Review: Trouble in the Collections, by Corvidae Games
A pixel art video game on the magic behind caring for museum collections.
‘Today, Myla is working on the museum floor and bumps into you by accident, knocking you over. Myla apologises and offers to buy you a coffee. While chatting you mention that you have worked in a museum before and Myla confides that they are having a bit of trouble with figuring out how to look after some items.
Do you want to help Myla?’
Say yes, and you’ll discover a small mysterious museum in your neighbourhood you hadn’t noticed until now. You’ll help Myla with some collection items they don’t know how to deal with; with each item you can make different choices that will either help Myla successfully care for it, or cause some kind of supernaturally-related disaster. (Say no, and you’ll just… I don’t know, go home.)
Trouble in the Collections by Corvidae Games is a pixel art video game about the collections of a small museum. While helping Myla you will learn about the different kinds of objects you can find in a museum collection, and explore the best ways to take care of them. You’ll also learn more about their provenance and the stories behind them — ever wanted to know more about a witch bottle? (a bottled witch?)
I was excited to stumble across this little gem of a game on Twitter, both as a hopeful future museum worker and as a fan of mini video games. By mini video games I mean small, personal, independent games in general; the smaller scale in production means they can often explore very specific topics, such as the collections of a museum.
Trouble in the Collections offers a whimsical experience of a museum that will delight those who are familiar with museum collections and maybe surprise those who are not. If you ever find yourself staring at a vase in a museum and not knowing what to make of it, this game might be useful.
I was lucky to interview Myla, the game’s designer and writer, and find out what inspired the creation of this game.
A. Duch Giménez: What urged you to make this game?
Myla: While I was working in my student placement with Museums Galleries Scotland we were tasked with presenting our work at the end. I was frustrated by the lack of connection between computer games and museums in general, so I decided to do a small five-minute game that would show how museums and games could interact with each other.
A. How did you get inspiration for it?
M. I was inspired by how quickly my friend Laurie Raye was able to make beautiful and simple designs for games. From there, and the fact that I was driven to introduce computer gaming into museums, I decided on a concept of helping someone look after objects. Not only did it help me complete my SVQ3 in Museums and Galleries practice but it inspired others to start talking about digital connections within museum settings. Of course 2020 pushed us all into the digital age, so to speak.
A. The items in the collection are really varied — a hard hat, a witch bottle, and a vase — did you want to show how diverse collections can be? Which one is your favourite?
M. Yes, objects in the museums can be anything from ballpoint pens to full disassembled apothecaries. I wanted to show their variety as well as the job of the curators and collections managers to research and share knowledge about the objects they have. After all, without context and a story behind it a ballpoint pen would just be a normal everyday object.
My favourite is probably the hard hat, seeing as most people would discount it as being important, but often everyday objects that look unimportant have very important histories behind them.
‘Often everyday objects that look unimportant have very important histories behind them’
A. Museums are often seen as very matter-of-fact places. Is this why you chose to have fantasy elements in your game?
M. I chose the fantasy elements to show that museums can be whatever we want them to be. In the digital age we have museums that start as twitter accounts (Vagina Museum) and websites (Museum of Broken Relationships). I love the idea that we could make an entire museum that only exists in digital space, something that people forget about, but sometimes stumble across.
The other part of the fantasy element for me was that I wanted to show people how I see museums and the objects inside them. When I visit museums, galleries and historical sites I always feel that fantasy element, like we are time travellers or we’ve stepped into another world.
It’s up to us to change the viewpoint of museums being matter-of-fact; museums are not neutral after all. We go to museums to learn about the past, why not talk about the future too — see the climate emergency pop-ups in 2019.
A. The goal of Corvidae Games is ‘to encourage play and digital interaction with all aspects of the Museum Sector.’ How would you like video games to contribute to the understanding of how museums work?
M. I think there is an air of mystery and confusion about what museum professionals actually do and often people just think of them as buildings full of curators. People in the sector are aware, of course, that there are hundreds of other roles in museums to keep them running. I want to showcase the different roles in the sector and show that every job is just as important as the others.
A. Is there a next game in line, and if so could you tell us a bit about it?
M. Yes! Our next game in the works is called Smidgeon Smash, where a museum cat (Smidgeon from Trouble in the Collections) is loose on the museum floor and your role is to catch all the objects Smidgeon tries to smash. We will have real-life museum objects in the game, a gallery accessed from the start menu where you will be able to view information on all the objects in the game such as their location, so encouraging people to visit the museums where the objects are located is the main goal of this game. It has much more of an arcade theme with the same sort of pixel graphics. Unfortunately we are still applying for funding for this game so there’s no release date set yet.
A. You’re the friendly deer in the game who asks for help with the collections. Why a deer?
M. The friendly deer person and Smidgeon were both created by Laurie Raye. They really are the inspiration for the move to game creation as well as using pixel art as the art style. They helped me figure out how pixel art works and my partner John Corvidae coded and put the game together. So it really was a group effort. I did dress up as the character for the launch event with Museums Galleries Scotland and I believe there are some photos on the website. I like the idea of a faun/dryad type character being a museum profession and wearing whatever they liked, rather than the usual stereotype of a white guy in professional clothes.
The game was designed and written by Myla, the code was written by John Corvidae, and permission to use the design for characters was granted by Laurie Raye .You can find Corvidae Games on Twitter, as well as on itch.io.