Dale Leorke: Location-based Game Designer & Researcher Troy Innocent Visits Tampere

An urban code situated underneath a rail underpass in Tampere

Text and photographs by Dale Leorke, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies. This post is a part of an ongoing blog series by members and alumni of the CoE. See the full list of published posts and the introduction to the series.

Tampere University and the CoE Gamecult were pleased to host artist, academic, and game designer Troy Innocent during the week of 8th–16th April, 2019. Innocent was visiting for the 15th Annual Tampere University Game Lab Spring Seminar, Urban Play. The Spring Seminar was hosted by the CoE Gamecult and held at the Vapriikki Museum in Tampere, home of the Finnish Museum of Games.

Connected with the Spring Seminar’s theme of Urban Play, Innocent ran a version of his location-based, augmented reality game Wayfinder Live in Tampere city centre. The game was live from April 10th–17th, overlapping with the two days of the seminar itself. Both seminar attendees and members of the public were invited to play.

In Wayfinder Live, players download a smartphone app that provides them with visual and text clues to find 16 urban codes hidden throughout a specific area of the city. The codes are physical objects attached to the sides of buildings and urban infrastructure. They are often hidden in out-of-the-way locations, blending in with their surrounds – architecture, signs and street art. When players locate a code, they scan it using the smartphone app to gain influence points for one of the game’s three factions. These points can be spent to influence the codes for their faction. The faction that controls the most codes at the game’s conclusion succeeds in determining Tampere’s future planning according to its philosophy – Revert, Remake, or Renew.

Wayfinder Live has been run in numerous cities previously: Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Taipei, Dublin, Bristol, Barcelona, and – only a week before – Aarhus. But each iteration of the game adapts to the unique characteristic of the city and brings new features. Innocent told me,

“Tampere has some comfortable hubs of activity with a lot of history and urban texture, but then you can quickly walk north of the city and suddenly there’s a giant frozen lake. So, that’s a type of landscape that I wouldn’t normally be able to work with. […] it’s been possible from going north to south Tampere to include a lot of different urban environments.”

Unique to the Tampere version of the game, Innocent introduced a new geocaching feature, after hearing about the widespread popularity of geocaching in Finland. He placed four caches near a different code, subtly advertising their presence to players through the game interface. Each cache contained a unique set of items – lego pieces, chalk, a disposable camera, and a notepad – with instructions on using them. A few players found these hidden artefacts and made inventive use of them, and the game also separately attracted the attention of the local geocaching community.

On the first full day of his visit, Innocent conducted some urban codemaking – exploring Tampere’s city centre to choose the 16 locations where the codes were placed. Due to the limited time of his visit, myself and fellow location-based game researcher Elina Koskinen had previously scouted locations around the city. After investigating these locations with us, Innocent made use of the GameLab room at Tampere University to prepare the physical codes themselves.

Day 2 of Innocent’s visit, when he was due to place the codes around Tampere’s centre, was hampered by an untimely Spring snowfall, which blanketed the city in a fresh layer of snow. This delayed the placing of the codes to the next day, leaving only that evening for a test run before it went live to the public.

On Day 3, Innocent hosted an early access trial of the game for members of the GameLab and their acquaintances. It began at the Arthouse Cafe, where Innocent provided an overview of the game before participants chose – or were chosen by, through a series of in-game questions – their faction. They then ventured into Tampere’s art and culture district in the blistering cold weather, following clues to find the first nearby codes.

The game launched the following day. The orange Renew faction made early gains, but over the next few days the blue Remake faction dominated the game map, eventually winning the game by controlling all 16 codes. On Sunday April 14th, the eve of the Spring Seminar, Innocent hosted a walking tour open to seminar attendees and members of the public. It attracted approximately 12 participants, who were shown around the Vapriikki museum and Finlayson art district area.

In total, Wayfinder Live attracted 89 active players (those who scanned one or more codes), of whom 31 scanned 14 or more codes each. The game felt uncompetitive for some players I spoke to because of the blue Remake faction’s total dominance of the game board. The experience was also slightly diminished by technical glitches – such as difficulty scanning the codes – and two of the codes disappearing and needing to be replaced. But many players I discussed their experiences with were enthusiastic about the concept of the game and appreciated the design of the codes themselves.

The game fit perfectly into the Urban Play theme of the Spring Seminar, where Innocent also delivered a keynote about his artistic work and research. It was a highlight of the seminar, which featured 16 other presentations and a keynote from Profesor Sybille Lammes of Leiden University. The seminar attracted over 70 registered participants in total, covering topics ranging from participatory planning games, larps, location-based and mixed-reality games, and representations of cities and towns in video games. More information about the seminar and links to relevant publications can be found below.

Troy Innocent is VC Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne. He is an artist, academic, and educator investigating code in mixed realities, particularly its capacity to decode and reimagine the world in playful ways. His art practice explores connections between geometric abstraction and code expressed in works of sculpture, animation, image, sound, and installation. In 2017, Innocent was awarded the Melbourne Knowledge Fellowship to research playable cities in the Europe and UK, informing his public art practice of ‘urban codemaking’ – a system he developed for situating play in cities such as Melbourne, Istanbul, Sydney, or Hong Kong.

Related Publications: