“Riddle Mia This:” Escape Room Meets “The Da Vinci Code”

The Minneapolis Institute of Art hosts a free augmented reality scavenger hunt

Illustration by Brighid de Danaan

Illustration by Brighid de Danaan

The Minneapolis Institute of Art is calling all avid mystery seekers and puzzle solvers to participate in its latest escapade, an augmented reality escape-room app dubbed “Riddle Mia This.” As the Sherlock Holmes fanatics we are, my friend and I couldn’t wait to test out our detective skills with the new art-centric game. We approached the check-in desk a bit awkwardly and said, “We’re here for the game?” The woman smiled as if we were all in on a big secret and slid us our first clue. With charged phones, we downloaded the “Riddle Mia This” app and received a message from Director Kaywin Feldman, asking us to decipher clues left around the museum by a secret society. Everything appeared normal through our phone cameras, but augmented reality images hovered over the artwork (think “Pokemon Go” for art) for some of the clues. We were stumped a few times, but my friend was determined not to use the available hints unless they were our only option. The game led us throughout the entire three-story museum as we explored its large art collection that spanned over thousands of years.

The game was created by Colin McFadden and Samantha Porter of Advanced Imaging Service for Objects and Spaces. Located in Heller Hall, AISOS is a department supported by the University of Minnesota’s Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services. McFadden and Porter help faculty and students of any field with 3D scanning, imaging, and augmented reality projects. Their goal for the game is to attract younger audiences to Mia and provide access for all. They created the game to show it’s okay to approach art in any way that engages you the most.

“I was thinking about my own experience going to museums where I felt like I had to look at everything because I was at the museum,” McFadden said. “I felt like I have to look at every object in every room and by the third room, I’m not actually enjoying this. I’m not getting anything out of it. I’m not actually reading what I’m staring at.”

Most people view museums as a formal quiet setting, but Mia touts them as places to build community and have fun, which inspired McFadden and Porter to combine tech and art. “When you’re playing the game, you’re not just an idle viewer, you become an active engaged participant,” Gretchen Halverson, Digital Program Coordinator at Mia, said. The game uses augmented reality to enhance the experience, but it does it in limited amounts to increase engagement with physical artwork.

“We could have done a game that was entirely AR but that would have encouraged you to just sort of blindly wander around waving your phone everywhere,” McFadden said. The team is excited with the end product of the game and hopes to expand the project. “This is the type of project we would love to have happen at other institutions,” Porter said. “We’re actually going to be releasing the code as well as some how-to docs with the idea that people can take this and actually create their own experiences.”

McFadden and Porter worked with Glitch, an organization on West Bank that supports game developers, alongside UMD alumni Charles McGregor. Their augmented reality scavenger hunt won Mia’s 3M Art and Technology Award. McFadden and Porter encourage students and staff to visit AISOS in Heller Hall 431 during open hours on Friday’s 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While this is the first edition of an augmented reality game in Mia, it will definitely not be the last. Mia is currently brainstorming an edition of the game for families with younger children Halverson says. They also foresee different editions of the game as new exhibitions arrive to the museum. There is no specific end date for the first edition of Riddle Mia This, but it may change in a few months based on placement changes of artwork in the galleries. Because of this game, my friend and I were able to live out our detective dreams for a short but fun period of time and learn more about art while doing so. We finished the game in about an hour, but we left craving for more mysteries to solve.

Wake Mag