The Art of Engagement


Gamification, the application of game-design elements and principles in non-game contexts, is quickly becoming a part of our daily life. For example, using your FitBit to track your daily intake of water so you can hit a daily goal? Gamification. Nike Run app that coaches you to milestones in your run? Gamification. It’s not gaming but it’s game-like, and it is, essentially, a modern approach to play. Here at Ultra we know a lot about play.

Ultra has a long history of creating games and extending play value for brands, which is why when we heard about the Minneapolis Art Institute’s (MIA) “Riddle MIA This” VR experience, we had to go. But first, gamification at an art museum? Yes! Gamification is a halo to two major trends today: gaming and board games. Gaming culture is predicted to generate $151 billion this year, a 9.6% year-on-year increase and board games remain wildly popular. Add a mobile device to game-seekers on either end and gamification can create a variety of opportunities to create engagement, like at an art museum.


The MIA has essentially turned the museum into a riddle room, where you use a dedicated app to navigate clues, take photos, and utilize VR to investigate an imminent museum takeover. It is meant for adults or very engaged tweens and up and was an immersive escape. While challenging and frustrating at times (the best games are), it gave us permission to live in another space in time.

Seeing the ‘Riddle’ app in practice, it reminded us of how brands need to continue to create news and elevate the user experience. Especially when the brand, product or experience is stagnant or unchanged. The MIA experience is a traffic driver – it game us a reason to go when we otherwise wouldn’t – and created play value, engaging and enriching an experience that got us to go and stay.

But who were they targeting and what was their objective? Was it to elevate the current museum visitor experience or open themselves up to a new audience who has an appreciation for riddle-solving experiences? Is it a modern interpretation of the classic audio tour? We felt it kept the experience it interesting and fun, pushed us through the museum, and asked us to be active participants versus passive observers. However, the experience did detract a bit from appreciating the art for art sake. Our focus went to solving the problem and looking for specific clues to solve the puzzle versus art appreciation.  

That doesn’t mean the story couldn’t be retold to push visitors to see other things or have themes to focus on specific time periods and be more educational. Ultimately, the experience at the MIA gave us pause about the kind of modern interaction it brought to static objects. And, with everything going video, this was a new way to interact with the physical world.


For more pictures and thoughts about our visit, check out our Instagram post here.