Professor Ben Stokes Designs Interactive Mural Hunt Games To Bring Artwork To Life

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This past summer, SOC assistant professor and director of The Playful City Lab, Dr. Benjamin Stokes, launched two local games that bring artwork to life. 

The first mural hunt, “Mural, Mural on the Wall,” co-designed by the Adams Morgan Day Committee Volunteers and American University’s Playful City Lab, used clues to guide players to some of the most iconic features in the Adams Morgan community along with new #BLM activist murals. The mural hunt emphasized social distancing rules and mask-wearing at all times. For each of the six locations, players received clues to help them find the murals and complete playful activities to raise awareness of using art as a platform for social justice and community engagement. If they found a clue too difficult, players could ask to receive the location via google maps. Once they arrived at the location they complete an activity, such as a trivia challenge, taking selfies, or answering open-ended reflections. AU students, local artists, activists, and historians were all able to contribute to the creation of this game. 

The second game, The Buoyant Oracle, is an interactive feature that provides visitors the opportunity to chat with Buoyant Oracle, the 50-foot tall sculpture by artist Sue Wrbican located in Reston Town Square Park. Visitors scan a QR code marked by a blue sign with a speech bubble next to the sculpture to interact with an evolving cast of guest oracles and narratives which will be available over the next five years. Through the Buoyant Oracle, visitors will learn about the history, fabrication process, and Wrbican’s philosophy behind the sculpture. With respect to social distancing, this experience provides a light-hearted layer of engagement to connect during this unique time with the exciting nature of Greater Reston Arts Center’s (GRACE) largest installation to date.

The Playful City Lab is led by Dr. Benjamin Stokes, who previously co-founded Games for Change, the movement hub for games in the public interest. His recent book from MIT Press is: “Locally Played: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities.” Staff, designers, and associated researchers in The Playful City Lab include Hazel Michelle Arroyo, a graduate student at AU in the MA Game Design program, and Mitchell Loewen, who earned his Master's in Games and Interactive Media Design from AU and is now the co-founder of Cloudfall Studios.