Playdates with Big Brother: Playfully Repurposing Surveillance Cameras to Build Communities

Holly Robbins, Katherine Isbister


This paper examines the process of repurposing “Big Brother” surveillance cameras as a public utility. The authors set out to create a large scale game with two principal objectives: first, to challenge the conventional and unequal relationship in the design and deployment of surveillance technology; and second, to test surveillance cameras’ ability to reconfigure social relations in public spaces so as to encourage collaboration among strangers. The system uses motion sensed in surveillance video feeds towards completing a shared goal in a game context. This paper describes two major design iterations and installations of the authors’ game system and assesses the strengths and failings of both in pursuit of the stated social aims.


Surveillance; Games; Design; New Technologies

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