When was the last time you actually visited a museum? With the various stages of lockdowns limiting indoor tourist attractions, it’s been a while since most of us set foot in an actual museum.
While some museums have turned to virtual video tours and 360 VR websites, there’s still something missing about the whole museum experience when you just watch passively.
Museum tours usually offer a bit of interaction. You enter a space with a bunch of strangers and are usually led around by a knowledgeable tour guide who provides background information on the artifacts on display. For self-guided tours, you can physically walk around and look at displays around the galleries yourself.
Ayala Museum’s creative 8-bit virtual tour "Where is the Filipino?" manages to gamify the museum experience for pandemic times.
Ayala Museum is a privately owned history museum that houses ethnographic and archaeological exhibits on Filipino culture, art, and history. With the phsyical six-story building still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and ongoing renovations, this approach manages to engage audiences in immersive tours around the Philippines and the museum’s collection.
Launched in line with International Museum Day 2021, the interactive tour takes visitors around the Philippines while encountering indigenous and ethnographic artifacts from the Ayala Museum collection along the way.
By now, we’re all Zoomed out with the format of usual video calls and online meetings.
This 8-bit tour isn’t your regular Zoom call, where you just sit and listen. The tour is held on Gather.Town, a new online social platform that allows guests to interact with each other, control an avatar, and explore a 2D map.
The amazing platform launched just last year can be used for virtual offices, classes, workshops and more to help people feel a bit more connected while working remotely.
Gather.Town combines web-based video calling with a 2D map, letting users walk around and talk to other people. The creation tools let users create their own completely customizable maps and interactive spaces.
The whole look and feel of the platform is reminiscent of nostalgic 8-bit RPGs during the '80s to '90s like the original The Legend of Zelda and early Final Fantasy games. But instead of exploring the map as a single player, you can interact with other people and multimedia objects in real time, chat, and more.
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Ayala Museum has utilized Gather.Town to map out 100+ museum objects on the Philippine map.
Before entering the space, you can name and customize your Avatar’s character and clothing, like you would before starting 8-bit games. While in the space, you can choose whether to remain anonymous as an Avatar, or turn on your microphone and camera for the traditional video chat features.
The tour starts at the Ayala Museum lobby, where the tour guide introduces the platform and takes visitors around the space into the main room. Characters can move with the arrow keys, interact with objects and signages by pressing the X key, dance by pressing Z, and go on “Ghost mode” to turn semi-invisible.
There are items on display that lead to detailed captions with photos when clicked or tiny TV screens with embedded videos for guests to watch through, which you only can find by walking around and interacting with objects.
While you can easily explore the map on your own, having other people in the same tour at the same time makes the experience a bit more lively and interactive.
One fun feature of the live tour was a hosted mini-game, where the host asked trivia questions about one of the videos and guests had to line up in front of easels with the right multiple choice answer.
Another thing I appreciated about the 8-bit tour is how much easier it is to visualize the origins of certain artifacts while walking around the map than it is compared to visiting a physical museum.
For instance, while exploring the rice terraces of the Ifugao in the Cordillera region, visitors can click detailed information about the artifacts that came from there like the Kinabiggat, or read about the origins of the unique T'nalak weaves crafted by T'boli dreamweavers from South Cotabato.
Visitors can also get a refresher on Philippine geography through the tour. You can only travel to Visayas and Mindanao through ferry ports placed in the proper provinces. By clicking on an arrow, you can teleport from Sorsogon to Samar. From there, your character can cross over to other islands in the Visayas, like Cebu or Bohol where you can step on the Chocoloate Hills, and more.
The one-hour tour took us from Metro Manila, up to some Northern provinces like Banaue, Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela, down through Quezon and the Bicol region, crossing over to Samar. We made our way down to Mindanao through Surigao, visiting Davao, Lanao del Norte, and all the way to Tawi-Tawi through the Zamboanga region, with the entry end exit points accurate to the Philippine nautical highway.
Aside from the informative spiels given by the host/museum guide about the artifacts passed along the way, guests are given time to walk around and explore the map on their own, so you can read up more about the items that come from provinces of your interest.
Overall, the 8-bit virtual tour felt like the exploration portion of a retro 8-bit game, where you’re getting a lot of informative backstories on artifacts of interest from a key character and can interact with other NPCs. Having to physically move your character and interact with items on the screen offers a refreshing change from just sitting and listening during Zoom calls.
At the moment, the Gather.Town platform requires a laptop or desktop wth Chrome or Firefox installed. Because of the system requirements, the platorm may not load properly on mobile devices.
The live guided tour could only accommodate 15 people at a time. You physically can’t move your character if you crowd around the same limited virtual space, as I noticed when our host tour guide kept getting trapped when we would surround her.
The site, which is now open for the public to roam freely on their own, can now accommodate 25 users at a time. Anyone interested to take a tour by themselves or with friends can check it out with no prior booking required.
Those who still want to explore the space with friends and family can try out the self-guided tours starting Saturday, May 22 until May 30, 2021.
For more information and instructions, visit www.ayalamuseum.org/IMD2021 or contact Ayala Museum through any of their social media platforms.
Beyond the Ayala Museum 8-bit tours, the Gather.Town platform itself is worth exploring as a fun alternative to virtual offices and gatherings where you can spend time with friends, coworkers, and communities like you would in real life. The maps are completely customizable, so you can recreate your own spaces for your business and personal use.
(Screenshots from Ayala Museum)