Posted in Games, Uncategorized

Campus Crisis – building Alternate Reality Games for learning

So… Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).

I wrote a little post about these and posited that Facebook is a sort of ARG a while back.  Not a very good ARG but, I think, very arguably an ARG.

Warning: when talking about Alternate Reality Games there is a real possibility that I will end up repeating ARG a lot just because I like the way it sounds…

ARG

Ok.  Now that’s out of my system… for anyone that isn’t already aware of them, Alternate Reality Games are basically games that are played in both the real and virtual world, i.e. you might play part of it online and another part of it in real-to-goodness offline mode.  Why, you might ask.  Good question.  Well – for a start it can be a great way of engaging with our surroundings in new, imaginative ways.  It is also good to remember that, no matter how much enjoyment we might get out of the virtual, our bodies are in the real.  And our bodies are not just vehicles to get our heads to games consoles.  Indeed – engaging the body and the mind at the same time is about as immersive as any experience can be.  Why else would anyone go to so much trouble to make VR a reality?

I made a little ‘history of ARGs’ timeline a while back.  You can see it here.

It is by no means a complete history, but it does endeavour to give a solid account of the beasts.

So… skipping to the end.  I believe that ARGs are incredibly powerful ways to organise information.  Perhaps even more powerful than traditional stories.

They have greater potential within education than, say, Egan’s story form model, or stories in general, because they require more active involvement from the player(s).

Traditional stories give us the privilege of seeing the world from someone else’s perspective.  ARGs call us to be in the world and to embody this perspective.  Or – to my mind even more excitingly – to explore our own perspective within the play-space.

In other words, in ARGs you are the hero.  Or you can be.

And that is what I tried to capitalise on when I developed Campus Crisis with some wonderful colleagues at my place of work; Campus Crisis is an ARG that teaches players about sustainability, by inviting them to save the world.

Yep – some non-player-characters from the future, have found a way to talk to us now.  And they have one thing to say: help us, our world is dying.  Help us.

And there you go.  The students are tasked with strategising ways to change first their own lives, and then the world… They are given guidance in the form of a blog, some audio files and some teaching videos.  Their tutor is there to add any further pointers, but that is it.  They are the hero.  This is the hero’s journey.  And, in a nutshell, that is a key feature of the ARG, the hero’s journey.  And, on that note, here is a brilliant youtube video about this cunning little structuring technique:

Other things to consider include pace and opportunities for emotional engagement, i.e. why should the player care… and this is a whole thing in and of itself.  But, for now, when thinking about an Arg for learning think: what structure are you employing and why; why should the player care? and where is the pace quick, and where does it give the player some space to reflect?

Primarily, though, I believe that when you have a solid structure (i.e. everything is there for a purpose), then you should have something that will ‘work’.

I was fortunate enough to deliver a workshop about this game and some of the more subtle points underpinning it at the Playful Learning Conference yesterday.  And if you happen to be reading this, and you would like to know more or chat about it, please leave a comment and I will be very happy to get back to you.

Author:

I lecture in creative writing, games and education. I write. I make the odd game. I work with the odd school to make learning more like playing a game...

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