GamAR at the National Maritime Museum

Some time ago I read about the GamAR app for mobile devices. Which allows visitors to a number of heritage sites to download a (sometimes free, sometimes paid for) Augmented Reality Game based around the site. Last week I finally got to give it a go, when I visited the National Maritime Museum. The app had been sitting unused on my iPad for months. Now I had the oppurtunity to download a game a take it to the museum.

Here’s a thing – there’s a free game you can download for the Cutty Sark, but we’d been there a year or so ago, before GamAR came out, and didn’t want to repeat that visit yet. Now the Great Explorer game in the NMM itself appeared to be free on my iPad, so I downloaded that. But when my wife tried to download it into her’s she was asked to pay for it (so she didn’t – we took mine).

If I had had to pay, I’d have been cross, because it didn’t work. It started up and wanted access to the iPad’s camera, which I allowed, but the camera images wouldn’t appear on the game screen, so after some fiddling, I gave up and borrowed one of the museum’s Android tablets so my family could try it out.


It’s a simple but fun scavenger hunt around a giant map on the mezzanine level of the Museum’s roofed-in courtyard. The kids had to move from port to port, finding out a little about each country and picking up items and crew that allowed them, eventually to level up to Grand Admiral (huzzah). The Android tablet was quite heavy, and my boy gave up after a while with tired arms, so his sister completed the quest.

It was notable that there were few others playing the game, even though the borrowed tablets were free. I saw just one other player while we were there. There were plenty of kids playing on the map, though. But they were just playing, running and rolling around on its soft surface. Of course when they occasionally rolled under where my kids were point the tablet, the image recognition that powers the app failed and we’d have to wait a while for them to roll out of the way.

A regular visitor we were with, wasn’t even aware of the game, despite the massive banners around the map advertising it. This speaks to my continuing (but as yet unmeasured – I wonder how I might go about that?) suspicion that very few people actually want to play games when they are “doing heritage”.

Meanwhile, many more visitors where enjoying another playful intervention at Royal Museums Greenwich. Up the hill, at the Royal Observatory a number of items had been removed from show there, to appear in the Museum’s Longitude exhibition. To take their places in the observatory, the museum had brought in a number of Steampunk writers, artists and makers to create an alternate history of longitude.

The especially made exhibits were fun, but my favourite aspect was the rewriting of labels for items from the museum’s permanent collection. By way of example have a look at this picture:


Got it?

Now read the caption and suddenly the picture becomes a lot more frivolous:


A lot more fun, for me at least, than GamAR’s efforts.