The shuttered Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 2008, a California nonprofit organization ran a multiplayer online game they titled “Superstruct.” Among the scenarios the Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future considered in its futurist simulation was the cultural impact of a disease they called Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a massive pandemic similar to the coronavirus.

“This was foreseeable as something that was highly likely,” says Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums, a Washington, D.C., think tank that studies trends and challenges likely to impact the museum world. Merritt, who participated in the Superstruct game, says one scenario involved the government mandating that public gatherings be limited to 10 people or fewer. That led museum leaders involved in the online game to consider offering smaller tours, and online access.

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