VDS Digest

A weekly roundup of the visual press.


[VDS Quest Chart] Introducing Quest Charts

By Mathieu Guglielmino, Jan 15 2024

➡️ Play It Right Now

The Science History of Light

To write a history of light is to write a history of all science.

This all too common everyday life phenomenon that a light fed countless religious debates, scientific feuds, philosophical crisis, and ultimately advanced human knowledge to its very own tolerable limits.

  • Galileo birthed the Scientific Revolution when he observed Jupiter’s moons with a telescope, providing solid ground for the Copernician theory (and severe retaliation by the Church),
  • Newton overthrew more than 1,500 years of wrong beliefs about colors when he separated white light into colored rays through a glass prism,
  • Maxwell, after centuries of converging efforts, realize electricity, magnetism, and light are actually the same goddamn thing,
  • Young dethroned two centuries of Newtonian corpuscular theory when he had light interfere in his iconic double-slit experiment, hereby reinstating Huygens’ wave-theory of light, Newton’s unfortunate challenger at the time,
  • Einstein said everyone was right and, yes, even Newton, when he demonstrated light is actually both wave and matter, but actually not really Newton because Newtonian mechanics is less precise than general relativity and we know this because of an expedition to observe a solar eclipse,
  • Then Aspect proved in his Nobel experience about quantum entanglement that Einstein was wrong and Niels Bohr was right about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, that God does indeed play dice,

And now we know pretty much everything, except for small things and big things, which we are late to unify in a grand theory of everything.

You want to know more? Just play the game!

Introducing “Quest charts”

  • Games are among the oldest human activities, and are a cornerstone of our learning process,
  • Games can last a few seconds, hours, or days, they can be played alone or with thousands of players, inside or outside, in a competitive or collaborative way,
  • Games can be the promise of something huge, like the concept of “newsgames” in 2010, but also of great demise, like “newsgames” in 2020,
  • Games can be a very persuasive rhetorical device,
  • Games are explorable simulations under a set of rules.

Quest Charts = Games + Dataviz

As a consequence, and resolution for 2024, I will share here every other week in place of the traditional digest the results of my investigation about quest charts.

But what are quest charts?

Quest charts are playable dataviz.

However, this definition implies to perform some fundamental paradigm shifts from traditional dataviz values for it be successful.

Quest Charts Have Core Humanistic Values

A quest chart is a visual representation and interactive tool that shifts the principles of data visualization to humanistic values:

  • no reality, but experiences of reality,
  • data is uncertain and inaccurate,
  • humans are partial and situated,
  • knowledge is iterative and co-constructed,
  • emotions are valid,
  • impact comes from repetition

Where data viz shows reality as one big aggregated abstraction, quest charts highlights individual trajectories,

Where data visualizations numb us with numbers, quest charts aim for a visceral response,

Where data viz is a slice of present consumed just once in a few seconds, quest charts are repeatable statements that unravel in time, each time different,

Where data viz focuses on what is with pretend certainty, quest charts focus on uncertain outcomes under current conditions,

Where data viz is a top-down process, quest charts have a bottom-up approach.

Giorgia Lupi’s “Data Humanism” manifesto

Is The Timeline of Light History a Quest Chart?

Let’s go back to the timeline of light one second. To be a quest chart, it should have humanistic values:

  • experienced: it takes time to go through the drag and drop before going to the next event,
  • uncertain: the order in which the events are shown can dramatically alter the game,
  • situated: the closer the player get from my source of knowledge (modern European times), the harder it gets,
  • co-constructed: the player creates the final imperfect data, and leaves their trace on it,
  • emotive: the “correct / incorrect” feedback triggers positive or negative emotions,
  • repeated: events are selected randomly so you want to replay to find out about the ones you missed

This seems like a reasonable set of requirements for quest charts to be engaging and impactful.

I didn’t realize until last minute what a great fit this game was to my design requirements.

At its core, the “timeline” game, or “flashback” as seen in the New-York Times, is an abstract design pattern to “experience the distribution of a (temporal) dataset” and “update knowledge on one dimension (time)” with a simple drag and drop interaction.

I see two differences between my version and the version upon which it is greatly ripped inspired from, in the New-York Times:

  • The NYTimes events are not thematically grouped, so you are testing your knowledge about unrelated events,
  • If you play the same game again you get the same events, but you can play a new game with new events each week.

However, they both serve common goals to engage readers (the NYTimes links to related articles) and update knowledge.


Quest charts is a concept that seems to be around for some time know, but which ultimately failed when it was tried out, like “newsgames” in 2010s.

However, they failed for the reason they didn’t bear any humanistic values in the first place, which to some extent are essential to games. The lack of it made them lifeless, dull objects.

It has been said the problem with game development is that it’s just too time consuming, and yes it’s near impossible to develop 3D computer games in a high-paced context.

Simple but meaningful interactions are the most important part in games, not graphics. But in order to create diverse outcomes, a simple interaction should be random, which an UX anti-pattern, except in games.

How random is the message.

Don’t you think?


Some early attempt using a metro map visual metaphors on sets:

If you found this remotely interesting, let me know! It is a topic I have been thinking for some time now, and it would be interesting to have some feedback about it.

But I get we’ll see what fruits this tree bears in 2 weeks.

See you next week for VDS Digest, Mathieu Guglielmino

VDS Digest

A weekly roundup of the visual press.