Friday, September 26, 2008

ARG Technology
ARG Tech. presentation by Fundi Technologies for your note-taking pleasure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


(HW: Blog about Szulborski's TINAG Appendices C through E on this post. Presentations begin this week. )

This is Not a Game?

Jane McGonigal’s seminal 2003 essay “This Is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play” was the first serious academic examination of the genre. She writes:

It is reasonable to argue that nothing about this virtual play was simulated. The computer-driven alternate reality ‘The Beast’ created was make believe, but every aspect of the player’s experience was, phenomenologically speaking, real.[1]

The essay succeeded in fueling the fire of ARG, addressing the questions of what it is, what it means, and where it was going. At this early stage, McGonigal even hesitates to call “The Beast” a game, but summarizes the reality aspect of the budding genre quite well, showing a profound understanding between the virtual or simulated and the immersive. This concept of immersive elements is explored in greater depth in chapter 3, “The Elements of ARG.”

The first academically qualified book to investigate and critically analyze online storytelling across interactive media from both a classic and historical narrative technique approach and an in-depth look at modern technology within the genre was Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment.[2] The author begins with what is described as the “campfire model” of ancient interactive entertainment, and brings the reader quickly through to modern times for a comprehensive overview of the genre, and even ending with a glancing blow at Alternate Reality Games. While a number of other titles which examine the broader genre of Online Interactive Entertainment do exist,[3] most do not contain more than a small mention of the Alternate Reality Game genre subset if at all, since the primary focus of interactive entertainment is the multi-billion dollar video game industry including Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, and this reality is reflected in the related literature as might be expected.

ARG in Print

A very small number of books have been written on the subject of ARG specifically as of yet, barely providing a working definition of the genre, an in-depth look at the history and evolution of various games successful and failed, and making some small projections as to the future of ARG. Perhaps it is not surprising that corporate Commercial ARG developers have not revealed their secrets or business models in print, as they have been too busy building their own reputations and high quality Commercial ARGs veiled in secrecy. This is an understandable business practice and not a bad thing at all from a commercial standpoint, but it does create a disadvantage for those who would seek to study academically the multi-faceted and complex ARG phenomenon. Fortunately for the academic community, however, independent, grass-roots, and similar Non-Commercial ARG creators are not limited by a corporate agenda, and these books are easily discussed.

J. W. Gosney’s 2005 book Beyond Reality: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming was the first proper ARG publication[4]. Gosney gives a brief history of ARG, but also includes an instructional guide for players with advice on approaching an ARG; including an annotated real ARG (“The Beast”), a sample rabbit hole and an example ARG (called “Route 66”) with analysis of each. The author is an experienced player with a unique perspective, but in many ways the book is still an incomplete glancing blow at ARG, if for no other reason than its admirable early entry into the field with so few usable references at the time, in a genre that was still defining itself. Also included in the book is a simple and somewhat dated, but clear outline for designing an ARG and suggested web design for would-be puppetmasters, which is more useful now as an archive of older web technology methods than as a practical, modern how-to guide.

Dave Szulborski’s This Is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming is in many ways the more academic and useful book[5], having been written by the experienced puppetmaster of a number of acclaimed grassroots ARGs. The book is an in-depth list of ARGs through 2005, focusing on not only the theory and history behind the genre but also the practice of making and playing ARGs with a look to the future of the genre and numerous references and resources for further study including various articles and academic insights, which predate and include the inception of the genre. Szulborski also implies that another reason that ARG should not be ignored as a form of online diversion is that it is the first form of entertainment that has been produced exclusively “by the Internet, and for the Internet”, though as mentioned it does spill over into the real world too – a bold claim either way.[6]

Szulborski’s 2005 follow-up book Through the Rabbit Hole: A Beginner's Guide to Playing Alternate Reality Games was written as “an introduction for newcomers to the exciting genre of alternate reality gaming.”[7] There is not much new content in the book to speak of as compared to his first book, but the games discussed are more recent and the rule-book style tone makes it a better choice for new players in the genre who are interested in breaking into ARG game theory without slogging through the meta-discussion of other books. Through the Rabbit Hole uses a simple and concise manner to lay out many of the game-elements and some general guidelines for playing Alternate Reality Games, using the games and his own experiences from the first five years of the ARG genre, as reasonably well as can be expected in the rapidly changing game environment of ARGs.

What is Lacking

What the current body of study regarding the genre of ARG lacks is an in-depth critical and statistical academic analysis of an ARG’s most critical elements, those qualities which make it by definition an Alternate Reality Game. This is a difficult and monumental task that will likely take years of collaborative work and access to data that is currently a closely guarded secret. Past ARGs have been determined to be either a success or a failure based on those factors which have been outlined in the above literature and resource studies, or as often as not by their commercial returns and simple website visit counts. Though a number of possibilities exist, it is also phenomenologically unclear at this time why the ARG player base seemingly prefers the reality of the player’s experience versus the computer-driven virtual and simulated reality environments such as those presented by newer generation video games or other virtual worlds like “Second Life.” Invariably ARGs set within these false constructs are short-lived and unremarkable, a phenomenon which is [...] well worthy of study at some point in the future.

