Mall History and ARIS Games

Mall History

Histories on the National Mall is a website that does exactly what the title would suggest – it provides a comprehensive history of the National Mall. This includes a timeline of events related to the Mall, people involved with designing and making the Mall and its monuments, events such as scavenger hunts around the Mall complete with historical articles attached, and what we’re here to talk about, a map of all the monuments and history on the Mall. If your digital project includes a mapping component, I would highly recommend looking at the site.

The map section of the website allows you to use different filters to experience the Mall in different time periods through various sources. Without any filters, there are 345 different monuments, sites, papers, audio, and visual pieces of Mall history to choose from, each with a piece historical scholarship attached to explain the pin.

If you’re interested in narrowing down what you want to see on the Mall, click the lines with circles on them at the top of the image above, which will let you choose what era you’d like to search in and what type of item you want, including events, places, and monuments. That presents you with even more specific filters to narrow down your search results, my favorite being the option to look for places that ghosts have been sighted. This is an excellent example of how history can be digitized and condensed down for people curious about the mall to learn more. As a lover of maps, I think this is a great tool for tourists and residents of the city to piece together the city’s history and to do research on sites off of the beaten track.

Scavenger Hunts, Timelines, and Articles, Oh My!
Histories on the Mall also includes more information than just the maps. The site has scavenger hunts at specific monuments and sites, like the Smithsonian Castle, which has close-up photos of places in the location for participants to find on the hunt, giving people fun ways to engage with the monuments once they get there. It also includes a timeline of the history of how the Mall was developed and articles briefly answering questions people might have, like “were there alternate designs to the Lincoln Memorial.” The search feature on the site also provides a list of articles, historical context, and the locations on the map for the search results, which is a great tool for research! This combination of historical research and tools for people to explore the city and its history makes for an aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable, and educational web experience.

ARIS Games

ARIS Games is an online tool and app that anyone can use to create tours, games, or stories based off of a real map. ARIS games, which stands for Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling Engine seems pretty cool, but has its share of glitches. It’s from the Field Day Lab at the University of Wisconsin and consists of web programming to make a game or a tour and then lets people on the app use the tours and games you create. On the app, if you can get it to work for more than 30 seconds, you can also view popular games and tours made near you. The product is free, but it sounds like if you get over 100 views/players monthly on your project, you can pay to get ARIS to provide additional product support.
*I had problems with my phone crashing every time I tried to open the app, see below for the fun adventures I had.

Making a Game or Tour
To start anything, you first have to create an account. Once registered, you then have to click “new game,” even if you’re creating a tour. There are different types of interactive tools you can create for the audience including:

Plaque: an object in the game that provides the viewer with information, which can be text, images, or videos
Trigger: game settings that allow players to access objects (can be something simple like opening the game or a GPS location)
Conversation: interactive ordering of text and media. This can mean actually creating a conversation between the user and the person you create by creating options for the user to choose in the conversation.

To create anything, you start with a blank screen and a tool that says “starting scene” which is basically the introductory screen for the tour or game.

On the left side of the screen here, you can see I have already created a Conversation titled Welcome and a Plaque called Introduction. To add these to the starting scene, you hit the little plus button. This tool also allows you to link webpages to the scene. To create other conversations, plaques, characters, etc, you can hit the little plus button next to them on the left side of the screen, which will then allow you to add them to the scene in the middle.

The Locations tool, which is located at the top of the screen, allows you to drag the character you are using, or the item, to the location you want. This can either be set to trigger when the person using the app is at the actual location on the map, or by clicking on the link. I couldn’t get this feature to work for me in terms of setting a location for a character, but according to the Field Lab Tutorials, which are actually extremely helpful, this is how it should work. You can change the location of characters and triggers for plaques and conversations. This could be an extremely useful tool to use on a tour project, as it could be set to trigger when the mobile device gets near to a point you want to discuss, especially considering some spots might be easy to miss.

Creating new scenes will allow you to create different interactives for each spot on your tour or your game.

Clicking on either the Nearby, Popular, or Recent tabs will take you to tours or games that meet that description, as you can see from the image below, there are a wide variety of uses for the program.

