Street ⊠ Art ⊠ Game ⊠ Prototype
I would like to provide a bit of background information before jumping into the technical details.
However, if you want to skip the intro, there is a short description of each Box below. Or check out this video where all the boxes are part of the Yufanised exhibition at the Whale Mountain gallery in Copenhagen, Denmark.
- Skip the intro
- Watch the video
Since the first time I encountered Live Action Roleplaying (LARP) I've been facsinated by the players' ability to completely immerse themselves in a reality that exists parallel to the reality of everyday life. Most LARP gamers use costumes and the action takes place in carefully selected environments such as forests or abandoned factories that help players suspend disbelief and create a 'magic circle' within which the game can take place. With the ubiquitousness of mobile technology some LARP games have evolved into what is known as Pervasive Games, which are games that weave themselves into the fabric of the city. By playing such games in an urban settings players can experiences an intense bluring of boundaries between what is real and the game itself. To me this is a very interesting proposition, because, after all, isn't the society that we have been brought up in mostly an agreed upon script with rules about how to act? I believe that Pervasive Games can be used as tools for creating alternative realities, providing direct access to experimenting with the current status quo, and as means to challenge traditonal thinking patterns.
Key influences: The Situationists, a libertarian movement that sought to revolutionise the passivity of everyday life; The Brazilian artist, Augusto Boal, who helped shape the concept of immersive theatre where we all become active players in the storytelling; and the potential which Pervasive Games bring - were influential to the development of the MOXI Box - a game where physical boxes are strategically placed, each one carrying a clue as to the whereabouts of the next box. The boxes all have different affordances, which are reflected in their individual cyberpunk-inspired designs. A common denominator for them all is the button. Despite all the advancements within the area of interaction design, nothing really beats a button. Personally, I'm quite drawn to buttons and especially big red ones... There is something intrinsically playful about buttons and I think it's important that we keep playing in order to grow, experiment and cultivate our curiosity.
The gameplay? The Answer, in a nutshell, is to crack the code of each box, which in turn unlocks the location of the next box, until the player has been deemed worthy to provide the Answer to 'A Big Question'. My intention was to use a very common mode of interaction and put it in an abstract context as a way of trying to provoke people into thinking about the ways each of us can spend hours each day pressing buttons without really knowing why. I also wanted to present an alternative perspective on technology and to show how affordances of an object can change the way we interact with it by making the boxes physical as opposed to physical and installing or embedding them in an environment that required players to move and think. The majority of today's technology has tendency to decrease the amount of movement of our physical selves and also attempt to 'make life easier' by reducing critical thinking (e.g. GPS and Google Maps). I like to think about the boxes a sort of tech grafitti. My vision for MOXI Box is to make more boxes and place them around cities, and I would love if the game started to have a life of its own following so that people started adding their own versions to the circuit posing new riddles and asking for answers to 'Big Questions'.
I felt it was very rewarding to create this game, I made myself think outside the box and used the interactive technologies in a totally different way that I found was both thought-provoking and challenging.
On the front of Box 1 the player will see eight on/off switches, two LEDs (a red and a green) on either side of a small 2x16 LCD display. Initially, the display will have a text saying: "Flick a switch", when the player presses one of the buttons the text changes to:"What is the Answer to Life, Universe and Everything?". If you're a Douglas Adams fan and know of Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you will also know that the answer to that question is the number 42. The next step requires some knowledge of the binary system, because in order to move pass level 1 the player has to input the number 42 in binary using the switches on the box. When the switches are set correctly (10101010) the location of Box 2 is revealed on the display.
The Evolved Voice Automaton or E.V.A. delivers a message from the future. I was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's H.A.L. of "2001: A Space Odyssey" when designing the second box. If the Player presses the button at the front, E.V.A. provides some background info and the task:
Think carefully about your answer, you will be asked to deliver the message to the future generation."
The ping-pong balls featured here in box 3 were an experiment in making a different type of button. The box interface was further inspired by the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", where aliens introduce themselves to Earth with a 5-note melody, which actually spells HELLO. Using the method of the popular 1980s childrens' electronic game of memory skill, Simon, the Player must replicate the melody from the film by pressing the buttons (balls) each of which lights up with a different colour and sound. If the correct button is pressed the light stays on, if not all buttons turn off and the Player must try again. The Player must memorise the order in which the melody was played, because the number on the side of the buttons reveal the location of the fourth and final Box.
This cool looking pay phone from New York City is the pièce de résistance in The Answer game. The telephone keypad was re-wired and hooked up to an Arduino that ran a sort of state machine. When the Player arrived to Box 4 and lifted the reciever they would hear a request for a code. This code was all the numbers that had been collected throughout the game, i.e.: 42, the location number from Box 2, and the number sequence discovered by playing the HELLO melody on Box 3. If the correct code is entered the Player is asked to give their Answer to the future, what does it mean to be human? Can humanity be cultivated? After recording their message, a small camera takes a photo and uploads the picture along with the Answer to a website where all the Answers are collected and saved for future reference.
There is lots to write about the concepts and ideas behind Answer. Perhaps, in the future there will additional videos and information about how it was all wired up and such. For now I'm happy to provide this broad overview and hope that there will be an opportunity to put the game into action again, perhaps in a library, school or a gallery. Please contact me if you would like further information about the Answer.