The Role of Entertainment in Cultural Institutions

April 28, 2010 No Comments

The marriage of entertainment and education has been given the general term “Edutainment” – but has had to fight to prove its value in a sector that is incredibly reticent to embrace anything that they see as dumbing down or trivializing the process of learning.

In out-of-home, the international “Edutainment” sector covers one of the widest ranges of facilities, from museums, galleries, historic sites, heritage visitor attractions, libraries and zoos to planetariums, science centers and educational facilities. This extensive market also includes cultural governmental organizations and associations, partly in support of the individual, disparate, groups and partly in ensuring the historical and cultural value of the venues for local government and country.

Into this diverse sector (with its complicated funding structure), the experience and technology of the amusement and attractions sector has begun to be applied; a sector that brings knowledge of imparting a message in an entertaining and memorable manner – and able most importantly to generate revenue. Even before the current financial conditions, the museum and science center market had started to consider embracing elements of the entertainment scene to encourage repeat visitation and revenue creation. A need not only to pay for their keep but in order to compete in an environment ever more crowded with growing competition to the core audience.

Attractions for Museums

Hoping to transplant an amusement attraction into an educational environment is impossible, but the development of embracing elements of established audience systems for application in this unique environment have been ongoing for years.

Showscan Entertainment, Doron Precision Systems and Simworx motion theatre simulators have been successfully installed in museums since the 1980s – famous installations include one at the prestigious London Science Museum, and it is a testament to their value and reliability that they are still in operation to this day. It is a marriage of a strong educational message and reliable attraction-quality hardware.

The popularity of 3D films with an educational foundation has been championed with content from companies such as 3DBA / nWave Pictures – with “SOS Planet,” a digital effects film produced in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature – The Netherlands (WWF); or “African Adventure 3D: Safari in the Okavango” – in partnership with a renown South African zoologist who created a thrilling adventure in the flooded desert. These and other large format and attraction films, from a growing number of producers, offer the educational values suitable for education application.

With new technology, the element of the theatre and capsule motion 3D experiences is now evolving from the passive film toward the new opportunity of interactive content within the educational environment.

One of the pioneers of the informative interactive entertainment experience is Environmental Tectonics Corporation’s (ETC), and their division The Ride Works. The company is famous for their attraction “Wild Earth: Safari,” which allows riders to drive around the African Serengeti searching for wildlife, snapping photos of animals while learning about the environment. Motion is supplied by the “XSpeed” motion platform. An innovative application of the interactive attraction was launched at Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Zoo in 2005.

Building on the success of the driving experience, ETC launched “Wild Earth: Deep Ocean Safari,” a marine application to explore and record interactive narrative. First launched at McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Ala., the experience allows multiple riders to participate in the submariner experience. One aspect of employing successful and popular experiences to the educational scene is working with respected experts in their fields to help shape the games to offer the best mix of fun and information.

The interactivity offers a greater level of experience that builds on the learning experience. A simulator attraction finding museum application is from MaxFlight Corporation and their “FS2000,” a two-seat flight simulator that allows the guests to immerse themselves within an exhilarating experience. The company installed an interactive fighter plane simulation area at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo Museum – proving not only a strong draw, but also a repeat draw.

The flying simulation experience has been joined by the racing game. European developer Cruden Racing Simulation has released the latest version of their “Hexatech” full motion simulator. This full-motion race simulator is one of the most realistic simulators of its kind – offering the ability for an audience to gain a perception of the high-speed/high-g exhilaration. The company has to date installed their product in France at the i-Way facility and in the Mall of the Emirates – Magic Planet. But the system is also being eyed for museum application such as the highly themed Ferrari World venue.

Beyond the race track – simulation of more than one rider at a time is essential for the large audiences attracted to museum and heritage environments. Simulation is used as a large audience accommodator, and now with the new systems, audiences can also be accommodated in interactive experiences. One of these new systems is from Russia-based Trans-Force. The company’s “5D Interactive Attraction” offers a unique multi-dimension environment with 3D visuals on an immersive curved screen. Each rider inside the motion capsule is able to use their joystick to steer and shoot within the game.

