Gaming the museum – Breadcrumbs at Handel & Hendrix House, March 2017

IMG_4206The novelty and debate over Pokemon Go! in museums may just have died down but for apps, gaming and museums it is just the beginning of the story. Breadcrumbs is a new startup that has launched a series of ‘treasure hunts’ around a number of London museums including the V&A, Hunterian, Handel & Hendrix House, Imperial War Museum and Natural History Museum.

IMG_4205Clues can be sent to your phone via text or Facebook Messenger, the cryptic missives lead you round the museum space, finding objects as you go. You text back answers to receive your next clue. The hunts take between 1-2 hours (depending on how good you are!) and help is on hand if you get stuck. There is always the opportunity to ask for help using – ‘Where’, ‘What’ and ‘Solve’ hints.

Always up for trying something new, on a rare free Saturday in London, my husband and I headed for Handel & Hendrix House, the London home of the composer George Handel and musical icon, Jimi Hendrix, with our quizzing heads on. Initial excitement gave way when I realised some of the clues where actually quite tricky and standing in the middle of the room just spinning round and looking at stuff wasn’t going to cut it.

IMG_4207We quickly realised two other girls in the room were doing the same hunt. This kind of distracted from some of the fun in a small space as it was quite easy to tell when they found an answer and it became a bit giveaway as to where to look. My husband’s competitive nature came to the fore and we attempted to burn through the museum as quickly as possible and solve all the clues. Once we got ahead of our fellow hunters it became a little game to distract them by looking at the wrong stuff (yes, we are that evil).

Handel’s gloriously evocative rooms.

As a point of principle we decided not to ask for any hints and there is certainly a thrill of finding the answer and making it to the next room. I think I would have struggled to answer all the questions on my own and it is certainly more fun when you work as a pair.

Hazy Hendrix Days

I think we managed to rush through the questions in about 45 minutes (we were eager to get to the pub!) Whilst it was fun and a bit different, our obsession with finishing in as quick a time as possible meant I didn’t really look ‘properly’ at anything in the museum. I spent my time rushing from room to room, scanning text and dashing backward and forwards. Luckily we have both visited before so I didn’t feel worried about seeing everything.

The game did prove a good incentive to return. On the day we received complimentary tickets to the museum and a code to try out the game for free. It would have cost us £10 each to visit Handel & Hendrix House and the hunt cost £3.99, but if you aren’t on Facebook Messenger then receiving clues via text incurs a £2 surcharge. I guess paying for the game is akin to paying for a guidebook.

Jimi Hendrix bedroom, (Am I sharing clues with you? Who knows….)

By the time we came to the fiendish last clue in Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom I began to feel guilty for not appreciating the ambience of the space. Particularly as a volunteer in the room observed us with mild amusement. I gave up and left my husband to it whilst I chatted to the volunteer about her experience of helping at Handel & Hendrix House.

Am I convinced this is a good thing for museums? I am on the fence. Yes it was fun, but perhaps solving clues would be fun anywhere, in a park or on the streets of London. I didn’t really feel I was making the most of the museum or learning more about Hendrix and Handel, but I have been before so I think that does make a difference. It would be a better test to try it out in a new environment.

As we left we chatted to the two girls we had been competing with earlier. It was their first visit and they certainly felt they had learnt a lot as they had gone round. I think our obsession with being first past the post may not have helped in this regard. I am also not sure whether it might work better in a larger environment like the IWM or V&A where it is always hard to get round the whole space and being led on a treasure hunt might make you see new things. I certainly want to do that before making up my mind.

I can’t help remembering on the day the crestfallen face of the volunteer who told us there would be a talk on Handel in about 10 mins which we feverishly ignored, phones out, as we got on with the next clue. But I concede it might bring a new audience to the museum, maybe I am just not the target user. Bringing in a new game-loving crowd may be a good thing but as ever it is a balance. We certainly generated a few strange looks as pink cheeked, with a slightly wild look in my eyes, I shouted ‘GOT IT’ at the top of my voice…


Breadcrumbs Game

Handel & Hendrix House –

American art museums cautiously embrace Pokemon Go, Guardian, July 2016.

Why Pokemon Go is a gift to museums, UCL Museums and Blogs, Aug 2016.

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