Alison Kotin, MFA ’11


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Name: Alison Kotin

Graduation: 2011

Program: MFA

The Design Studio I assignment asked first-year students to explore place, space, and time through the language of mapping and information architecture. My final work for “You Are Here” is a playful interface for users that combines the visual language and rules of play of Tetris with a collage of sounds gathered from my daily commute.

The goal of the finished piece is to explore how simple digital games can evoke a contemplative state, in response to my own experience of a work and commuting schedule that precluded opportunities for reflection or meditation. My research process involved exploration of two parallel but (at first) unconnected areas of interest: opportunities for portable digital devices (phones, iPod, etc) to act as tools for meditation and contemplation, and the repetitive and cumulative nature of a routine commute into and away from the city. These ideas became one when I was inspired by Arnold Pacey’s Meaning in Technology (Cambridge, MIT Press: 2001): “Something about puzzle-solving and certain other challenges also, encourages an especially engaged and focused kind of thought.” After conducing an exercise in contemplation through repetitive motions with the help of my classmates, I determined that the familiarity and simplicity of Tetris made the game an ideal vehicle for my project.

The final piece connects the characteristic sounds of my commute (inbound: sounds from the #77 bus; announcements on the subway; footsteps in the hallways of my office building and outbound: music playing; ordering a decaf coffee; the sound of a Star Trek episode) with the typical long rectangle, square, zigzag, and ziggurat of Tetris. The final game is projected on a blank wall, allowing users to play my modified Tetris on a board far taller than the average laptop screen. Users are immersed both in the visual experience of playing the game in a large-scale projection and in the soundscape of my recurring travels. Unlike a traditional Tetris game, my version includes a finite number of blocks, which first fall (and are arranged by the user) from ceiling to floor and then rise from floor to ceiling. In this way there is no opportunity to “win” the game by eliminating blocks in the traditional matter, but instead users are given a chance to experience similar motions over and over again while hearing familiar sounds reconfigured semi-randomly based on their manipulation of the Tetris controls.

You Are Here

Keywords: Contemplation, Travel, environment, experience, gaming, interaction, play, sound