Vincent sham Gogh - Teaching art history through a VR Forgery Game

CHI Game Design, CHIPlay - JAN 2021
My Role
UX Design, Game concept, Interface Design, Adobe XD, Unity, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro
Sep 2020 - Jan 2021
Animesh Gupta, Isaac Gutjahr


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Art is more than creative expression, it is also a material product in itself that reflects the sensibilities of artists at different points in time.

The art education currently helps foster creativity and self expression in individuals. With our project, we wanted to create a distinction by offering a way to cultivate a historical appreciation of artistic expression through art education.

We wanted to instill a deeper appreciation of art by understanding the inner workings of a painting and the thought that goes behind it. This, we found possible by teaching the technical skills through the theme of forgery.

The solution

Vincent sham Goghis a virtual reality art forgery game designed to teach young adults to critically analyze paintings through a historical lens in order to cultivate their cognitive skills as well as their interest in art history.

The Prompt

Expand boundaries of play and game design with the emergence of independent games, art games, and political games as well as gamified/playbourised systems that explore the role of play in non-gaming settings.

Final Prototype

Here's a demo of the final prototype.


Can a game teach art history? How does Forgery come into the picture?

Historically forgery or replication has served more than a nefarious purpose.

  • Artwork owners often get a licenced copy made that they can put up the painting without having to worry about damaging the original.
  • Michelangelo started out his career through forging antiques.
  • Forgeries have also been useful to protect the originals, like in the case of art forger Han van Meegeren who tricked the Nazi with his counterfeit Vermeer paintings.

Forgery therefore, served as fitting medium for teaching the technicalities of art while providing an interesting premise.

Related Work

What are some other games that do this?

Sloppy Forgeries

Sloppy Forgeries dives into the realm of art history by exposing players to famous works of art and fostering their artistic abilities

Google's Tilt Brush

Tilt Brush lets you paint in 3D space with virtual reality. A user can create immersive content both in 3D space and 2D artwork.

Papers, please!

Papers, Please!, is a game that allows players to work as immigration authorities trying to identify forged paperwork.

Concept Generation

Initial ideas

We wanted our game to be grounded in educational theory if we were to teach art history and how to critically engage with it.

We used the learning mechanic - game mechanic framework to narrow down our game mechanic to Cognitive Apprenticeship, Scaffolded Learning and Tasked-based Learning.

'White Collar' style

Inspired by White Collar, you work as an investigator trying to find the forged paintings in a gallery. The success of findings fakes would tie with the personal redemption of the character

'Night In the Museum' style

You walk around in a creepy museum at night set in a fantasy setting, figuring out which paintings are forged. The twist is forged paintings might be mimics, waiting to attack you if left undiscovered.

A forgery competition

A low entry barrier, social game that focuses on the forgery elements of the painting. The challenge is to make the painting match the conditions provided by the prompt and convince other players that you work is real.

The initial idea fits in with the cognitive apprenticeship and tasked based learning model.

The time based mechanic and horror elements won't be conducive to learning.

A social deduction game relies more on ability to convince and less on learning about art.

Game structure

Coming up with the different game phases

After testing our initial concepts with the learning mechanics, we decided on the two phases of the expanded 'White Collar' style game that would contain the decided game mechanics.

Forging a painting (Cognitive Apprenticeship)

Cognitive apprenticeship is when students learn about a domain by acquiring and using cognitive tools in an authentic activity with guidance from a teacher.

In our game, cognitive apprenticeship helps to support learning by allowing players to experience painting in an authentic way. This theory of learning was chosen as it closely mimics the way in which painters like Vincent van Gogh would have learned their craft.

Finding the forgeries (Tasked-based learning)

The second phase is a game-based assessment in which players are given an opportunity to demonstrate their learning.

In our game, assessment takes the form of game scoring, which involves measuring how many forgeries a player is able to identify, as well as gauging how many different anti-forgery techniques a player uses in their identifications

Phase 1

Designing the Forgery Painting Mechanics

Art Studio: Master and Apprentice

The setting is an old art studio with two easels in front of the player. The easel on the right features a famous Van Gogh painting titled“Harvest in Provence,” while the easel on the left is blank

Painting Mechanics

The player can utilize a variety of brushes and colors to imitate the painting “Harvest in Provence”.

In this phase, the player is provided with a palette of colors used for the original painting.

Master Painter

The master artist shares information about various aspects of Van Gogh’s painting style.

The player is encouraged to listen and learn from the master artist as he offers advice on the correct brushes and color palettes to use.

Phase 2

Designing the Investigation Mechanics

Art Gallery: Finding the forgeries

The player is tasked with moving around the gallery and using an array of tools including an X-ray scanner and a notebook to identify any forged paintings.

Investigation Tools

X-ray scanner

The X-ray scanner can be used to reveal multiple layers within each painting.

Breakdown of the painting that highlights the different layers being used in the game. The layers include visual layer, pigment layer, sketch layer and the canvas board.

Investigation Tools

Analysis Notebook

The notebook tool focused on providing players with information about the paintings.

The notebook contains information like painting technique, pigments and provenance. The player can rely corroborate his findings from the scanner with the notebook tool.

User Testing

Improving on the design

Co-design can lead to interesting results

In order to allow quick changes based on user testing feedback, we utilized the Rapid Iterative Test and Evaluation(RITE) method throughout our development process. Using the RITE method meant that we were making small development changes after each individual user testing session. In addition to bugs and usability issues which were fixed following each test, we also identified some aspects of gameplay that could be improved.

For example, several users mentioned that they would like to be able to decide if their canvas was on the right-hand or left-hand side of their body depending on which hand they paint with.

We also made adjustments to the VR user interface (UI) based on participant feedback that UI elements were blocking their vision of paintings. To address this issue, the UI elements were added to a dock just below the vision of the player. Players could view the UI by tilting their head down but otherwise their vision during gameplay would be clear.

Final thoughts

What I learnt

Co-design can lead to interesting results

The design process for this game showed us the value of co-design in the game development process. By involving both art history instructors and students in the design process, we were able to identify meaningful gaps in how art history is taught. We were then able to identify appropriate learning goals before beginning development because we involved experts early on in the process.

The impact of rapid Testing

Using the Rapid Iterative Test and Evaluate method, we were able to make quick and effective changes without having a huge development overhead. The changes involved addressing issues like accessibility and immersion.

What could have been better

Painting Mechanics

The scope of the game is large considering the painting mechanic needs to be highly realistic in order to authentically represent the materiality of painting process. Given the limited development resources and our small team, we built a concept that acts as a precursor to the finished product. However, further development could lead to immersive results including direction of brush strokes, pressure, texture and proper pigment color representation.

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