Abstract

Open collections are an amazing resource for creative endeavours, but without curation and context they can be overwhelming and a trivial pursuit.

For this project I intend to devise a new tabletop game, using the British Library’s collection to both inspire the theme/narrative and provide the artwork. The primary outcome of the project will be a playable, physical copy of the game.

Inspired by the marvellous Mechanical Curator, the Maniacal Curator** game will give players the chance to curate their own collections in competition with their friends whilst incidentally exploring the unique facets of the British Library’s Flickr collection.

Though the specific mechanics would be derived during the research phase, I imagine the game as a vehicle for the public to forge unusual connections in curating their own small collections. Depending on said mechanics and game design, we may also be able to use the game as a vehicle for educating players about curatorial practice.

The Maniacal Curator could act as a unique, serendipitous discovery mechanism for the Library’s collection away from the Library itself. The game will also give a tactile presence to digital assets that may increase engagement if the physical components of the game can be linked to the digital counterparts.

I also intend to explore the viability of the finished game as a commercial product; if this and the development of the game is successful, this project may result in a physical product that could be sold by the British Library.

Relevant URL: https://flic.kr/s/aHskydvkjp

Research Question / Problem

I’d like to explore three main questions with this project.

- Can the often dry and abstruse archive materials be shaped into an entertaining yet educational product whilst celebrating their origins?

- How can library materials be gamified in a commercially useful way?

- Can physical representations of digital materials retain the connection to their digital counterparts?

Whilst I have seen heritage materials used in games before it is often without good reference to their source or at the expense of their context. It would be eminently useful to find a way of connecting such assets back to their digital counterparts and collections and would have a variety of uses outside of the gaming sphere.

Although commercial products connected to collections are common, they are currently often repetitive (i.e. Rosetta Stone print umbrellas, Lindisfarne Gospel notebooks, etc.). I’d like to provoke more creative product design for heritage institutions for the benefit of both the customers and the institutions. This may also lead to increased awareness of the relevant collections/institutions outside of the usual heritage audience and awareness of the digital collections as creative resources.

Showcasing BL Digital Collections

The key outcome of this project will be a card and/or board game, which will require a good deal of artwork—card backgrounds, item images, board art, etc. This artwork will be composed from British Library images wherever possible. This should allow us to showcase many images of assorted types (maps, illuminated letters, sketches, etc.).

If possible, I intend to connect the physical cards/items with their online digital counterparts, perhaps through NFC tags or QR codes (as demonstrated in the concept at https://flic.kr/s/aHskydvkjp).

For this project I would utilise a variety of materials from the diverse British Library Flickr collection.

Methods

There are several stages to this project.

The first step is to research existing tabletop games to explore which type of game and mechanics might be most appropriate for a game based around the Library’s Flickr collection. I intend to give particular attention to games that require a lot of artwork, such as ‘item’ cards. I will consult with Ben O’Steen of the Labs team in this, as he is very knowledgeable about tabletop games.

(I’m going to hope that Ben would be ok with being involved in this project.)

As this research progresses I will draw up several basic, initial games ideas. I will then whittle these down to 2–3 ideas which I will draw up in greater detail. A final idea to move forward with will be selected with the help of Ben and the Labs team.

With the shape of the game now set, I will select appropriate materials from the British Library Flickr collection and curate them as required for the game in a simple database.

Assets selected, I will set about turning them into game ‘artwork’ (such as cards or games board(s)).

Once this is complete I shall print a ‘draft’ version of the game and undertake at least three rounds of testing, refining the game based on player feedback (gathered at least in part through questionnaires) to iron out problems and improve playability.

Providing the game is playable, I will arrange to have the game printed in ‘professional’ quality in October and seek further testing feedback. I will also research the costs of producing the game for the commercial market (which I may proceed with if it proves viable).

I will blog about the entire project throughout.

Evidence that Entrant(s) can successfully complete the project

I’ve played board games as a hobby for some years, designed several video games, and read widely around games design as a subject. I have varied creative experience in the cultural heritage sector (i.e. designing and building apps, websites, and exhibitions).

I also have a solid idea of the content of the British Library’s Flickr collection due to my previous work with it on Poetic Places, which I think will be useful. I have good technical experience of image manipulation and desktop publishing software, which will be required for the printed elements of the project.

In addition, I have a pool of experienced tabletop game players I can draw on for the testing phase of the project.

How idea is achievable on a Technical, Curatorial and Legal basis

Technical

I don’t believe there will be particular technical requirements on this project beyond downloading images, composing materials, and printing things (the latter of which will be done by a third party if done at ‘professional’ quality).

Curatorial

If a mechanic/theme of this game is indeed curation/matching, one of the key steps of this project will be to select and curate materials to suit the game. For example, if players have to assemble collections, those collections might need to be planned. It’s hard to know how extensive this would be before settling on a game format but I’m confident that I can achieve this within the timeframe as I have experience of curating audiovisual collections, exhibitions, and digital resources within similar timespans.

Legal

Artwork will be drawn from the open British Library Flickr collection, thus avoiding copyright issues.

Plan

June–July 2016

Activity described here (e.g. what, when and by who)

Myself and Ben: Exploration of existing games and suitable mechanics to maximise use of British Library collection images.

Myself: Possibly visit UK Games Expo. Initial game ideas.

Myself and Labs team: Selection of final idea.

August 2016

Activity described here (e.g. what, when and by who)

Myself: Selection of British Library materials for use in game. Curation of materials as appropriate to game. Design of game components.

September 2016

Activity described here (e.g. what, when and by who)

Myself: ‘Draft’ printing of game.

Myself and Beta-testers: Testing of game.

Myself: Many refinements.

October 2016

Activity described here (e.g. what, when and by who)

Myself and Testers: Final testing and refinements of game.

Third party: Professional printing of final game.

Myself: Exploration of costs to make game available in commercial market.