QR codes for rapid prototyping


I’ve always felt uneasy about QR codes. They don’t feel like the actual future, but a clunky, ugly, non-human future. They look like the written language Space Invaders would come up with once appropriately evolved. The only thing I had ever used them for was an abortive attempt at a Lazer Tag type game.

chris tests aris tag

Some day soon, we won’t need them anymore. The same optical recognition systems that allow their easy detection will soon be leveled-up to the point that QR codes will not be needed. Direct image recognition will become a practical reality.

But this week I found a real and fun use for QR codes, as an aid to rapid prototyping of game ideas. For the ELI 2013 Conference, I prototyped several games connected to a series of 31 paintings in the hotel’s lobby. To make these games work – to endow them with mechanics that felt gamey or provided some amplification of input or the magic of automation – QR codes fit the bill.

I made 31 QR codes, one for each painting, printed them out on paper, put them under each painting, and was able to transform the space. Best of all, the QR codes were generic pointers, each one encoded a simple number. I made several different ARIS games, so that the same codes could point to different objects across the several designs. I was surprised at the payoff on the investment of time and energy in producing the artifacts to make the game work.


It also occurred to me after the fact that the codes I generated are in fact even more generic. I wrapped the paper codes up in a little packet knowing that next time I needed fewer than 32 codes I wouldn’t even need to print new ones out, just point my ARIS locations at the numbers lower than 32. And not just me. Here’s the PDF with the 31 codes on it. You can print it out and cut them out and put them on whatever you want. Then just make locations in your ARIS game using those numbers for the QR codes.

Download a PDF of QR codes encoding the numbers 1-31 for your own prototypes.

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