Life’s a game at Melbourne Knowledge Week

Biometric facial scanning holds interesting ethical implications for the use of artificial intelligence to determine individual characteristics solely off an image. Image Credit: Melbourne University and @kid_monkey on Instagram
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From unravelling the truth of a historical crime, to looking at immersive AI in Dungeons & Dragons, Melbourne Knowledge Week is championing reconnecting through play and technology. Emily Spindler-Carruthers reports.

From AR historical stories to facial scanning tabletop games, Melbourne Knowledge Week is showcasing tech start-ups and universities as they push the boundaries of what technology can do.

Focusing on innovation and new ideas, Melbourne Knowledge Week is wrapping up today after a week of events, artist installations and panels run between multiple CBD landmarks and virtual spaces.

In light of the pandemic that has caused people to look towards their own city for entertainment, the ability to connect and interact with Melbourne and its history through immersive technology is particularly topical this year.

Many installations focus on how games and gaming can augment real-world experiences and education, using play as a means of exploring the world around us.

Here are three of the highlights of Melbourne Knowledge Week’s installations which will continue to be available to use and play online after the event ends this evening.

Life’s a game at Melbourne Knowledge Week
The Victorian State Library is one of four major ‘hubs’ for panels and installations this Melbourne Knowledge week, including a musical garden. Picture: Melbourne Knowledge Week.

Biometric Dungeons & Dragons

One of the event highlights is the Biometric Dungeons & Dragons exhibit by a team from the University of Melbourne.

The university uses the AI program Biometric Mirror to generate a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) character sheet based on facial scanning technology, outlining attributes such as strength, charisma, player class and moral alignment.

The research team behind the program created it as a means to quickly generate a character for the tabletop roleplaying game for new players, who sometimes struggle with the steps required to do so normally.

However, the installation has a secondary purpose of exploring the ethics of determining someone’s characteristics or career using an AI system.

Dr Niels Woulters, head of Research and Emerging Practice for Science Gallery Melbourne and research fellow in the Interaction Design Lab at the University of Melbourne, says he hopes using this type of technology doesn’t become commonplace in settings with real-world consequences like job interviews.

In the context of Dungeons & Dragons, it’s fairly harmless, but if we take this out of the context of D&D it could have disastrous consequences, so we need to draw the line as to where we want this technology to take us.

Dr Melissa Rogerson, one of the heads of the project, is researching how digital tools can be used in hybrid digital board games.

However, Dr Rogerson says while it’s a fun and interesting project, tabletop games like D&D are at their core social and collaborative, which is removed when AI comes into play.

“I think AI removes that wonderful imagination and storytelling element we see in D&D.”

Despite this, the team is continuing work to expand what their program can generate based on a facial scan but are hesitant to improve the algorithm beyond its original capability due to ethical concerns.

Life’s a game at Melbourne Knowledge Week
64 Ways of Being invites players to become the avatar of the game and explore hidden worlds within Melbourne’s CBD. Image Credit: 64 Ways of Being.

64 Ways of Being

64 Ways of Being is an augmented reality mobile app that compels users to explore and look at the Melbourne CBD in a new light.

Supported by the Victorian Government’s Creative State Commission program, 64 Ways of Being explores the user’s relationship with place.

Users are guided through a 3km section of the CBD as they discover hidden alleyways, characters and stories, with Indigenous storytelling and multicultural knowledge and language interwoven throughout.

App creator Dr Troy Innocent, from RMIT’s School of design, says the app is designed to connect users with their city, one another and the world around them through an immersive experience.

It’s not an app, it’s a show, it’s theatre, it’s a game and an experience.

A team of more than 20 creatives from Victoria collaborated on the project, which incorporates music, storytelling and art, with the launch last fortnight returning highly positive reviews.

The new app has been in development by Melbourne company Millipede for more than two years, with plans to expand over the next 12 months to include more areas of Melbourne such as Fitzroy and Collingwood.

Life’s a game at Melbourne Knowledge Week
Making history immersive through augmented reality is a new concept for gaming, but one that indie game developers True Crime Mysteries are excited to explore further. Image Credit: True Crime Mysteries.

Eastern Market Murder

Launching yesterday to fanfare in the CBD, Eastern Market Murder is a mobile true crime game that uses augmented reality to explore a historical murder case.

Players interview witnesses, find evidence and try to solve the murder of Frank Cartwright at the Eastern Market in the late 19th century.

Game developers Emma Ramsay and Andy Yong of True Crime Mysteries say they are drawn to telling stories of injustice.

Ms Ramsay says the pair decided to create a game based on the case after hearing about it on a podcast and being drawn to characters that were “ahead of their time”.

“For us to use augmented reality technology to tell their story just felt right.”

Meticulous research went into ensuring the game was as historically accurate as possible, down to faithful recreations of storefronts where original buildings no longer stood.

Ms Ramsay says the community response has been highly positive since playtesting at ACMI prior to their launch.

While the game can be played anywhere, it has been created with the laneways of the CBD in mind.

We like having people playing it on the streets of Melbourne because it’s where the crime happened and is super immersive.

While the game’s focus is to take players on a true-crime mystery through the streets of 19th century Melbourne, Ms Ramsay says an added benefit is showcasing the city as it is now and taking players to new and interesting locations.

While Melbourne Knowledge Week ends today, many of the installations and exhibitions will remain available digitally for some time to come for audiences to experience.

Visit the website for more information.