For Trans-Force, the game experiences offer a compelling mixture of educational value and pure high-paced game play. An example of the mixing of educational narrative with interactive entertainment has been seen with the company’s space mission diversion. While exploring the moon, the players also defend themselves from the hazards of space travel, and build scores.

The popularity of this compelling mixture of education and fun for audiences of up to five players at a time had already won a number of lucrative purchases for the company. Most recently the Government of Moscow has installed the system in major museums in the territory, finding it an ideal fit.

Along with individual systems, companies are developing complete attractions that slot directly into the available space of museum and heritage facilities. European companies AlterFace and De Pinxi have been leaders in the creation of compelling interactive educational experiences that are especially themed for this application. Building on their past experience at developing robust interactive museum displays, the companies have broached into the sector of interactive edutainment experiences.

Interactive experiences can be applied to a wide diversity of audiences – offering a compelling mix to the attractions of a venue. The developer Comfyland has launched their “Comfyland Experience,” a themed environment that caters solely to toddlers, and offers a Senses Corner, a Cognitive Corner and a Music Corner. This targeting of a very young audience with interactive activities means that family groups can be catered to, and that the widest mix of visitors are entertained.

Along with attracting new audiences, there is the need to apply interactive entertainment in new locations. The wide scope of museum and heritage sites that have looked for interactive edutainment was increased recently with the addition of Planetaria. These venues have recently moved to adopt digital projection systems, and with that they are capable of applying 4D style presentations. Environmental Tectonics Corporation’s (ETC) The Ride Works has already experimented with a planetarium version of their game experience.

In the UK, Immersive has launched their “ImmersaWorld” system, which offers users a chance to experience an impressive and portable (inflatable), planetaria and domes, all using the Omnifocus projection system. This means that a wide selection of venues can include a digital planetarium and large dome display to a variety of attractions.

Entertainment Venues

with a Learning Message

Venues in the museum and heritage sector look to include entertainment-style components to their mix to attract the revenue of a repeat audience. But also, the elements allow the attractions to compete with encroachment from the attractions and entertainment venues into the education sector.

This encroachment is seen with the launch and development of competitive sites that offer a unique mix of entertainment with an edge of educational values.

An example of this is the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! operation. Since 1933, that organization has created a number of venues to house the bizarre and entertaining collection of curiosities assembled by the founder. These so-called “Odditorium” venues now represent a chain of 35 sites across the globe. The latest addition to the chain includes the 2008 opening of a site in the heart of one of the highest foot-traffic locations in the city of London. This museum-style application is in direct competition with both visitor attractions and museums.

Beyond the conventional application of the learning experience, new venues hope to mix the entertainment approach with an educational foundation. One application of this approach has been seen from Kidzania and Wananado City – both developers of themed child-based role-playing experiences. Within the site children get to play the part of various occupations in a child-sized environment representing a city in miniature – a growing application with over seven sites across the market.

This capturing of the younger audience speaks to the need to offer a family entertainment component to the new retail mix with the hopes of attracting a longer stay (and spend), but also offering a diversity of entertainment values.

Another new entrant to this sector is Legoland Discovery Center – a concentrated version of the Legoland theme park in a retail unit presentation, drawing heavily on learning through “playing well” (the Danish meaning of the word Lego). Within these centers, a young mix of visitors can explore and discover. The sites are able to accommodate in a single year over 500,000 visitors, and these kinds of numbers are an attractive addition to any mall or tourist location.

In the final observation, it is obvious that the educational experience will have to adopt many of the elements of the entertainment facility if it is to survive and prosper in a crowded environment. The technical sophistication of the core audience only increases the need to offer a compelling and entertaining representation of the learning experience.

However, there is a danger that the entertainment market may be slow to embrace the opportunities offered by including an educational element to their presentation. As with some museum curators, they have been keen to avoid trivializing their institutions’ collections by including entertainment values. But at the same time, they look towards strengthening their business model with the injection of new funds from repeat visitation and generated revenue. Likewise the entertainment scene will have to adopt educational values to the message included in their gaming content.

(Contributor Kevin Williams is founder and director of the out-of-home leisure entertainment consultancy KWP Limited, and founder and publisher of The Stinger Report and The Redemption Report. Visit www.thestingerreport.com and www.therefemptionreport.com.)

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