Have you got what it takes to be a Virtual Viking?

Here at National Museums Scotland, if you haven’t realised that the Vikings were invading this January, you must have been working under a rock (or any other big heavy object – the Boulton and Watt engine, perhaps).

In Digital Media, as well as preparing visitor information for the website and commissioning our spectacular fiery trailer (inspired by one of my favourite TV shows – no, not Coronation Street, Game of Thrones), we also wanted to find a way for online visitors to experience a slice of Viking life, no matter where they were.

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Along with Romans and Ancient Egyptians, Vikings are a perennially popular topic on the primary school curriculum. Here, at last, then, was the opportunity to fill the Viking-shaped hole in our Kids section, by creating a new game to encourage children (and grown-ups!) to engage with the objects in the exhibition and our early Scottish collections, and learn more about the age of the Vikings.

We started by inviting members of the Exhibitions, Curatorial, Marketing and Learning and Programme teams to a brainstorming meeting to discuss concepts for our new game. These ranged from ‘The Viking Way’ (a Godfather-like saga about amassing treasure and acquiring new territory, with early retirement as the ultimate aim) to ‘Viking Gold’ (an archaeological dig) to ‘Escape from the Vikings’ (fairly self-explanatory, that one).

Brainstorming ideas for a Viking game
Brainstorming ideas for our Viking game with trusty Post-it notes.

Our aim was to convey key messages of the exhibition in a fun, accessible way – and a way that suited our budget: Total Viking Warfare 6 was never going to be an option. First and foremost, we wanted people to understand that there was more to Viking culture than raiding and pillaging. We wanted to get across the skill of Viking Age craftspeople, whose work was of such high quality that certain pieces can’t be replicated today, and the knowledge of their navigators, who charted courses half way round the world. Oh, and we also wanted people to know that Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. Ever.

Hence Vikings! Training School, in which online visitors choose to play as a Viking girl or boy, then test their mettle at weapon throwing, carving and navigation. And if you think that sounds a bit cheesy, think again. Viking children started training for adult life early on: there’s a hefty-looking sword in the exhibition that was wielded by an 8-13 year old boy.

The Viking village in the game
The Viking village in the game.

The game was created by Dundee-based agency Quartic Llama, who brought the concept to life in a delightful way that appeals to both children and adults, going above and beyond the brief by creating three mini games to test each skillset. The girl, boy and chieftain characters are all beautifully designed: look carefully at their outfits and you’ll notice they’re sporting brooches from the exhibition. One thing you won’t see, however, is a single horned helmet!

The characters from Vikings! Training School
The characters from Vikings! Training School.

Thanks also go to our lively panel of P3 pupils from Dalry Primary School, Edinburgh, who road-tested the game in its early stages. If you can’t get more than a C at axe-throwing it’s all their fault – they wanted the game to be hard!

Vikings! Training School launched on 16 January, two days before the exhibition opened at National Museum of Scotland, and so far has been played almost 9,000 times. Want to have a go? It’s time to go back to school…

You can play the game at www.nms.ac.uk/vikingschool. Vikings! runs at National Museum of Scotland from 18 January – 12 May 2013. Find out more about the exhibition at www.nms.ac.uk/vikings.

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