Game on! at SFMOMA 

click to enlarge Interactive institution: Visitors to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art take play the character-driven game I Know What I Like, part of ArtGameLab. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Interactive institution: Visitors to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art take play the character-driven game I Know What I Like, part of ArtGameLab.

ArtGameLab at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the result of a successful experiment in crowdsourcing.

Last summer, museum staffer Erica Gangsei — inspired by the Brooklyn Museum’s “Click!” crowd-curated photo show as well as the Bay Area’s creative energy and playful spirit — issued a public call for people to design games that could be played at the museum.

From 50 proposals, she selected five games, which are neatly presented on a bright blue wall in the Koret Visitor Education Center. They remix elements of strategy games, board games, role playing games and even Mad Libs into new configurations.

Visitors are invited to grab an instruction pamphlet, a character card or a phone number to call, and start playing. Or they can submit their own game ideas. Highlights of visitor-created games so far range from fantastical and impractical games in which holographic zombies and demons attack, to a Clue-like murder mystery game in which artworks hanging in the museum hold the clues.

Gangsei, manager of interpretive media at the museum, says, “My absolute favorite [visitor-submitted game] ever is about visiting a museum with your significant other.” Players are instructed to commit relationship foibles as they look at art together, such as saying the opposite of what they mean or frequently looking over a partner’s shoulder.

So who goes to an art museum to play games? Pretty much anybody. Gangsei says, “We’ve been doing surveys of players, and we’ve seen everything from groups in their 20s and 30s to entire families ranging in age from 5 to 75.”

In one game, called Super Going, players post artistic missions on a social networking site for others to engage in, for example, “Photograph a beautiful manhole cover or sewage grate.” Join in to post or accept a mission by visiting

The Curious Scholarship of Dr. Bedcannon is an alternate reality game starring a conspiracy theorist curator. I Know What I Like is a role-playing game that has visitors exploring the museum in character. Dialogues in Motion, kind of a reverse charades, is about art vocabulary words, and Didactic Mad Libs has players blindly rewriting museum wall text, then comparing their words with the real thing.

The games appeal in that they provide a fun experience that’s unique to being at the museum at a particular moment. As Gangsei put it, “You can’t tweet it.”



Where: Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and until 8:45 p.m. Thursdays; through Aug. 12

Admission: $11 to $18, free for children 12 and under

(415) 357-4000,

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Kris Vagner

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