School of Art, Media, and Technology

Re:Activism NYC at Come Out and Play, 2008

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On a hot summer day in New York City, 35 strangers gathered to fight for civil rights and peace, better labor conditions, immigrant rights, medical reform, women’s right to vote, and high scores… A massive demonstration? Not exactly. These individuals were players in a street game called Re:Activism NYC, a race through the history of riots, protests, and activism in New York City, designed by social interest game lab PETLab (Prototyping, Evaluation, Teaching and Learning) at Parsons The New School For Design. Designed and launched at the Come Out and Play Festival (, the game play took to the streets of New York City, revisiting specific events and locations in historic protests and riots bringing to life the social issues and activist practices of that particular time and place. Prompted by text messages on their Nokia N75’s, each of the seven teams answered riddles to unlock challenges at sites of former protest across downtown Manhattan – from the Woman’s Suffrage March down Fifth Avenue in 1917 to the human chain against the war in Iraq in 2008 at Union Square.

The eleven sites in the game each had three challenges of increasing difficulty, many encouraging players to engage in activist tactics and use their Nokia-supplied mobiles to record the results of their actions with video and photographs. The game encouraged a choice of strategies between racing to each site and delving more deeply into the history of these sites through the challenges, each carrying points associated with their difficulty. Teams also had the opportunity to act in “solidarity” with or to “sabotage” other teams. The game emphasized current activist uses of mobiles, using them as both an organizing tool (through SMS) and a citizen journalism tool, by recording and uploading documentation of their actions. In addition, teams received updates on their scores, other team locations, and special messages on the state of the game environment. To manage these communications, students at Parsons developed a Python-based tool linked via Bluetooth to a “master phone” which tallied scores and kept track of team locations. PETLab student and faculty researchers are currently building on this application for future versions of Re:Activism and other big games. We plan to release it open source as a “big game engine”. Stay tuned to, or email us at for more information.

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