ARGs in Education — How to Meet the Challenge

April 15, 2013

I’ve just finished week four of the Games MOOC and am struggling to keep up with all of the great resources and suggested activities.  I manage to look at all of the resources at the beginning of the week but then don’t have time to follow up and thoroughly go over them.  The problem K-12 teachers have is having time to dig in to the things they learn in professional development.

The fifth of Seven Things You Should Know About Alternate Reality Games suggests that ARGs “can be complex to design and execute” and that “constructing them might be best undertaken in a team environment.”  Perhaps GamesMOOC can set up a clearinghouse for bringing people together to work on educational applications of ARGs to specific classroom situations. The other suggestion might be to carve out space in a future iteration of the GamesMOOC for collaborative project-building of specific games (one genre of which could be ARGs).

As I dipped into the readings over the past week, ideas have come to me about how to create an ARG for an orientation to the library.  I envision using Dewey Decimal numbers as numeric code for puzzles, aurisma imagery that launches youtube videos or audio files with further clues, QR codes tucked into reference books that lead to websites with more information. (Some of these ideas came after reading the last part of Dave Szulborski’s book Through the Rabbit Hole: A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Alternate Reality Games, which runs through a sample ARG for beginners and includes the kinds of puzzles, acrostics, anagrams, secret codes, and clue translation that are typical [according to him] of ARGs.)


These are the fragments that have come to me so far.  As for a specific narrative, I think of how McGonigal used narrative in World Without Oil and Urgent Evoke:  as a framework for introducing players to current issues and invite them to engage in actions they need to take to solve the problems.

As for the actual story:  I thought–what do I want my students to do? and then make it a game…First of all, I want them to appreciate the opportunities that they have almost 50 years after the civil rights movement. What kind of a story could I tell for them to learn about the civil rights era and also be oriented to the library? I thought of a potentially controversial topic:  something to do with white supremacists attacking libraries and stealing specific books… Creating a fictional white supremacist character on twitter, though, could be problematic, given the TINAG (“this is not a game”) ethos of the medium.

I’m guessing that trying to create an ARG will be hard for newcomers to the concept.  I’ve been grappling with ARGs since playing McGonigal’s Urgent Evoke back in the spring of 2010–trying to figure out what these strange beasts are… I’m just beginning to get what’s going on.

Electracy and Games

March 24, 2013

It’s been a long time since I posted to this blog, and this is partly due to time constraints as a result of becoming involved in the academy again with the Interactive Media course I’ve been teaching at Emerson College for the past four years. Doing this every spring has introduced a new rhythm into my life whereby I usually collapse/relax once the course is done (and this lasts through the summer), begin to think about the course again come fall (including investigation of new textbooks and syllabus revision), and then teach the course in the spring. I have detours into little projects that occupy my time (one fall was devoted to researching genealogy; a summer or two was given over to working on interactive fiction projects, and last May-June was focused on finishing an interactive fiction for the Cover Stories “speed IF”). Since August, I’ve been spending a good bit of my spare time taking different MOOCs being offered by and–another way to stay busy!


Throughout this time, games and gaming have become more central to the course that I’m teaching, both in the readings and course content. Lately, I’ve been investigating the possibility of gamifying my syllabus and just didn’t have enough time to do so for Spring 2013. So when I discovered GamesMOOC and its focus on ARGs (Alternative Reality Games) and AR (Augmented Reality), I felt completely obligated (or I should say “intrinsically motivated”) to take this course. I return to blogging here, therefore, as a result of my participation in that course, hoping to achieve the “Games Based Learning Badge” that they are offering. We’ll see how well I do, given my various time constraints…. (I’m also developing a “mini MOOC” course for the UnderAcademy College that will be starting as the Emerson class ends).


I’ve also been following Gregory Ulmer‘s ongoing evolution over the past four years, in part by interviewing him for the class every year as well as by reading his recent book Avatar Emergency. His ideas about electracy become more clear the more I spend time with his thought, and it continues to unify a wide variety of reading, experience, and intuitions that I have regarding the transition from literacy to electracy that is occurring so rapidly. He recognizes what he calls the “third axis of electracy” as demarcating a spectrum of pleasure and pain (which, when superimposed upon the vertical axis of orality demarcating right and wrong and the horizontal axis of literacy demarcating true and false, attempts to capture a new dimension of experience now more and more valued as embodiment gradually loses the stigma associated with it by the Judeo-Christian religions.  See below.  [image from Jan Rune Holmevik’s book Intervention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy).


All the recent talk of “fun engineering,” “the engagement economy,” and “hard fun” points toward the harnessing of pleasure by means of gamification and confirms the work that Ulmer has done providing the philosophical foundations undergirding these movements in our culture and educational institutions.

The third round of the GamesMOOC just focused on “Fun, Flow and Fiero” for its first TweetChat and so it too falls into this recent trend of figuring out how to tap the pleasure gradient in the era of electracy.

Virtual Memory Palaces as 3-D Immersive Learning Environments

April 27, 2010

While at the Immersive Education Initiative‘s Boston Summit April 23-25, I went to a workshop on Open Cobalt, an open source virtual world browser and toolkit.  What I found most helpful about the presentation was the “historical” overview, which began with reference to the radical nature of linking in Gopher (a text-based predecessor to the WWW) as well as the “walled gardens” of CompuServ and AOL.  One of the keynote speakers, Duke University professor Julian Lombardi, compared the “closed source” approach of Second Life to these walled gardens of the past and presented Open Cobalt as a potential solution to the current situation.

I immediately recognized the great potential for using this platform to have students experiment with the creation of virtual memory palaces, a concept I presented last month in the Writing for New Media class I’m teaching at Emerson College this spring.  Open Cobalt’s ability to connect virtual worlds via links echoing the powers of connection that Gopher inaugurated in the 1990s can allow for collaborative projects and experiments in collective intelligence (or collective mnemonics).  The possibilities are quite exciting–I saw this as one of the most promising developments to come out of the conference.

Youtube as Interactive Media

February 7, 2010

I’ve just discovered a new feature of Youtube that allows one to annotate videos with speech bubbles, notes, and “spotlights” (or links to other Youtube videos).  This has the potential to turn Youtube videos in to an interactive media format that can allow for narratives with choice and branching stories.  The notes and speech bubbles also make the video window look very similar to a pane in a comic book.  It will allow for another layer of meaning to be added to a video, as well as the insertion of text into video–always possible but a “track” that rarely gets used.  There is much potential in these new tools, and there should be some interesting artistic applications and experiments to emerge.