License to Krill: Biology, Puns, and Video Games at the Royal Ontario Museum
Friday, November 10, 2017 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Venue: Conference Center A

In 2014, scientists from Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum rushed to Newfoundland for the rare opportunity to recover the bodies of two blue whales that had washed up on the shore. The exhibit Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story, open from March through September 2017, features the skeleton of one of these whales and tells the story of this remarkable recovery effort, while drawing visitors deep into the world of the blue whale. Bluecadet worked with the ROM to create an interactive experience that is, on the surface, at odds with this tale of death and gruesome corporeal excavation: a light-hearted arcade game. The ROM and Bluecadet made bold decisions at every stage of the evolution of the interactive. In crafting an RFP, the ROM chose to emphasize that this interactive about the high-risk feeding habits of blue whales would be a “fun, exciting, immersive” moment.

When Bluecadet proposed an arcade-style game, the lead curator had doubts. Wouldn’t a game be a distraction from more authentic object-based experiences in the exhibit? But close collaboration, some low-fidelity paper prototyping, and a tight feature economy workshop led the two teams to success within a tight timeline. The resulting game, License to Krill, uses the familiar interactive vocabulary of an arcade game to convey a blue whale’s daily feeding struggle in an urgent and empathetic way. Visitors lined up to play and then had enthusiastic conversations about krill and lunge feeding—in the end, even the dubious lead curator was convinced of the efficacy of games as vehicles for science education. The exhibit is a whale of a success: it reached over 50% of the target attendance for its 6-month run in 5 weeks, and consistently hits more than double daily expectations.

Panel discussion would focus on:
- The risks the ROM took to create a light-hearted, kid-and-adult-friendly, pun-heavy exhibit about the death of an aquatic giant.
- Bluecadet’s balancing act in creating a game that was fun and addictive while delivering specific scientific learning points.
- What both teams have learned about use of games as curatorial components and for science education.


Type of Session
60-Minute Professional Session
Session Leader : Benjamin Bojko, Technology Director, Bluecadet
Co-Presenter : Dave Hollands, Head of Creative, Royal Ontario Museum
Co-Presenter : Joanie Thompson, Producer, Bluecadet