Media Art and Design Practice - Highway Traffic Simulator

Spring 2023


The Unity project for this simulation and instructions on how to use it are included here: GitHub Repo


Note: Any lag you may experience is solely the byproduct of converting a Unity project to run in a web browser with JavaScript. In my experience, the lag typically goes away after it runs for a bit.

What is it?

Highway Traffic Simulator is the final exam project I made for Professor Biersdorfer's Media Art and Design Practice class. The purpose of this project is to critique the medium of video games.

Typically, video games involve some element of interactivity. Certain genres, like action games, rely on split-second decision-making and fast button inputs, providing loads of interactivity. Other genres, like turn-based games, rely on slower decision-making with no input timing, still providing interactivity but less than with action games. Some genres, primarily story games (like Telltale games, for example), are essentially movies but still include some degree of interaction to embrace the video game medium. 

However, though essentially all games rely on interactivity, game engines and other game-making tools do not require interactivity. Instead, many of these tools include interactivity as an afterthought, and users must add all input capabilities on their own through an often confusing and clunky process (looking at you, Unity...).

This project is meant to critique the notion of interactivity in video-games by providing a "game" made in a game engine (Unity) that does not include any interactive elements. There are no menus, no buttons to hit, and there really isn't much to do other than watch the game. Even when watching the game, the highway traffic flows in a way specifically to discourage observers from creating their own simple games based on the viewing experience. 

The cars' motion is entirely random, but changes are small and subtle, which discourages "players" (the term is in quotes because "playing" a game without interactivity is a bit of a stretch) from placing bets on how the cars will move. For example, some "playtesters" noted that they were waiting for the cars to eventually slow down and for traffic to pile up, but such a situation never occurred. There are also very few cars that repeat very frequently, but the cars move fast enough and repeat often enough such that it is difficult for players to count cars of certain types. Finally, though lane changes can be exciting and new, they happen so rarely and far enough from the screen such that they are too hard to predict in any capacity that would encourage betting or mini-game creation. 

All of these features are incredibly effective at removing any sense of interactivity, both in terms of actually pressing buttons and mentally thinking about the game and interacting with it through mini-games and betting. 

When I tested this game with my 30-person class during my final presentation, I instructed the class to close their laptops and notebooks, and I had everyone stare silently at the screen for half of my presentation time. After this prolonged experience, I explained the project and questioned the class about their thoughts. Out of the 29 other students in the class and the professor, not a single person expressed interactivity with the game in any capacity. Though people claimed they were "mesmerized" and "entranced" by the project, nobody placed bets as people typically do with screen savers (for example, the DVD screen saver) and, obviously, nobody hit any buttons. In this sense, I believe the project was a monumental success!