(This is as far as my poor phone got)

Once I clicked on a tour to explore, my app kept crashing so I didn’t get to see what the finished product looked like. After trying to open the app on multiple other devices, I gave up. After reading other reviews online, it seems like this app needs serious revision, although it does represent a cool intersection of mapping, tours, and gaming. It’s potential is to provide users with a series of tours, presented as quests, that would tie history to the location around the user through mobile interfacing. I hope that it sorts out the bugs eventually, because I do love the idea. (side note, this is also the reason the post is late. For some reason I thought maybe my phone might sort itself out if I left it alone and turned it off. Turns out that doesn’t do anything for computers)

What do you think? Would it be worth updating the ARIS Games system to work, or have other apps and web programs proven more useful?

What can we learn about apps vs. websites from these projects?

Whether or not you’re doing a mapping project, do you think you could learn anything from these sites? How do they reflect the field of digital history, or better yet, public/digital history?

5 Replies to “Mall History and ARIS Games”

  1. I think one of the greatest things about the Mall map is the scavenger hunt. It gives people an active role in looking for things and engaging in the experience beyond a passive reading of information on their screen. I think that’s what makes this experience unique when compared with other mapping projects we’ve been looking at: it really gives you some to do.
    The ARIS tech is interesting. I’m not surprised at how buggy it is. After Pokemon Go came out, there was a lot of buzz that the future of mobile gaming was going to be AR, and so far we’ve not seen anything significant. It does have a tremendous potential for letting people interact with spaces in a historical context. However, I’m not sure that a mobile app will be usable by an individual in an outdoor setting, and it really doesn’t allow for groups to go through the experience collectively.

    1. The scavenger hunt tool is definitely one of the most engaging tools on the site, especially in terms of making people really look at the monuments and sites they’re seeing! I also think that mobile apps have to toe a fine line between engaging and distracting, especially when outside on crowded streets. Something this week has left me wondering is if there is feasibly a way to make a mobile app that doesn’t draw people’s attention away from their surroundings too much and distract from other things they might have otherwise observed outside of the app.

  2. I really loved the Mall app. I think it’s an excellent combination of public/digital history. I also think that it is a really good educational tool, meaning that it sounds like it appeals to a lot of age groups. Comparing this app to some of the online tools we looked at in class on Monday, this one seems to work better and reaches a wider audience. I am curious if it’s too much of an overload. Just looking at the screenshots you took it seems like there’s a lot of pins and I know that you’re able to filter it down but I wonder if it’s too cluttered? What if more pins are added every year?

    As for ARIS, I don’t think it’s worth updating. The apps that Abby looked, one of them had glitches too. So there was 4 apps explored and 2 didn’t work, that’s 50% not working (look I can do math too!). There’s a lot of apps out there that need more developing so why create more apps when there needs to be revisions for the ones already existing? Also what does ARIS provide that’s new? Is there a ‘so what’ for ARIS? If not, why are new apps still being created?

    1. The experience I had with ARIS left me with a lot of questions about apps as well. What about them is different from websites that they need constant maintenance and updates? But I think it also brings up the idea of when a project is “done.” If you make something that needs updating so frequently, how can you ever be done with a project? This probably has something to do with why there are so many history apps that do similar things, then disappear into the app store black hole (but don’t quote me on this).

  3. I find the Mall app successful in that, like our readings for this week, show the importance and value that these mobile devices can have when it comes to learning and accessibility. It may just be my “teacher” brain, but whenever I see these apps I constantly ask myself, “how can this be used for an educational purpose, that is still engaging?” The Mall app, specifically the scavenger hunt feature, hits both the educational and engaging checkpoints. Some visitors of the Mall can be overwhelmed and not know exactly where to begin, but this particular app is helpful in laying out important points and making a game out of the experience (it’s also very helpful for us visual learners who need to see “big picture” stuff first).

    Kristin raises a good point about if these apps can ever really be “done” since they seem to need constant attention and updating. But I think, going back to our class discussion on ‘done’, we should not look at these digital platforms as we do print. A portion of the app can be finished or accomplished, but digital projects will have a component to them that will and should always be updated, as they are not stagnant and are able to evolve with technology. That’s why it’s so hard to use a definitive word such as ‘done’ to describe these apps, but I don’t think these projects actually need to be labeled as ‘done’ in order to gauge their success.

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