The Research that led to the MXRS Project:

Many of our everyday activities, whether personal or social, in both professional and hobby contexts, involve physical material objects in some way. These objects might be personal mementos, important only to us because of memories they evoke. On the other hand, they might be cultural monuments, meaningful to us for social or historical reasons. Then again, they might be tools we use everyday at work, or products of our personal hobbies. Or simply these objects may be things things we like to collect.

What makes them meaningful are the memories and associations we have with and about them. These, like many other things, are most commonly expressed in stories and narratives.

But times are changing, and with them, so are our ways of creating and telling stories. For instance, we can see these changes in the way we (sometimes inadvertently) create detailed accounts of our personal lives in social media. In effect our identities are shown as stories…

In particular, the Internet of Things (IoT) and social media have opened up new ways for us to both capture information about our objects, but also to share information about them. Some objects are full of technology that captures their every moment. Everything that our cars do is tracked through their on-board sensors and traffic cameras. Our smartphones – so commonly an extension of ourselves – are fully tracked by numerous systems and services. Such objects, are creating Digital Footprints every minute of the day.
But other objects without a single piece of IoT technology are also leaving such footprints. Every time you take a picture of something, you create a Digital Record. Every time you tweet, post or blog about a material object, you are essentially adding to the digital records of that thing.

Does this sound far fetched? Maybe not so much anymore.

A few questions begin to surface…

  • How can knowing things about objects through their digital records help us tell stories about them?
  • What happens when we can know everything about anything? When we can point at something and google everything there is to know about it.
  • How will this change how we treat the objects around us?
    Will it affect their monetary value? We know provenance does. So what if we can know the provenance of anything around us?
  • How do we secure this digital records from malicious tampering? Surely that is a concern?
  • Will it affect how we value our objects? Sentimental value is a powerful thing.
  • If we can perfectly recall everything we ever did with an object, will we ever be able to part with it?
  • What if an object – and it’s digital records – remind us of bad things? What then? Can we selectively ‘delete’ parts of that record?
  • And what if I give away or sell an object? Do I still have access to its digital records? Does the new owner have access to all of them?

And on and on it goes! Exciting and scary at the same time.

Needless to say, there are a lot of unanswered questions. We have to begin somewhere however. And the best place to do that is to understand how people currently treat objects, and their digital records. To that end, we engaged with the miniature wargaming community to explore how they went about it.

Miniature wargaming involves millions of hobbyists around the world who meticulously craft and paint miniature models that they then use in tabletop gameplay. These models and games are representations from Historical, Fantasy or Science Fiction settings, and through the creativity of the hobbyists, and the partly random nature of gameplay events and stories are created, either by design or by chance. The wargaming community recognises the value of these stories and recounts in battle reports and narratives that are shared via digital means through blogs, videos and social media platforms.

As a context for the research, miniature wargaming gave us the opportunity to observe the practices of a community inherently focused on physical objects. Having understood the hobbyists own perceptions of their activities and the methods they used to capture, organise and disseminate information about their activities and their models, we worked with them to develop new methods and technologies to enhance the creation and use of the digital footprints of their practice. These have culminated in the creation of the Mixed Reality Storytelling Project and the formulation of the Footprint Framework which can be generalised and applied to other contexts.