Playing Digital Graffiti Gallery

This fall, Alyssa Concha and I have had a lot of fun playing Digital Graffiti Gallery, an ARIS game. The above shot is from our most recent outing, where we found a piece reminiscent of the one that began the game (below) but is now long gone. Digital Graffiti Gallery is a good example of an activity that ARIS can support whose robustness doesn’t really come from what the game’s author put into ARIS, but rather the way in which ARIS mediates an interaction that is pregnant in the place. It is also a good way to begin talking about some of the larger pedagogical aims involved in this work.


Digital Graffiti Gallery


Digital Graffiti Gallery was put together by Ivan Kenarov, a student in the first run of my class, Local Games in ABQ. The idea is pretty simple. There’s a lot of graffiti on the UNM campus, and some of it is very good. Whether it has something to say, or whether it is a simple tag, it will likely be painted over within a week. Digital Graffiti Gallery lets us record this ephemeral art and keep it in place.

The authored ARIS content is really pretty minimal, just enough to (maybe) get a player into the idea of how they can contribute. A player contributes by firing up the game, finding graffiti, using the camera tab to take a picture, and finally dropping the resulting item from their inventory. Eventually, the game map fills in with art that is no longer present in real life but can nonetheless be viewed by future visitors. Hence, Digital Graffiti Gallery.

Not a lot happened with the game when it was first created. Over the last year I have mentioned it fairly often as a way to easily describe what some of the data collection features being put into ARIS might be used for. When Alyssa and I began teaching the second run of the local games class, I decided we should play the game very visibly as the class wandered around campus during our initial brainstorms. The idea was to show what it might look like to engage in a place-based game, and that this wasn’t an abstraction but that there already were student-made, playable games all around them. Along the way, Alyssa and I realized we were having a lot of fun, and I have been playing the game on average once every two weeks.


Why it’s Fun


The author doesn’t have a strong voice in Digital Graffiti Gallery. It simply turns out that looking for and capturing graffiti makes wandering around campus fun. There’s a lot of interesting work to find, and there is a fairly high rate of renewal. When you find something really cool, it feels like a victory to get it into the game. Also, it’s fun to guess where you might happen to find wall art.

The activity is not so intense that it takes over your whole field of consciousness, leaving time to talk about other things that are best talked about while wandering around with a friend. Digital Graffiti Gallery gives me just enough to do to get me outside the office and my routine so that I can entertain what might be possible. This activity taps easily into the feeling under a lot of our mobile game research that there’s a lot to be learned from being in the world rather than hidden from it in some classroom. Furthermore, noticing graffiti is a verb that our city already understands.

There’s also a certain element of pride, camaraderie, and competition in Digital Graffiti Gallery that ARIS is able to almost invisibly provide. When I find something really cool, capture it, and drop it on the map, I know I’m the first one to it (in the game world at least), and I want to show it off to others. Even without the (upcoming) ability to like and comment on players’ data gathering activities, or a further articulating of what is being collected through some sort of metadata driven by a taxonomy of wall art, it feels meaningful and connected.

This too is why I would now describe Digital Graffiti Gallery as a game and not simply a curation activity. Though the feedback is not happening in the software, the boundaries and playfulness of a game emerge from our engagement with the basic mechanic of capturing wall art.


As a Teacher


Just as Digital Graffiti Gallery has been an easy way for me to explain to broad audiences how ARIS might be used for data collection activities, I hope it can help me explain my intent to help students produce meaningful work.

In academics, for students and researchers alike, most of the focus is on the work that gets put into a project, and far too little on what comes out. Digital Graffiti Gallery is certainly an example of getting out more than was put in. Not to minimize Ivan’s accomplishment, but others’ projects that semester involved far more research and technical mastery. Yet his idea is inspiring, and his game is fun to play (it’s the first ARIS game I’ve really played casually). It has increased my ability to teach others how to use game design to tap into local culture in other ways, both in class and with the other researchers and teachers I work with. His work moves the field forward.

It’s not that careful research isn’t important, just that we’ve gotten used to putting the cart before the horse. Many of our educational models assume that students do not produce work capable of taking on meaning outside the classroom, capable of inspiration (leading to new forms of action) and not merely evaluation.


Teamwork – Serial Partnerships


The creation of Digital Graffiti Gallery also says something about the possibilities for group work within classroom contexts.

Outside the classroom of course, group work is the norm rather than the exception and it is constituted in multiple fashions. Yet our typical emphasis on and particular construction of individual achievement inside the classroom (not so much the individualism itself – that’s rampant outside too) creates a context where group work seems artificial and awkward. I try to make my classrooms places where a different culture can take root, where multiple forms of partnership are possible and make sense.

Digital Graffiti Gallery is an example of a kind of group work we don’t often make room for in classrooms, the serial partnership. Ivan gets credit for authoring Digital Graffiti Gallery. But the idea did not begin with him. Jaksa Oisinski, also a student that semester, is a local artist and frequently brought up the topic of wall art in class. Tyler Mound, another student, took these ideas further, envisioning the encoding of local, underground art in a data collecting activity mediated by ARIS and accompanied by ethnographic research on the artists. Ivan instantiated a subset of those ideas in Digital Graffiti Gallery. At no time were they working on a team together in the usual sense, but these students were nevertheless able to accomplish more together than alone.

Serial partnerships look more like relay races than how we typically think of group work. It’s not the sort of group work that is codified in group work that is formally assigned, and it’s hard to imagine how it could be, especially as the roles are not uniform, and uniform achievement and responsibility are at the core of the paradigm of student achievement. I’m sure someone could come up with a rubric and a physical artifact to attempt scaffolding this process, but that’s not really the point.




Classrooms should be places where informal collaboration is likely to spontaneously occur. And those classrooms should sit in places where this collaborative work is capable of inspiring the instructor to write a long-winded blog post about it a year after the fact.

6 thoughts on “Playing Digital Graffiti Gallery

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