Pain is one of those things that you shouldn’t teach people about through direct experience. The Science Museum has fortunately conceded to this, so for its new exhibition on pain and pain relief – the snappily titled Pain Less – the organisers have commissioned a game that seeks to explore the subject without anyone getting hurt.
Available online and through touch screens at the museum itself, Ouch, gives players the job of protecting a brain from incoming pain signals. There are a variety of ‘weapons’ at your disposal: placebos are plentiful but erratic in their usefulness; painkillers are more reliable but you build up a tolerance, and venom (which looks like it may be used as a pain killer in the future) is a powerful but rare topical pain blaster.
In effect, it’s the classic arcade game Missile Command, but with lightening bolts of pain replacing incoming missiles. And it’s quite compelling too, especially because you get to select the form of pain your character experiences at the start of each level. Do you fancy being stabbed in the arm with an arrow or having a heavy weight dropped on your foot? These are choices we rarely get to make in games, let alone real life.
Developed by digital agency ThoughtDen, the design was created with 13-year-old students from the Langley Academy in Berkshire. “It’s not often we involve the audience in concept generation,” said creative director, Ben Templeton. “It was a fun way to kick off and means the game strikes a good balance between what the museum want to teach people and the level of playabilty young people have come to expect”.
The Science Museum now regularly uses simple Flash games to explore facets of its exhibitions, reflecting a trend throughout the museum and exhibition sector. Last month, the Wellcome Foundation ran a two-day coding event, inviting PhD students to turn their research projects into games, while the British Museum has a range of interactive toys including Time Explorers, an adventure about ancient civilisations.
I’ve been playing Ouch for about twenty minutes now and savagely bashing the mouse button to deliver placebos is making my wrist ache. Surely the most ironic gaming injury ever.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010