Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Would Wii graffiti app promote or reduce real-world graff?

I've been advocating on Grits for mainstreaming graffiti as much as possible, and this idea - a proposed-but-not-yet-marketed graffiti app for the Nintendo Wii - might take graffiti about as mainstream as it could get.

The idea immediately made me think of the exhibition by the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey that drew criticism for a popular museum installation that let young kids do graffiti on an electronic, erasable tableau, a concept also being explored in a variety of environments by Graffiti Research Labs. But a Nintendo Wii application would take these ideas from the rarified realm of museums and researchers and put them in the hands of potentially every teenager with a gaming system. Here's the account from Gamespot's System Update blog:

At last month's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Microsoft showed off a painting program for its forthcoming motion-sensing add-on, Project Natal. Now, two German graduate students have won a prestigious award for a more streetwise painting application for an existing motion-sensing platform--the Nintendo Wii.

On July 4, German design firm International Forum Design awarded its annual prizes to promising artists in the European country. One of the winners of the iF Communication Design Award was WiiSpray, an art application which turns the Wii remote into a virtual spray can. The software remains in the experimental stage, and has not been approved to be part of any retail product by Nintendo.

Conceived in 2007 by Bauhaus University students Martin Lihs and Frank Matuse after the former collaborated with a Portugeuse graffiti artist, Wii Spray is based on an Adobe Flash-based application called WiiFlash and standard Wii technology. The latest version actually lets users snap the Wii remote into an artificial spray can which can apparently recognize actual different types of nozzles and caps. The app also allows users to combine up to 128 colors via radial on-screen palette, and has none of the chemical mess and legal complications of real grafitti--although it does require a video projector or very large television to be practical.

Whaddya think? I'm sorta aged out of the whole video game era and have no opinion on whether significant numbers of youth might spend their time that way. I suspect they might, though given that the technology requires a projector or big-screen TV, it's quite possible there'd be little crossover between Wii graff writers and the ones painting on buildings and underpasses.

But the technology raises a number of interesting questions from the perspective of public policy debates around graffiti:

If a Wii graffiti app were marketed and widely popularized, would it encourage illegal graffiti in the real world, or supplant it by giving bored teens another outlet? Or might it just give graff writers means to practice at home, perhaps improving the quality of the street product? (For an example of what graff writers can do with a little more practice, check out the pool photos at Graffiti Research Labs' Flickr site.)

Relatedly, if the new app did become popular and commonly available, how might that influence attitudes toward graffiti by those who play it as compared to non-gamers?

Finally, in an era where "Grand Theft Auto" is a popular video game for youth but overall crime rates are declining, is there any reason to believe making a video game of graffiti will increase street graff in the real world?

Here's a YouTube promo for the as-yet-unreleased app:


Anonymous said...

Play the game, print out the result on wideformat clear film, hang it outside.

Nice to look at, easy to remove!

Anonymous said...

Not having any research to look at, I seriously doubt it will have any effect one way or the other.

Frankly, I suspect that nothing can be done to to significantly reduce vandalism within the framework of our current society. While I like the idea of "shoot on sight" policies, realistically this is not going to happen.

In some ways, graffiti vandals are making an honest statement to prospective homeowners, "bad people live in this neighborhood, beware!" So there is a positive side to it.

Anonymous said...

Good Grief. Are we really talking about this??

Even the thought of comparing Wii game virtualization to being a promotion of real life graffiti has got to be the silliest thing I have ever heard. Taggers tag so that others can see it. Kids that use this game will not be the ones that paint on walls later...