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Digital Storytelling

An overview of the creative process of Digital Storytelling, providing examples of digital stories and an introduction to creative tools. This guide also includes notes on Data Visualization.

What is ARIS?

ARIS is an open source tool for creating place-based mobile games. 

ARIS (Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling) was seeded with a MacArthur grant and developed by David Gagnon with support from administration and colleagues at DoIT Academic Technology. It is currently based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and developed by a team of technologists and teachers.

Basic overview & links to documentation

Head to the ARIS homepage to get started:


  • Through the homepage you can set up an account and use the game editor

  • ARIS games are composed on the web. The app has to be downloaded onto iPhone or iPad to play/test


ARIS has created its own manual/tutorials:

What follows are condensed notes on the basic elements and structuring of ARIS games. These are all explored and explained in more detail at the tutorial listed above. I highly recommend working through one of the tutorials on ARIS.


Before creating game it is a good idea to:

  • Storyboard your games, sketching out:
  1. locations
  2. items (images, documents, websites, or other things you want the player to see)
  3. dialogues
  4. overall arc--what is happening in the game?
  • Check on the rights & permissions needed for any of the images or media you want to include.

You must create these individual elements of the game (items, conversations, characters) before you can place them in a scene. You can still think scene-by-scene, but you cannot create elements from within the scene. 


Plan scenes:

--to create the game in Aris, you will think about it in chunks called “scenes”

--a scene is made up of elements that have their own content and locations

--you create triggers within the scene that allow the player to access particular elements that have been created


Create elements:

--these elements can be: conversations, plaques, items, or web items

--you create the elements of scenes before you add them to scenes

--this means you upload images first, create conversations first, etc.

--every element will have a location

--you must set these locations manually in the Locations tab (otherwise they default to Madison, Wisconsin)


Design structure:

--you will need to decide how you want the scenes and elements to be structured: do you want everything to appear on the map at once, or one at a time?


There are two ways to design the structure/order in which elements appear:

    --you can create separate scenes and use scene changes with locks to move between them

    --you can put everything into one big scene and use individual items’ locks to move between them

Using locks

Every item will have a Locks button at the right hand side of the editor when you are creating or altering it. By setting a lock, you determine when in the flow of the game a certain item will appear. You can, for example, specify that a player has to have completed a certain conversation before a certain item will then appear on the map. There are many options--be sure to browse through to find what makes sense for the action of your game.

Using scene changes

A scene change can be added to a scene by clicking the + (plus) button on the upper right hand corner of the scene box. You must have already created the scene that you want to change to. You will then set locks for that scene change in a similar manner as described above. If you want the player to have to view all of the items in the previous scene first, for example, you would add a lock for each item that specified the player had to add it before the new scene's items appear.

Creating a branching game

You may want players to make choices that will lead them through a specific path of the game, opening up some scenes but not others. In this case, instead of using a scene change, you will specify an Event for the final element in the scene. If it were a conversation, for example, you would set the Event for the final line of the conversation to "Set Scene" and then select the scene you wanted to lead into. You can then use scene changes to move between scenes in that branch of the narrative. 

Play testing

If you want to be able to test the game without going outside, go to Settings > Maps > Offsite Mode. This will make every trigger in infinite range, meaning you can access it without physically going to it. You can uncheck this mode at any time. It will allow you to test the locks and scene changes.

Playing Activism at Temple

How to Play

  • Get ARIS app from the iTunes store
  • Register a username
  • Search for game “Activism at Temple”
  • You will have the option of playing the full version "Activism at Temple" (at least 90 minutes) or the condensed version "Activism at Temple (Fast version)"
  • Use the Map to navigate from task to task
  • Use the Inventory to review items that you have received or picked up
  • The next task will appear on the map when you have completed everything you need to do, which might include reviewing items in your Inventory
  • You will need to walk to access the tasks-- this game is location-based
  • You may not need to go all the way to the spot designated, just get within a certain proximity


 Problem: Icons too close together to click

  • Try zooming in or out
  • Try changing the map angle

Problem: Next task not appearing

  • Try checking the recently acquired items in your Inventory
  • Try zooming out to make sure you are not missing any additional tasks in that area

Problem: GPS inaccurate

  • Try exiting the game, moving a little bit; trying again

In case of total fail:

Take note of where & what happened-- and thank you for being a beta tester!