Report Assignment - Andrew Sides - 4th March 2007


The Big Photography Game

Quoto falls within the genre of games known as “Big Games”. These are games conceived to be played outside in the urban environment by players moving through this space (usually) employing digital technology, of some kind, in the gameplay.

Designed by four students on Frank Lantz’s game course at ITP at NYU in 2005. The object of Quoto is to take photographs, using digital cameras, of either letters, parts of words, whole words or things that represent words (Rebus-style) and use them to reconstruct a quotation. These quotes are selected from a quotation bank supplied by the game’s designers and are given to each of the teams before they begin. The rules stipulate that there can be any number of teams but that they should have a minimum of two members in each.

With 30 minutes to complete their task teams must collect the text in the same order as the original quotation. They must not use the same source of text twice and they can’t photograph any text that they generate themselves such as handwritten notes, text on computer screens or mobile phones, but they don’t have to include punctuation. When the images are returned, points are awarded according to the number of completed words and sentences and the team with the highest score wins.

The Quoto website has an eighteen minute video of the game being played and there are examples of the photos taken by players as part of the game on flickr. The game was one of those included in the first “Come Out and Play” festival of street games held in New York in September 2006.

As an example of a treasure hunt style activity the game is straightforward in its goals, methods and technologies. This has the advantage of making it easy to play and therefore accessible to a wide range of physically mobile players.

Players concentrate on locating type in the environment as one element of the gameplay but also permitted by the rules is the opportunity to look for photographic images that represent whole words. For example a photo of a man can represent the word “man”, a photo of a coffee cup pouring its contents onto the street can represent the word “spilled” and so on. This aspect of the game introduces a degree of creativity into the play but additionally the potential for ambiguity when it comes to scoring the end results. For example is it acceptable to photograph a figure and have it represent the words “you” or “I”?

Perhaps the rules should make explicit the expectation that anyone looking at the final sequence of images should be able to determine the quote without any supplementary information.

It was interesting to note in the Quoto video that one team did not know that they could construct words from individual letters until mid-way through the game. They had been playing up to that point by whole word criteria alone. As the game rules stipulate that the quote must be assembled in order, this misunderstanding shaped the outcome for this team making the quote less clear to an uninformed observer.

As someone who introduces students, who are studying the design of the built environment, to typography, this game holds very obvious attractions to me as a device to aid learning in this area. I want my students, who don’t always appreciate the relationship of type to their primary interest, to gain an understanding of the uses and abuses of type and text in relation to architecture and spatial design. Students need to appreciate that letterforms are designed elements that by their shape influence the message conveyed in the text.

To this end I would propose modifying the game’s rules somewhat to focus the players’ attention more specifically on letterforms and buildings and less on the semiology of photography. I would therefore remove the rule allowing images to represent whole words and instead stipulate that all words should be constructed from photographs of actual letterforms. This should get them concentrating on finding letters exclusively.

I realise that this removes an important creative aspect from the game but I think creativity could be added elsewhere. For example a rule that deducted points for producing a number of photographs above a certain threshold, defined at the beginning of the game, would stimulate a greater breadth of exploration than merely collecting single letters. At the same time I think that it would be important to limit a single section of type to a maximum of three letters in order to balance innovation with a diversity of typefaces.

To tune the game more precisely to the subject of type in the built environment I would limit the permissible sources of type to those attached to the exterior of buildings or roads. This should remove from the game some rather too convenient sources of text such as those found on packaging. In the Quoto video one of the teams spent considerable time in a chemist shop photographing text on packaging, not something that I think would be productive in my proposed use of the game.

I’d also like to experiment with some extra criteria to add further complexity to the game. Players could have the choice of one of three additional requirements to add to their gameplay. They could limit their typefaces to either serif or sans-serif, they could limit their type to a single colour hue or they could limit the material that their type was made from to metal, stone, plastic or wood. A further task that could be added, perhaps to extend the game, would require teams to identify the specific typefaces in their photographs for extra points.

I see these additions as enhancing the challenge in the game in line with Malone’s (1982[1], 1980[2]) heuristics for enjoyable games in that they will add “variable difficulty levels” and “successive layers of complexity”.

One possible negative aspect to this activity could be that it may be so close to what students might expect to do as part of a learning exercise that they could lose any sense of its game qualities. Without the notion of points being awarded at the conclusion and one team “winning” how is this different from an assignment with brief (rules), tasks (gameplay) and assessment (scoring)? It would be ideal in my view to play a game where conscious learning or a sense of “being taught” is not at the forefront but is only discerned by the player on reflection. But set against this there is the question of whether students will be happy to play something they consider to be “just a game” when they think they should be being taught.

The task in translating Quoto to my particular learning context must therefore be to balance the demands of gameplay with the creation of a perception in the students’ minds that this play is useful.

area/code. Retrieved: 24 February, 2007.

B.U.G. The Big Urban Game, September 2003. Design Institute, University of Minnesota. Retrieved: 28 February 2007. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Come Out and Play Festival. Retrieved: 16 February, 2007.

Dee, J., (8 August, 2006) Big kids on the block. The Guardian. Retrieved: 27 February, 2007.,,1839254,00.html

Lantz, F., Big Games. Retrieved: 27 February, 2007.

Lantz, F., Game Design. Big Games Syllabus ITP, NYU. Retrieved: 27 February, 2007.

[1] Malone, T. W., (1982) Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: Lessons from computer games. Proceedings of the 1982 conference on Human factors in computing systems. Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA

[2] Malone, T. W., (1980) What makes things fun to learn? Heuristics for designing instructional computer games. Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGSMALL symposium and the first SIGPC symposium on Small systems. Palto Alto, California, USA

Ruberg, B., (10 August 2006) Big Reality: A Chat with ‘Big Game’ Designer Frank Lantz. Gamasutra. Retrieved: 16 February 2007.

Quoto photographs on flickr. Retrieved: 27 February, 2007.

Quoto! The Quote-Finding Photography Big Game! Retrieved: 16 February, 2007.