My MSc Dissertation: crowdsourcing games for museums

In 2011 I completed my dissertation project for City, University of London's Human-Centred Systems MSc. It started out as 'Game mechanics for social good: a case study on interaction models for crowdsourcing museum collections enhancement' and ended up as 'Playing with difficult objects: game designs for crowdsourcing museum metadata'.

To quote from my dissertation, ultimately I investigated the question:

  • 'can metadata games be designed to encourage people to play with 'difficult' museum objects while producing content that will improve museum websites?'

The project also explored a supplementary question that emerged after reviewing related cultural heritage metadata projects:

  • 'can games be designed to take crowdsourcing beyond tagging? That is, games to encourage the creation of metadata that requires more effort, time or skill than tags (but without creating additional institutional resource requirements for advance data cleaning, object selection or manual game content validation)?'

The original (quickly outdated) project objectives were:

  • Design game-like interaction models applicable to cultural heritage content and audiences through research, analysis and creativity workshops
  • Build an application and interfaces to implement the interaction designs and to create and store user-created content linked to collections content
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of game-like interaction models for eliciting useful content

The beta games I made are hosted at Museum Metadata Games (recently updated with a responsive theme and to include some of the million images from the British Library's Flickr Commons release).

A quick note after some responses to my project made me realise that my slightly sarcastic comment that the "game was 'marketed' sporadically on personal social media channels" may have been too subtle for the hurried or non-native English reader… The main focus of my evaluation phase was in-person play testing, but as the games were picked up on social media, I was able to evaluate wider responses and participation rates. However, as these online participation rates were not the result of a planned marketing or outreach campaign they largely reflect the constitution of my own social networks and should not be taken as indicative of potential results had I taken a more targeted approach to promoting the project. In other words, cultural heritage technologists like to check out other people's projects but are not necessarily casual game players, so participation rates based on my personal social networks are not statistically reliable.

Open Access version available

On Humanities Commons, Playing with difficult objects: game designs for crowdsourcing museum metadata' at

Abstract: This project explores the potential for casual browser-based games to help improve the quality of museum catalogue records. The project goal was to design and build casual yet compelling games that would have a positive impact on a practical level, helping improve the mass of 'difficult' – technical, near-duplicate, poorly catalogued or scantily digitised – records that make up the majority of many history museum collections. The project was successful in designing games that created improved metadata for 'difficult' objects from two science and history museum collections: Dora, a tagging game, and Donald, an experimental 'trivia' game that explored emergent game-play around longer forms of content that required some form of research or personal reference.

Keywords: museums, collections, games, crowdsourcing, websites.

The CC-BY license means you have to credit anything you use, but more importantly, I'd love to hear from anyone who finds it useful or who has questions or comments on it.

Creative Commons License
Playing with difficult objects: game designs for crowdsourcing museum metadata by Mia Ridge is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Selected publications and papers

I occasionally blogged about my MSc dissertation project as I went:

Responses to my MSc Dissertation

I was really excited to discover that another Masters student has extended my research in their own MSc dissertation. I can only assume this is a direct result of making my dissertation publicly available, which is an unexpected but lovely outcome:

Crowdsourcing cultural heritage metadata through social media gaming by Dimitris Paraschakis 'continues the research of Ridge, who studied the design of “crowdsourcing games” in the cultural heritage sector. As an extension of this research, we explore how and why to deliver this type of games on social networks on the example of Facebook'.

The literature review for the 10 Most Wanted project cites my dissertation. It's also great to see them take on the challenge of research-based tasks.

Seb Chan interviewed me about my crowdsourcing games for his Fresh+New blog.

I was interviewed for the Microtask crowdsourcing blog: 'Games at the museum: Mia Ridge interview'.

The UK's Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) nominated my project as a case study of 'outstanding digital practice in the heritage sector in the UK and internationally'.

Games in museums

I'm not currently working on this topic, but you can find some excellent researchers and work on the Lift your (museum) game wiki.