Article categories: Issue 59
January 26th, 2010

SCOOT is a mixed reality experience designed to explore the potentials of a relatively newish form of game design, location-based games, which employs the web and mobile devices as tools of play.

'Scoot', a mixed reality experience

SCOOT is set in both the physical world and a virtual world where players are challenged to find and solve clues in both worlds in order to reveal the dynamics of the site and progress through the game.

The first iteration of SCOOT was designed for the new Creative Industries Precinct in Brisbane, Australia, where government and university have come together to plan and  build a new integrated community. According to the developers of the site “it provides a unique opportunity for designers, artists, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs to easily connect and collaborate with others to create new work, develop new ideas and grow the creative industries sector in Queensland.” As well as being a place of urban renewal with various opportunities for community engagement, this is a $60 million site that claims to have some of the most advanced digital facilities. As well as being a place of urban renewal with various opportunities for community engagement, this $60 million site claims to have some of the most advanced digital facilities linking the locals to global networks.

By engaging in the actual production of a LBG I was hoping to experiment with how a LBG may intervene in the existing urban infrastructures (in particular the ‘telematic’ flows normally controlled by Telcos and government bodies). Another concern was how to exploit this potential intervention to provide the opportunity for urban ‘existents’ to engage in their cultural environments in a creative and productive way.

The original version of SCOOT, is a game event that occurs over 3 days. On day one, the players received a mystery SOS (in the form of an SMS on their mobile phones) that led them to the virtual world of SCOOT situated on-line. There, they soon discover that a parallel world exists that is almost a facsimile of the CIP. The buildings and grounds are similar yet distorted and it is inhabited by a number of odd characters. Early in the game the players realise that there is a tear in the fine fabric that separates the world of SCOOT from our real world… and that some strange objects from the virtual SCOOT world were being sent through as part of an invasion plan by some dodgy SCOOT world locals. In order to repair the damage and avoid invasion players must seek out help, solve clues, and complete various challenges.  Some of these challenges were in the physical world where the players had to seek out these strange objects (interactive sculptures) and SMS particular solves back to SCOOT, while other challenges occurred in the virtual world of SCOOT in the form of puzzles and games.

The Alert Drone is my favourite SCOOT sculpture. This sculpture was originally intended to be placed inside the entrance to the Precinct’s largest lecture theatre. In order for the players to be able to read the scrolling LED letters in the small window, they must first hold down the green button on top of the sculpture; but in doing so, they release one of a number of random sounds which explode loudly from the many speakers inside the structure. This proved far too disturbing for some University members, and soon the sculpture was moved to a less invasive space. But for a moment, the players experienced the pleasure of subverting the accepted protocols of institutional space.

Once all of the physical challenges had been resolved, the players could be found in the various computer labs on site where they continued to play the virtual games in an effort to gain ‘top score’.  To communicate with other players off-site, the participants could all communicate through a SCOOT discussion forum. The forum was also a place where players could contact SCOOT agents (the development team) to ask any questions concerning the game rules or their individual progress. Players could also send messages to each other on-site by sending SMS text directly to digital message boards (plasma screens) throughout the site.

Above all, SCOOT offered students the opportunity to explore parts of the new Precinct that previously felt unavailable to them. It was particularly satisfying to witness students from many different cohorts meeting, competing and collaborating while realising new ways to exploit their environment with simple technologies. What we learnt from this first iteration of SCOOT now informs the development of a second iteration to be played at Federation Square in Melbourne, on April 9th this year. This new version of SCOOT will be created in collaboration with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and ArtPlay and is funded by the Melbourne City Council.

SCOOT also got the attention of the Australasian CRC for Interaction Design (ACID) and together we approached the Brisbane City Council (BCC) with an idea for a LBG design specifically for backpackers hanging out in the Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. With a juicy grant from the BCC and with the wonderful cooperation of Bunk Backpackers Brisbane, I now lead a team of ACID researchers and practitioners that has just completed a game prototype called Cipher Valley. The model is very different to SCOOT, in that it allows for higher level of player communication and participation with the introduction of collaborative web tools similar to BLOGS. This project is due to be ready for public consumption by July 2005.

Debra Polson
Debra has worked as an interface designer on multiple interactive children’s games and continues to design location-based games (mixed-media experiences) funded by ACID, QUT, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, and both the Brisbane and Melbourne City Councils. These projects are designed for various sites in Australia, including ‘SCOOT’ in Brisbane (May 2004), New Castle (Sept. 2004) and Melbourne (Feb. 2005) and the ‘Cipher Valley’ project also in Brisbane. Her research interests lie in new immersive forms of game play that blur the edges between the digital and physical realms with a particular focus on the community interactions that emerge from these experiences and the potential for new multi-modal forms of entertainment and education within those communities. Previously, Debra designed new media course material and lectured at the University of South Australia (1995-1998) and at the Lasalle International College in Beijing (1999 – 2001).

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