 2. But the sheer amount of museums in games over the past year was still remarkable. Perhaps that was because museums around the world were closing their doors to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Then the museum directors turned the script around, so to speak. Video game developers used museums to invoke and display meaning, but museums used video games to create new experiences in a digital space. And so video games and museums became more intertwined as museums themselves entered virtual worlds, be it creating and cataloging a collection of historical smocks, building art installations or Uploading an entire Dang art collection for players to easily add to the game.
We see video games in museums and museums in video games because the format fits exactly and uses the satisfaction of collection, information and nostalgia. It makes sense for a game to take advantage of that feeling, and that’s why museum levels feel so good. Video games have long been inspired by museums, and it’s fascinating to see how museums are now learning from games.