Spider-Man: Miles Morales and TLOU Part 2 have great video game museums

The majority of computer game are constructed as museums to themselves — inside the menus and beyond the stories are collections of products and tradition. Rather of real estate a world of info in grand, historical structures, these museums are based in code. Each is an abstract retelling of the gamer’s journey so far. This “museum” looks various in any provided video game; for Red Dead Redemption 2, the video game’s memories and history are saved in a note pad to be scanned. In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Ubisoft saved its tradition in menu screens that open brand-new info each time the lead character satisfies a brand-new character. Even a video game’s accomplishments or prizes can be thought about components in these museums — notes on the journey through these digital areas.

Often, a computer game’s museum is more actual, like in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which has a real museum to house the important things gamers gather. Details on discovery and life on any specific island is housed in these specific museums; it’s both personal goal setting and memory keeping. There are numerous other current examples, as others have actually seen — the little museum of products in Hades, a collection of ancient artifacts in a traditional museum in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the museum of PlayStation history in Astro’s Playroom. Each of these computer game consists of a “museum” in the actual sense, however likewise works as a museum on a more abstract, macro level.

An animal crossing character standing under a dinosaur bones statue

Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

“There’s something interesting that so many games — and this is true for The Last of Us as well — have a museum within the UI,” Naughty Pet dog innovative director Neil Druckmann informed Polygon. “You get to inspect those artifacts and items and character models. And that’s the museum of sorts. I think there’s something just innate, of us hoarding and collecting items and being nostalgic about them — our own history and memories.”

Computer game themselves are goal-oriented. There’s constantly something to do or open, and gamers anticipate not just a benefit, however a record — a reflection of that virtual accomplishment and the time invested in it. Museums do this, however record something much bigger: life in the world, experienced from a narrow human viewpoint. Stroll into a museum of any kind, and you’ll exist with a collection of art or artifacts that narrate — about the development of life, about the history of human civilization, about our cumulative intellectual and creative accomplishments.

[Ed. note: This article includes spoilers for both The Last of Us Part 2 and Spider-Man: Miles Morales.]

The concept of a computer game being created as a museum to itself feels like a significant shower idea, however it likewise feels extremely fitting. For instance, The Last of United States Part 2 is a museum of the gamer’s accomplishments, however likewise a video game that has both a museum and a fish tank inside it that the protagonist go to and check out. Video game designers keep coming back to the museum as an interesting space to place integral moments of a game’s story, because these spaces reflect the core concept of video games.

“We tap into our experiences going to museums, and often there’s a sense of wonder — imagination and learning — but there’s also sometimes a sense of creepiness where you see all these stuffed animals and cavemen,” Druckmann said. “Then there’s just basic level design stuff, like how do we play with lighting and shapes, obscuring what’s around every corner.”

The museum’s design can inspire how a player progresses through it, and it can also set the mood the developer is after.

Ellie from The Last Of Us Part 2 in a tank top in a museum looking at planets

Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

“When you’re first entering the museum [in The Last of Us Part 2], it’s very open — you almost see all the displays,” Druckmann said. “And then as you get to the other area where you want to ratchet up the creepiness, we started using all the light and the ways the displays are situated. It creates a different feeling, because you can’t quite see.”

Inside the museum, beyond the overgrown world, Ellie and Joel are able to embrace wonder and awe as they explore the space without a single threat — until the moment that, maybe, there is one. Ellie and Joel interact with the museum in a way that’s almost aspirational, despite the ruin outside: They get into a spaceship and pretend to actually fly away.

The science museum in Spider-Man: Miles Morales is similarly an echo of the game’s story and themes — both the past and future are represented by the different states the museum is in, both pristine and ruined. The player encounters the museum at two different points: one, in a flashback during which Miles and his best friend Phin (who later becomes the Tinkerer) celebrate their award-winning science fair project, and another, when Miles and Phin (as Spider-Man and the Tinkerer, respectively) face off in their last battle.

“The museum tells us what could’ve been: two brilliant kids admiring displays and daydreaming about their future, before it falls apart,” Insomniac Games advanced writer Mary Kenney told Polygon.

miles and phil looking at a science exhibit in a museum

Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

It’s representative of Miles’ and Phin’s science expertise, of course, but the name also implies the corporate influence that Oscorp (and others!) have over this version of New York City. During the flashback sequence, Miles and Phin try to visit their science fair exhibit at the museum, but they get turned away because they don’t have tickets. It’s a moment that, in its simplicity, says so much about where these two middle school students fit into this Roxxon- and Oscorp-owned world. It says a lot that the museum as an institution will “accept” the students into its world and gain from their talents, but failed to include them in the most literal sense — they shouldn’t need tickets to see their own work.

As Miles, I can interact with most of the exhibits, each of which plays a voice-over that explains the science and technology behind the glass. The scientific achievements of the world are presented as innovation — but as the players, we also know a little more about Oscorp, and know its research isn’t always as innocent as it seems. That colored my perception of the museum in an ominous way, as different scenes played out across the space.

That first museum flashback was a quiet moment before that action ratcheted up again, similar to The Last of United States Part 2’s museum scene. Neither of these sequences really reflect the nature of collection, however they touch on the past in a way that mimics the setting itself, as well as the story’s overall themes. In The Last of Us Part 2 and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the museum scenes touch on childhood and loss — often to a violent, catastrophic world. Again, that all works because video games are museums, and the museums in these games are reflections of the games they’re in.

Ellie in a space helmet

Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

This whole idea isn’t new, of course. In-game museums have been a large part of the Uncharted series, and they’re in many other huge franchises, from The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim to BioShock 2. But the sheer amount of museums in games last year still stood out. Perhaps that was because museums across the world were closing their doors to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s when museum executives flipped the script, so to speak. Video game developers were using museums to invoke and display meaning, but museums have been using video games to create new experiences in a digital space. And so video games and museums became further intertwined, as museums entered virtual worlds themselves, whether that was in creating and cataloging a collection of historic smocks, building art installations, or uploading an entire dang art collection for players to easily add to the game.

We see video games reflected in museums and museums reflected in video games because the format just fits, tapping into the satisfaction of collection, information, and nostalgia. It makes sense for a video game to leverage that feeling, and it’s why museum levels feel so good to play. Video games have long pulled from museums for inspiration and style, and it’s fascinating to see museums now learning from video games.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.