By Ethan . December 22, 2013 . 1:30pm
One of the questions asked more and more as video games expand and change as a medium is “what qualifies as a game”? There are arguments to disqualify software with too little user initiative, or that lacks clear win/lose conditions, or that isn’t making an attempt to be fun. I’ve always found myself more on the inclusive side of these arguments, preferring to expand the definition of game than to adopt some sort of unwieldy “interactive experience” label or the like. However, I have finally found where I draw the line. Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre is not a game.
When I first booted up the guide, I worked through a front end tutorial. No complaints about Nintendo doing too much handholding here—the tutorial is wrapped up within a minute. The core features are a series of guided tours through the Louvre and an index of the artworks. I decided to start with the guided tour, specifically the Egyptian art. The guided tours create a recommended path through a Louvre floor plan that is periodically broken by a speaker icon. The idea is that whenever the user reaches that point on the path, he or she will tap on the speaker and a general description of the exhibit will play. These also include vocal instructions guiding the user along. Guidance like “go straight down the hallway in front of you then turn left at the exhibit of bread” is accompanied by slideshows of 3D photos showing exactly what the route taken should look like.
To be frank, some parts of the narration along the recommended path rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not just a faceless narrator explaining what’s in each room, there’s a silly fiction about being guided by an exhibit representative. In the case of the Egyptian exhibit, it’s the Sphinx telling you all about ancient Egypt. Whenever he says something more “in character” and less focused on the art it’s accompanied by a cheap little sound effect that’s not unlike what one might find in a Microsoft Powerpoint effects file. There are also infrequent interactive activities identifying features of the artwork that come across less as fun and more as a primary school reading comprehension check.
The great thing about virtual tours though? There aren’t any consequences for wandering off the beaten path. Every exhibit room the tour runs through includes a few optional icons for a deeper description of specific works. These are where the real meat of the tour is. The sound effects and characterization are replaced by focused 3-5 minute breakdowns done by extremely qualified curators. This is where the real substance is to be found. I quickly found myself spending more time on the content off the tour path than on it, and shortly thereafter stopped listening to the tour path logs at all. I don’t need the walking directions, I don’t need the interactive check ins, and I certainly don’t need general overviews when I can get more specific in-depth coverage just a few pixels over.
I never did finish a tour. It is content I would probably use in the actual museum to keep myself from getting lost, but it just didn’t add much to my remote experience. I found myself instead mostly spending time in the index of artwork. This is the other main menu option, and by far it’s the best for eShop downloaders. The index is just a gigantic listing of every work in the Louvre that has a recorded curator’s overview available for, a total of nearly 500. It’s the content I was seeking out in the other mode, but divorced from the pretense of a tour.
So yes, from a reductionist standpoint the greatest value to me in this software was as an art encyclopedia. It’s a great big list of art works with explanations of craft and historical significance for each. Is that a game? No. Is this all data I could get for free off the internet? Certainly. Does that make this software redundant or a bad deal? Actually, I would say no.
In our modern era with practically all of recorded human history and science available to the world on the internet, it’s become clear that just making information available does not equate to public literacy on a topic. Learning and knowledge needs to be packaged and presented with care lest it be forgotten or worse yet, never picked up in the first place. I didn’t know a thing about art or art history when I first downloaded this guide, but now I know at least a little. The curators’ descriptions never assume knowledge beyond that of a layman, and they never stray into advanced analysis that would have left me feeling excluded. The prestige of the Louvre museum along with the slick presentation put together by Nintendo meant that I was able to learn about some of the most famous art in the world how I wanted, when I wanted. I walked away from this software a richer, better rounded human being.
And that’s just not something a lot of other eShop downloads offer.
Food for thought:
1. It is known that after Mr. Miyamoto visited the Louvre he returned to Nintendo and insisted that Zelda: Skyward Sword be remade to look like a Cezanne painting.
2. Nintendo also worked out this partnership with the Louvre museum shortly afterwards. Mr. Miyamoto has always drawn inspiration for his games from his life experiences, and we’ve already seen his Louvre visit reflected in two Nintendo products. Nobody knows yet what Mr. Miyamoto’s new IP is, but I’ll wager there will be a connection to the exhibits featured here. I encourage you to poke around and extrapolate possibilities, I’ve got a few theories of my own about still life.
3. This software has an awful lot of very high resolution image files, and an awful lot of voice over. The download size is massive. I had to clear out almost everything on my default 3DS SD card to fit the file—be prepared with some extra storage before the download unless you wish to do the same. Everything’s free to redownload of course, but it’s most surely a hassle.
4. I’m not naming names here, but somebody who may or may not be managing editor of this site decided that it wasn’t worth the cost to get a full evaluation of this product on site at the actual museum itself. Are the tour route times actually accurate, or there lines to wait in? Are the water closet location listings accurate? Are the recommended local eateries any good? Though I lobbied hard to secure the highest quality coverage possible for you, these are the features that remain untested. I am deeply sorry.