• Son Luu

'The Watchers' | Interactive Surveillance Game

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

Class: Veillance

Professor: Shawn Every

It is midterm time. We proposed our ideas in front of the class and Shawn to obtain feedback on our concepts and execution plans. A milestone project always comes with a little bit of pressure. We all want our project ideas to be well thought out conceptually, technically feasible, getting people excited, yet manageable in terms of scope and timeline.

Original Project Idea


  • Surveillance cameras

  • Digital surveillance and data collection

  • Surveillance Capitalism

  • Unawareness of the public about surveillance, especially in the digital world.

  • http://www.artandsurveillance.com/

▪️Tools and materials:

  • p5js

  • Facebook comments

  • Surveillance cameras

▪️Execution plan:

  • Project form: a critical art/tech exhibit that evoke thoughts and inspirations for viewers

  • Components: surveillance cameras are hung on a surface that form the word “blind” in Braille. A computer screen (or more) running blue text on a white screen that represent Facebook comments and likes icons (using an array of Facebook comments).


  • The exhibit allows viewers to step out of the situation for a moment and evaluate surveillance and our paranoia with data collection. Surveillance cameras represent those who set up equipment to watch others. But the placement of all the cameras form the word “blind” that may not be recognized immediately, to represent how unaware we might be of something else. A bigger picture might be missed. The screen displays Facebook comments represent us all being “watched” and collected data on, including those who set up those cameras to watch others – representing “the watchers also being watched”.

  • The exhibit encourages everyone to gain a better understanding and a level of awareness of surveillance, especially in the digital world. In addition, we need to look beyond the surface in terms of being watched and data collection. Instead of continuing to be paranoid about surveillance and data collection, make an effort to be more educated about how collected data might be used, and to what extent. Ask ourselves what the issue of being watched really is, and what the issue of data collection really is.


  • Viewers can participate by hanging the surveillance cameras on the wall, representing human participation in “Surveillance” (watching others). After all cameras are hung up, the cameras will be looking back at viewers (being watched) while a computer screen displaying Facebook comments (being watched and collected data). Finally, the surveillance cameras on the wall reveal the word “BLIND” in Braille, representing blindly paranoia and unawareness of surveillance and data collection.


  • Concept was good, and execution plan sounds interesting by incorporating interaction among the audience to convey a meaningful message.

  • However, as a scope for a midterm project seems too demanding for one-week delivery timeline

  • While concept may be kept, a more manageable project scope and execution plan were suggested.

Revisiting Project Idea

I quickly talked to other classmates from within and outside of our class for inspirations. What stood out to me the most in terms of a non-traditional coding challenge while potentially being able to achieve the same message of my project, came from my conversation with my classmate - Nick Greg. Nick shared with me a project he worked on in the past which involved communication between two people using FaceTime while having their phone screens flipped. As a result of the flipped views, what were shown on the two individuals' phone screens over FaceTime looked just like street views of their locations, which gave the feel of looking at surveillance cameras.

That was interesting (I thought)! We immediately were able to see some connection between the idea of using the flipped views on the iPhones and surveillance, watching over and following one another. I sat down to brainstorm what I could do with it.

Revised Project Plan

🔶Tools and materials:

  • iPads + Facetime app

  • iPhones + Facetime app

  • Index cards

🔶Execution plan:

  • Project form: an interactive, physical game that requires everyone participation


  • Viewers are given iPhones and iPads that are on FaceTime calls (FaceTime calls have been made for them), with camera screens flipped around.

  • Viewers are also given enclosed index cards (one person person) which they can't reveal until the end of the game.

  • Everyone is instructed to find the person who is holding the phone with the view shown on their phone.

  • If two people find each other, whoever finds the other person first will get to see what the other person's index card says. The index card reveals a purpose of surveillance (for example, surveillance capitalism, commercial revenue benefits, ads, national security, etc.)


  • The interactive experience allows the audience to participate in a game of surveillance. Everyone is watching each other, representing the fact that we all play a part in surveillance. You may think you are watching someone, but you may be watched by someone else.

  • If a person finds their correct match, by following the camera view on their phone, they are rewarded by getting to see the "real purpose of surveillance" (inside the other person's index card). This conveys the message of the pursuit of educating oneself about surveillance, and data collection, which is not the easiest-to-understand process, but necessary. In the current world where surveillance and data collection are everywhere physically, digitally, many of us feel paranoid. This paranoia is the fear of the unknown and unexplained, mainly because we don't know what they really mean to us, and to what extent harm could be done upon ourselves. So, there is only one way to feel better about it. That is, to find out "the truth".

  • We should look beyond the face value of "watching" and "being watched" and "data being collected" etc. Instead of facing such paranoid caused by surveillance and data collection, ask ourselves: how collected data might be used, to what extent, what people do with our data, who collects it. Ask ourselves what the issue of "being watched" really means to each one of us (because everyone is different), what impacts (whether negative or neutral, or...) data collection has on our personal lives. Then, you can decide to act upon it. You may choose to do something about it, or you may accept and adapt to a compromised situation. Whatever decision made, at least, it will be an informed decision, and there will no longer be any unexplainable fear of the unknown.

Concept Sketch

Testing and Preparation

I checked out a couple of iPads, and asked a couple of classmates to participate in a small play test to validate the interactive game and potential outcome.

On the actual presentation day, I am planning to check out as many iPads as I can, just in case there are more participants without an iPhone than expected. Also, it is easy to get everything set up by using only FaceTime app across all devices to avoid any unexpected technical problems.

iPads and iPhones on FaceTime calls with screens being flipped around, causing surveillance-camera-like views of classroom space

Index cards are filled with interesting information regarding surveillance, data collection, personal privacy and regulations, gathered from class readings, discussions as well as class presentations and my own research:

Presentation Day

[To be continued]