Three pixel ArtCade Machine

Written By Pete Thomas
3 mins read

Recently we were approached by Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) to help them complete a research project that they were working on following support from Nesta’s Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture Organisations in Scotland.


In conjunction with the games company Denki, the DCA explored whether games theory and design could be used to improve the amount of charitable donations the venue receives and came to the conclusion that the venue needed to create an engaging and playful installation that encouraged giving. They asked us to help them realise that ambition.

We often work with a micro-network of creatives to build the right teams for projects and we wanted a really great team to build on the insights we had from Denki. We’ve worked with Professor Jon Rogers, Chair of Creative Technology at the University of Dundee frequently over the last few years and we knew he’d bring a playfulness to the code and Patrick at London based Studio PSK is an old friend with a great understanding of users and aesthetics. This project seemed like the right opportunity to work together.

Our response was the three pixel ArtCade Machine. The machine consists of three giant LED pixels that respond to people’s donations by changing colour. By altering the colour of the pixels people can create individual and unique light installations. 


There were quite a few constraints to the project, focused mainly on the lack of sound, which for an ArtCade Machine seemed like a difficult hurdle to overcome at the start. It also needed to be location specific (it lives just by the entrance), it had to be designed for both adults and children, attract people to use it and be durable enough to withstand late night revellers.

It was also important that what we created reflected the scope of activities at the DCA. We started out exploring a broad range of different physical digital concepts. As soon as we started to explore what we could do with LEDs we knew we had the right medium for the interaction. Using light and in particular exploring RGB felt right given the DCA’s multimedia art exhibitions and cinema. The more we played the more we became excited around the idea of creating single pixels of light. It’s like the ultimate reduction of the screen and we kept asking ourselves the question of what could a three pixel game look like. 


Our machine allows people to play and explore the basic colour theory that underpins much visual art and combines it with a nod to an 8-bit aesthetic. In the spirit of classic computer games the ArtCade Machine also has a few hidden ‘easter eggs’ waiting to be discovered.

The result is quite simple, very addictive and hopefully beautiful!

DCA sign

If you enjoyed the article then please share