Armed with nothing but their smartphones, players do battle with massive chickens, head lice and other nasty apparitions to free Vivienne von Wattenwyl from her feverish hallucinations. What is real and what is simply a delusion? The only thing museum visitors can be sure of is that they have never experienced anything like this before. The mobile game is exclusive to our museum and was developed by machina eX, a game theatre group based in Berlin.
New game, new perspective
This game format lets visitors experience the museum like never before. Part computer game, part audio book and part scavenger hunt, it opens up a parallel world in which things are no longer what they appear. A second layer of meaning is laid over existing exhibitions and objects, and players become savvy characters in a game world that only they can access – if you don’t play, you will only be vaguely aware of the mysterious expedition currently under way. Players solve puzzles and follow clues, while their actions influence the progression of the story.
Old stories, new contexts
The main character at the centre of the game is Vivienne von Wattenwyl, a Bern aristocrat and big game hunter who lived and worked in the early 20th century. Vivienne nimbly carries the narrative from place to place and through the ages in an entertaining way – yet not without depth. Along the way, in the heat of the moment, players also learn many interesting facts. By working to free this mysterious historical figure from her feverish nightmares, unknown connections and hidden details about topics and objects in the exhibition are revealed.
Forging new paths
Some time ago, the Natural History Museum of Bern began looking for a new way of engaging its visitors that would provide people with a fresh perspective on the existing exhibitions. During its search, the museum thoroughly investigated the promising developments happening in the field of virtual and augmented reality.
In the end, however, the museum deliberately chose not to use a purely digital solution. The exhibitions, with their historical artefacts and displays, have always been the lifeblood of the museum. While Wikipedia, Instagram, Google Lens and all the other achievements of the shiny new digital world have certainly influenced the work of museums, they have not diminished the appeal of museums as physical spaces with tangible objects. Quite the contrary, which is why we have deliberately chosen to differentiate ourselves by using smartphones simply as a means to an end – the focus is not on the technical wizardry. What’s more, we are convinced that younger audiences in particular won’t be attracted simply by the promise of an ever greater amount of information.
During our search, we stumbled across the Berlin game theatre group machina eX, which is particularly interested in the transfer of computer game systems into real world spaces. We realised that this mixture of theatre, computer game, game design and audio book presented us with an opportunity to develop a game unlike any other previously used in museums.
The game is free of charge – visitors simply pick up the instructions and can then get started.
The game is for people of all ages who are inquisitive and enjoy playing games.
To play, all you need is a smartphone and someone who knows how to use it. The game can be played on your own or as part of a group, although we recommend limiting group sizes to five people. Each group uses a single smartphone. Visitors who don’t have a smartphone, are unable to use one or haven’t yet learnt to read can simply play as part of a group.
The players can decide for themselves in which part of the museum they would like to play. The game can be played ‘on the side’ as they explore the normal museum exhibitions, or it can be the main focus of their visit. The game is divided into sections that can also be played separately.
The game was developed in close collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Bern (NMBE).
- Project management, content concept: Dora Strahm, Exhibition Curator NMBE
- Project management, creative direction, sound design: Mathias Prinz
- Technical direction, programming, game design: Philip Steimel
- Text, narrative: Clara Ehrenwerth
machina eX has been exploring the interface between theatre and computer games since 2010. The media theatre collective’s seven-person team (Clara Ehrenwerth, Anna Fries, Robin Hädicke, Lasse Marburg, Mathias Prinz, Yves Regenass and Philip Steimel) met at the cultural studies faculty of the University of Hildesheim and now produce interactive game theatre. machina eX combines modern technologies with classical methods from the ‘theatre of illusion’ to create immersive, playable theatre pieces, which are essentially real-life computer games. Since it was established, the company has developed around twenty live games for German-speaking countries and beyond.
In May 1923, Vivienne von Wattenwyl – who was only 23 at the time – travelled to East Africa with her father Bernard to hunt animals for the Natural History Museum of Bern. When her father was killed by a lion, she successfully continued the journey with the African hunters and porters as the only woman and only white person on the safari. She returned to Africa in 1928, but this time she left the guns behind and simply took photographs with her camera. The animals shot by these two big game hunters make up a core part of the museum and the African dioramas are still among the most popular attractions.