Dinosaurs still live and breathe in our popular consciousness. You can see them run around in Jurassic World or see robot versions in Horizon: Zero Dawn. We all know what it looks like when a guy gets bitten in half by a mutated T. rex clone, but where do you go to learn more about the real creatures that walked, buzzed, slithered, and swam across our planet millions of years ago? If a group of paleontologists reach their crowdfunding goals within the next month, the answer may be the Virtual Natural History Museum.
Created by Dave Marshall, Laura Soul, and Claire Morley, the Virtual Natural History Museum, or V-NHM, is taking lessons from video games and bringing the museum-going experience to the video game generation. I recently spoke with Marshall about the V-NHM, its goals, and its relationship to gaming.
Updating the Museum Experience
The idea for the V-NHM came out of a need to address the lack of multimedia resources available to Earth Science teachers. I know firsthand how dry a science lesson can be without visual or hands-on components that demonstrate lessons from biology. Thankfully museums around the world have plenty in stock. “Many museums have digitized collections just waiting to be explored and put on display,” Marshall explains. “Up until now, it’s been exclusively for the benefit of researchers.”
By making the digital collections available to the public, Marshall and his team are hoping to change that. “We’ll bring in diagrams, and maps, and everything we can get our hands on,” Marshall says. This includes high resolution images of rarely seen material. Where real museums predominantly show casts and replicas — which Marshall equates to finding out “that the tooth fairy isn’t real” — a digital collection can showcase the original discoveries in all their glory. With access to numerous heretofore hidden collections, the V-NHM can surpass any other publicly accessible museum “by an order of magnitude,” Marshall says.
Pokémon and Gaming Inspiration
Visitors to the V-NHM may have Pokémon to thank for the experience. “Probably the museum I visited the most is the Pewter Museum of Science in Pokémon Red and Blue,” Marshall explains. The tiny museum located in Pewter City houses just two fossils, Aerodactyl and Kabutops, but many players, including Marshall, cough up the 50 Pokédollars to see the exhibit. Even so, the experience is a big inspiration for the V-NHM team, which you can see in the 16-bit aesthetic they’re creating for the project.
The joy of an actual museum exhibit is in the exploration, and Marshall plans to encourage this behavior by adding traditional game elements like unlocks and achievements. In fact, the team plans to include a game arcade in the museum, in addition to a lecture hall, an art gallery, prep labs, and more. If the museum gets off the ground, they hope to invite indie game developers to showcase their own paleontological themed creations. Says Marshall: “If you have any games that would suit this, get in touch. Let us know.”
The Small Things
“So normally in Jurassic Park, the fly in amber, that’s just a way of getting dinosaur blood,” Marshal says. “We don’t really care about the fly. But as soon as you start looking at details, you start seeing amazing stuff.” One example he gives is parasitic worms bursting from their mosquito host in a desperate act of survival trapped in time — described by Marshall in vividness too disturbing to recount here.
It is this diversity in paleontology that the V-NHM team hopes to capture in the interactive game-like museum. “Dinosaurs in popular culture do lots to get people interested in paleontology.” Marshall says, “Like Jurassic Park, but come to learn more about everything else.”
You’ll have to wait to visit the game-inspired museum yourself, as the team is still seeking funding on Walacea, a crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter. You can back the project right here, and even sponsor your own specimen. And of course you can join Wikia’s own dinosaur fan community over at dinopedia.wikia.com.
Check out the video below to learn more.