Saturday, October 6, 2012

Life Mod

Okay, this one's gonna be a doozy, since I should've been updating periodically throughout this process instead of all at the end. Anyway.

To start at the beginning, the purpose of the Life Mod (or Real World Alteration) is to
a) observe an interaction or behavior in the real world, and then
b) to try to alter that behavior in some way which is beneficial and hopefully fun for everyone involved.

Initially, each of us in the class made observations individually. I chose to observe the behaviors of people walking through this particular set of doors on the first floor of the Academic Center, which are probably the most obnoxious two doors one could ever be made to walk through.

they are arranged in such a way that they just barely miss each other when they're both opened, and you have to walk around the opened door to get through the doorway. I thought it'd be interesting to see how people interacted with the doors, and what sort of things variables made them easier or harder to get around. I found that people are generally able to get through the doors faster the more people there are, since the doors end up staying open regardless of whether anyone deliberately holds them open.

Here's a visualization of a creepy dude sitting in the hallway, intently watching you opening doors:

After everyone did their observations and made presentations to the class, we broke up into teams based loosely around who had similar sort of concepts in their observations. My team ended up going in a direction entirely unrelated to my initial observations, which was just fine by me because the doors thing was kind of boring anyway.

Based on the observation that people have a tendency to walk along sidewalks and other established paths, even when it's a much slower route to wherever we're going, our team focused on the theme of "off the beaten path". The idea was to encourage people to move off of established routes, and explore the campus a bit more in new and interesting ways. Based on the themes of paths, exploration and adventure, and my own love of all things Tolkien, we decided to adopt the motif of the story of The Hobbit book.

Our final alteration, as we pitched it to the class, was an Interactive Text Adventure adaptation of the story of The Hobbit. We created posters using illustrations and quotes from the book, so that each poster would tell a part of the overall story of the Hobbit, and placed them around campus, arranged with the intent that each poster would lead viewers from one to the next. They were placed in areas that were clearly visible (hopefully), but that nevertheless were out of the way enough that they would encourage viewers to walk off of established paths (hopefully). We also numbered them, so that they would be easier to follow (hopefully).

Because we were posting shit all over campus, we had to get approval for the project as an Art Installation, because I guess this technically qualifies as that. Getting through that red tape was about as painful a process as could be expected. We eventually had to hunt down this guy's office to pressure him into giving us approval, not because he actually had any real problems with what we were doing, he just had to actually sit down and do whatever thing he had to do, which only took him about five minutes once we were standing in front of him. So because of all that we didn't get the posters up until about two days later than we had planned on. All that is stuff that we should have been prepared for in the first place, so I'm not blaming anybody for that, but I just wanted to vent a little.

I do think that we should've at least been given earlier warning that this was something we would have to do, because we only had a week between giving our final proposal for the project and giving our presentation on the results of the project. If we had had the forms ready and filled out by the time we had our proposal, it wouldn't have been a big deal, but as it is we had to rush the get all the forms filled out and get them to the right people at the same time that we were putting the project together.

Here's some pictures of us putting the stuff together, and the posters up around campus:

The ultimate results from all of our endeavors were... less than we would've hoped for. I'm told from my teammates that they did see a handful of people who were actively seeking out and reading sequential posters, but during my observations, I never saw anyone read more than one. Most often what people would do is see a poster as they were walking, look at it without slowing or stopping, and then look away and keep going once they had walked past it.

This sort of behavior pretty clearly illustrates what is most likely the biggest shortcoming of our posters, and certainly the one that should have been plainly obvious to us during the planning stages, which is that our posters have way too much text! Whenever you do anything like this, you have a very narrow window of time in which to catch a person's interest and keep it. In this case, that window is quantifiable: you have as much time as it takes them to walk past your poster. Seeing those massive walls of text most likely scared a lot of people off, and demanded too much of an initial investment from viewers, with very little context or promise of any kind of payoff.

There was another aspect of our project, which I'm gonna talk about now, and eventually this will come back around to how we could've improved the project, and a nice conclusion. First some story background. If you haven't read or know anything about The Hobbit, the story is about a band of adventurers who are on a quest to the Lonely Mountain, so that they can slay the dragon Smaug who has taken up residence there, and reclaim their ancestral treasure, which the dragon stole ages ago. Along the way, they meet Elrond in the elven city of Rivendell, who deciphers a line of runes for them, which gives them a riddle to finding and opening a secret door into the Lonely Mountain, which would allow them to enter unseen by the dragon. We attempted to appropriate this by writing our own riddle for our own Secret Door. In the book, finding the door necessitates being at a certain place at a certain time, so we attempted to do the same thing, so that we would go and set up the door slightly ahead of time, and have a little meet and greet for anyone who solved the riddle and show up, plus we'd have some candy for them. That was the plan.

Here's the door we made:

(that symbol is based on the symbol in the book which marked on a map where the door was hidden, although the actual door, to my knowledge, did not have that symbol on it.)

And here's the riddle:

If that looks to you like a bunch of incomprehensible jargon, that's because it is. I'm not going to go in-depth into everything that's wrong with how this 'riddle' is constructed, but for what it's worth, the answer people were supposed to take away from this was "Go to the bamboo at midnight on Friday." Nobody solved the riddle, and nobody showed up.

But, there is something of a silver lining to this story. As we were packing up and getting ready to go home, full of shame and woe, we did run into somebody, purely by chance. He hadn't solved the riddle, but he had gotten pretty involved in the posters, probably as involved as anybody had, and we managed to get some insight from him about what seeing the posters was like from the other side, and what did and didn't work. Let's hear what he had to say...

It really was interesting to hear all he had to say about the project. It kinda seems obvious now, but it was really surprising to me to hear that seeing the sequential numbers on the posters wasn't enough to suggest a real progression. That's definitely something that would have to be emphasized if we were going to do something like this again.

So overall, I'm still pretty bummed out that we didn't get the kind of response that we wanted out of this thing. I mean we put a lot of work into it. But I can't deny that I learned a lot, and as stressful and nerve racking as this whole process was, it was a lot of fun too. This is also the first time that I've worked collaboratively with people on a creative project of this caliber, and I think that experience was very helpful as well. Plus I got some pretty cool posters to hang in my room once it was all over. I guess the big lesson to take away from this is that communicating your intentions to people is always harder than you think it's going to be.

Boy, that one was a doozy.