Mitch Zamoff’s “History Hero” was named “Travel App of the Week” by JohnnyJet.com, a travel information website (www.tinyurl.com/historyhero).
An Edina resident and U law school professor, Zamoff is CEO of Mind Gamez, a video game company that created “History Hero.” It’s designed to make a kid’s trip to the museum or historical sites a fun, interactive mission. The app now features about 30 world-class cultural sites in cities such as Washington, NYC, Rome, London, Paris and, because Zamoff lives in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
I met Zamoff at the MIA for this Q & A. The app makes a mission out of finding a venue’s most celebrated artifacts, with specific games for 4- to 7-year-olds, 8- to 12-year-olds, teens and adults. “At the end you get your Medal of Honor and get to compare your score against your friends’ and get to talk all kinds of smack,” said Zamoff, a devotee of art galleries who’s never experienced museum fatigue.
“There’s no reason art can’t be fun,” said Zamoff, who got the idea while dragging his three kids through museums.
Zamoff wants to amuse those kids who’d rather be lost in a game on their phones than pay attention to the contents of an art museum. The app does it with the “History Heroes,” a cast of extraordinarily physical characters who are good, caring leaders. My favorite is the robot with the sweet dance moves you can see on my startribune.com/video. Their adversaries are “the evil Erasers [who’ve] figured out that the world is more vulnerable to attack if we don’t have a common history to bind us together as a people,” he said.
To make sure that users of “History Hero” don’t get into the same kind of trouble as the American who broke the pinkie off a 600-year-old statue at a Florence, Italy, museum, an oath is part of the app. You must promise not to run or touch the art and photograph only allowed art works.
Q: What makes you think kids can be duped into playing a game that is trying to make them learn something?
A: Well, the game is fun. That’s the most important thing. There’s no reason that this art can’t be fun, can’t be accessible. Bringing the joy, the entertainment and the fun into the process is what makes it engaging for kids, and if they pick up some facts and information along the way, that’s a great added benefit.
Q: When one is at a historical site, shouldn’t you pay attention to your surroundings instead of an app?
A: Well, the app is directing you, in most cases, to the 15 or 20 most important artifacts in the museum. It’s actually an attempt to get kids away from texting and the other things they are already doing on their devices and using that device to help them engage with the content. The adventures take you through the museum in a way that you’re not only going to see the 15 or 20 artifacts that are part of the adventure, but you have a chance to look at and explore other things along the way.
Q: What feedback are you getting from your kids?
A: My kids are my toughest critics. They helped us come up with the dance celebrations. They told me when a character wasn’t working. They told me when a piece of clothing wasn’t working on a character. They’ve been critical in the laboratory part of the project.
Q: How old were you when you decided you liked hanging at museums?
A: I used to be brought to the museum as a kid. There were times I probably wished I had “History Hero” in my pocket. There [are] a lot of good things we can learn here if we can just unlock the curiosity.
Q: How many museums can you visit over two days before museum fatigue sets in on you?
A: There’s no limit.
Q: What is your dream travel location?
A: A new place with the family. For me, travel’s a time to be close to the family. We’re not the kind of crew that likes to go the same place every time. So [we like] some new adventure; find an urban setting where we’re discovering new things with the kids.
Q: Your kids are really well traveled, I assume?
A: They don’t get to go everywhere I go when it comes to developing the app. They’ve got some places still on their lists.
Q: Are you making money off this app?
A: I think it takes time for these apps to get traction. There seems to be a lot of energy and excitement about the product. But we got interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal. We’ve only been in the app store about a month. You’d expect it to take more time before it became profitable. I [don’t] want to leave you with the impression that our product was not selling. In fact, we are currently being featured in the App Store as a “New and Noteworthy” app in the Education category. My understanding is that this is based on early download and sales activity.
Interviews are edited. C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.”