Detective trail

This game was tried out in the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading, just as iPads with cameras had hit the market. They were very new and their use in museums was not really known. Whether the game would have the same appeal now that everyone owns their own tablet/smartphone we don’t know, but at the time it created great excitement and interest and seemed to encourage exploration of the museum.

A story involving around a dozen objects in the Museum was created (see The Great Reading Cheese Mystery). Visitors were signed up as detectives, being given their ID card which they placed in the ‘scanning machine’ to get their first clue. This sent them off into the museum to find a particular object, next to which they could pick up the next clue card. They brought this back to the scanning machine to get the next clue and so on. At the completion of the trail they were rewarded with a certificate, and in this particular case, a sniff of the cheese at the centre of the murder-mystery scandal around which the story was based.

Because it was very easy to link an object to a clue/QR code we were able to include an artwork from a temporary exhibition in the game. It would also be easy to tailor it for a one-off event.

The techie stuff

An iPad was loaded with a QR-code reading app and placed face-down on top of its own box, suitably cut out so that the clue cards could be slid underneath accurately. This proved very successful, with even a visitor in a wheelchair able to participate as it didn’t require good hand-eye coordination or strength to align the iPad with the QR-code. Each code resulted in a clue, a simple text message, showing on the iPad screen, sending the participant off to the next Museum object. We did learn something about museum visitors – a 5 year old managed to change the background to the iPad before anyone could stop them for example, and so home and off buttons were hidden, the iPad/box taped to the table, the scanning machine manned by white-coated lab assistants to make messing-about less likely. We also had to site the ‘lab’ carefully so that the iPad had reliable wi-fi access (a common problem in heritage sites is that wi-fi has ‘blank spots’ due to thick walls, or in the MERL’s case a steel-based structure rendering wi-fi and 3G etc access patchy.

Subsequently we have used the Kiosk Pro app to ‘tie down’ iPads and make them visitor proof in unmanned galleries. This also allows local storage of the code making it possible to run some ‘webapps’ locally in the iPad without wi-fi/3G etc access.

Try it yourself

It’s impossible to recreate the whole visitor experience without being in the Museum, laid out as it was at the time. But here’s a bit of it:

Here’s an example of the sort of clue which the visitor would pick up from a basket near an object and then bring to the decoding station to find the next clue. Load a QR-code reading app onto your mobile device, start it up and point your mobile’s camera at it. You should see the next clue coming up.