According to its creator, upcoming management sim Mondo Museum represents an ideal version of what museums can be.
Game designer Michel McBride-Charpentier, who loves management sims, told Kotaku over the phone that he couldn’t believe that there hadn’t been one based around curating and running a museum before.
“I think the first time I ever wrote down in a notebook, like, ‘Sim Museum,’ was a long time ago, probably over ten years ago, and then making a prototype six years ago,” he said. “I’m really surprised that in the intervening ten years since I first thought of it, nobody else had made one.”
In Mondo Museum, coming in 2020, players will construct and curate museums, mixing and matching artistic and historic objects. McBride-Charpentier said that the game won’t feature any fictional art or fictional history. Although education isn’t the primary focus, part of the game is about teaching players how museums work, and how placing art and artifacts next to each other can contextualize history and tell a story to visitors.
Like school children all over the world, McBride-Charpentier grew up going to museums on school trips in his native Ottawa, saying, “I was lucky as a kid to be exposed to a lot of different ones.”
Though McBride-Charpentier doesn’t have a lot of standout memories of museums from his childhood, his research for this game has given him the opportunity to visit and learn from prestigious museums in the United States as well as Canada.
“I’ve been to all the big New York ones, and I was really inspired by how they mix a lot of different things together,” he said. “The Met has fine art, and then it’s got medieval armour and then ancient Egypt stuff. What I’ve taken from my more recent museum trips is just how fun it is to see a variety of things.”
“Context is so important,” he continued. “This [game] is still obviously in development, but the plan is players will be able to create an exhibit that has maybe all paintings from a certain era, or they might take some of those paintings and add them alongside more historical artifacts. So, kind of creating the context for themselves… The goal is to get players seeing these relationships between items from separate collections and how they might combine together.”
McBride-Charpentier used the example of a collection of space-related objects that he plans to put in Mondo Museum. Players could combine models of the solar system with artifacts from ancient Egypt to show how Egyptians understood astronomy. There will even be a combo system to reward players that combine different objects across history.
Mondo Museum will be an idealised version of what museums can be, rather than what they currently are. McBride-Charpentier said that there won’t be security guards in this game, for example, though players will have to manage the wear and tear on exhibits from handsy visitors. McBride-Charpentier also noted that he doesn’t want this game to uphold the often exclusionary system of large museums, including the practice of holding onto artifacts that were stolen from their countries of origin.
“The way that [museums] have built their collections in the West is mostly based on colonial looting,” McBride-Charpentier said. “That’s a huge black mark on these kinds of institutions. Instead of representing that, this game is showing a more utopian version of what museums should be like.”
McBride-Charpentier further clarified this vision over email. “The way new items are unlocked and you grow your collection is by receiving loans from other museums, the home museum where these items rightly belong,” he wrote. “For example, more Ancient Egyptian items are unlocked by satisfying the pre-conditions of the director/curator from an Ancient Egyptian museum in Cairo, who appears as a kind of VIP visitor judging that your museum is good enough to display their items.”
Though Mondo Museum is, at its heart, a management sim, since McBride-Charpentier wants to create a game that satisfies management sim diehards such as he, he also hopes that this game will help players see real-life museums in a new light.
“I would love it if people play this and then were inspired to go out to the real museums that might be nearby,” he said.