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Roblox users can now score digital versions of Van Gogh’s famous straw hat for their avatars. While they may not have the fashion cachet of the digital Dionysus bags available to players of 2021’s Gucci Garden experience, Van Gogh's hat makes up for it in cultural currency.
These new wearables—alongside digital suits of armor, Medusa hair, and Egyptian Pharaoh masks—are part of a new collaboration between Roblox and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met has teamed up with the gaming platform for Replica, an augmented reality quest-based app (available for iOS and Android) that’s linked to a Met experience within the Roblox metaverse. The app—created with technology partner Verizon—guides visitors via an interactive map to 37 selected physical artworks spread around the museum, which they can further discover by scanning the pieces in question.
“We are always looking to reach new audiences and find new, creative ways to engage with art,” Ken Weine, senior vice president of external affairs at The Met, told Decrypt. “With Replica, we were able to use technology to reach kids and young art lovers in a space they're already engaged with.”
“It’s transforming the way that visitors can engage with art and reshapes their overall journey through the museum,” added Kristin McHugh, Verizon’s senior vice president of marketing. “Replica not only broadens the ways in which people are able to interact with art, but it engages an entirely new audience that’s mobile-first and passionate about gaming.”
In addition to the app’s quest-based format, a further element that will be familiar to gaming natives is the fact that visitors to the mseum are rewarded for their engagement.
Scanning the physical works—which include a marble Sphinx from 530 B.C., a 16th-century Japanese helmet, Antonio Canova’s 18th-century sculpture “Perseus with the Head of Medusa,” and, of course, Van Gogh’s 1887 “Self-Portrait”—allows visitors to import digital wearables drawn from their various elements into their own inventories on the Roblox platform.
This virtual dimension affords “access to experiences that, in the physical world, might be difficult or impossible,” Roblox Head of Education Rebecca Kantar told Decrypt. “People are able to engage with and try on art and clothing pieces that would otherwise be kept behind a glass case.”
The Met Museum has also installed itself within Roblox through a virtual version of its Fifth Avenue facade, alongside interior spaces like the Great Hall. There, players can create pairings of the items they have acquired, placing them in museum-style display cases and capturing images of their newly outfitted avatars in photo booths backdropped by historical scenes or images such as “The Great Wave” by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. According to Weine, this is a particularly unique experience because the real thing is light sensitive, so it rarely goes on public display.
Elsewhere, The British Museum has recently announced a partnership with The Sandbox Game to create its own immersive space within the platform alongside a range of NFT digital collectibles.
This kind of interactive digital presence allows people to engage with the works wherever they are, Weine said — whether they have the opportunity to visit The Met’s physical location or not.
In order to ensure the project was rooted in a “strong, educational experience that spoke to the breadth of the collection,” The Met worked closely with Verizon to identify and select featured works.
During the pandemic, the museum created a limited-run augmented reality experience, The Met Unframed, where Verizon technology allowed online visitors to explore its galleries digitally, playing games to unlock AR versions of artworks.
This followed the launch of The Met’s Open Access initiative in 2017, which involved the digitization of hundreds of thousands of works, making them available to everyone via its website. According to Weine, this created “tremendous potential for new iterations in-game building.”
Just like fashion houses entering the metaverse, the goal is also to learn, he said, emphasizing that such moves must also be authentic and meaningful. “We want to embrace technology where it makes sense for us and our community,” he concluded.