[1] Jane McGonigal, “This Is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play,” Melbourne DAC, 2003, [accessed January 15, 2008].

[2] Carolyn H Miller, Digital Storytelling: A creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment. 1st ed. [St. Louis: Focal Press, 2004]

[3] Andrew Glassner, Interactive Storytelling: Techniques for 21st Century Fiction, [Wellesley: AK Peters, 2004]; Chris Crawford, Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, [Berkeley: New Riders Games, 2004]; Kay Teehan, Digital Storytelling: In and Out of the Classroom, [Morrisville: Press, 2006].

[4] John W. Gosney, Beyond reality: A guide to alternate reality gaming, [Boston: Thompson Course Technology PTR, 2005]

[5] Dave Szulborski, This Is Not a Game: A Guide To Alternate Reality Gaming. 2nd digital ed. [New-Fiction Press, 2005].

[6] Dave Szulborski, This Is Not a Game: A Guide To Alternate Reality Gaming. 2nd digital ed. [New-Fiction Press, 2005], 1.

[7] Dave Szulborski,Through the Rabbit Hole: A beginners Guide to Playing Alternate Reality Games, [ Press, 2005].

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hasbro: Master of the Game Universe?

We briefly talked about Hasbro taking over the world in class last night. It is the #2 game/toy company (apparently second only to Mattel's Barbie line). Here is what I was talking about.

Compare this:

with these:

...and discuss if you dare.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

WK5 (9-18) - Collaborative Storytelling

Thus concludes our look at the Three origins of ARG:
Social Networking (Tools)
Real World (Immersive) Elements
Collaborative (Interactive) Storytelling

Historical ARG game presentations start in 2 weeks!

HW: Finish TINAG and BR books for discussion next wk! (Grads be prepared to enlighten us on the other two too!) Email me your second project topic if you haven't yet. Also feel free to read and play the “find the ARG elements” game by finding the ARG elements in the UTD alum's speech.

The question has been posed: Is there a way I can make hotlinks? 
The answer is yes - blogger takes limited html. Try this on your posts. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WK4 (9-11) - Real World Elements

Keyword: Interactive

This week we talked about "real" interactive elements, from performance art to advertising that walk the fuzzy line between "real" Reality and Alternate Reality.

This week's HW:
Keep working on your presentations. You should already have started contributing to the ARG meta and forum sites. Aside from Blogger (this class blog) which is 1/5 your grade, you should be contributing to Unfiction, ARGn, Despoiler, and any others you are using for class-related ARG social networking that you wish to share. In order to get credit for your posts to these sites (another 1/5 of your grade!) you MUST keep track of what aliases you are using to post and keep a log of your interactions to send to me later.

Sample Presentation

Sample ARG Presentation: Deus City

Read this document on Scribd: Appendix C

Thursday, September 4, 2008

WK3 (9-4) - Social Networking

"Social Networks" & "Social Networking Tools"

Know the difference - what's your level of intimacy/enthusiasm?

This week we talked about the difference and how and the are the primary locations for the ARG player social network (right now) We listened to an episode of Anything You Ever Wanted to Know… from KERA because it is a perfect example of group information sharing in real time.

This week's HW:
Read the “Chaotic Fiction," "CF/ARG Debate" and "Social Networking" articles, and blog about it here. Also, pick a new and ongoing ARG from ARGN or UF - and start playing - be sure to contribute to & – meta threads are OK too!

Next Week: "Real World Elements"

Next Month's Presentations:

Majestic ------- Leslie ------- WK7 (10-2)
The Beast ------- Nitin ------- WK7 (10-2)
I Love Bees ------- Sherri ------- WK8 (10-9)
HEX 168 ------- Robert ------- WK8 (10-9)
CtW ------- Mary Ann ------- WK9 (10-16)
Urban Hunt ------- Jason ------- WK9 (10-16)
Year Zero ------- Adam ------- WK10 (10-23)
Ocular Effect ------- Perry ------- WK10 (10-23)
Lost / Find 815 ------- Candace ------- WK10 (10-23)
Heroes 360 ------- Zen ------- WK10 (10-23)

Monday, September 1, 2008

ARG Glossary and Index

The following Appendices are from my recent dissertation. I'm posting them to aid in our discussion of specific games, and in your choices for research of past games.

Read this document on Scribd: argGLOSSARY

Read this document on Scribd: argGAMES