PATRICK JAGODA (ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO; CREATIVE DIRECTOR AND PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, S.E.E.D.): Alternate reality games, or ARGs, are essentially scavenger hunts that take place in physical space and across different media. So, it’s a scavenger hunt that might unfold across email, radio transmissions, social media, invisible theater, and various technologies. Alternate reality games draw on experimental games and literary forms. So some examples would be the New Games Movement from the 1960s and 1970s, which tried to create games that were alternatives to well-known sports. Alternate reality games also draw on scavenger hunts, practices like LARPing, assassination games, things of that sort, so a lot of public games. So historically these games have been used for viral advertising and means of promotion, but recently over the last few years, people have been experimenting more with artistic and educational alternate reality games.
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PATRICK JAGODA: So we decided to use alternate reality games because they allow a greater degree of interplay between designers and players.
ASHLYN SPARROW (GAME CHANGER CHICAGO DIRECTOR, CI3; PROJECT MANAGER, S.E.E.D.): Videogames are very static and very good for rote memorization, so if you have an enemy and it moves a certain way, players will be able to recognize these certain patterns and they will react accordingly all the time. With ARGs, they’re extremely dynamic. The player is actually fighting against the game designers. The game designers are in control as opposed to an artificial intelligence. So with that, the game designers are able to adapt rapidly to the players, so this is more important for the process of learning as opposed to the final, y’know, content, the endgame. And so that’s what ARGs are all about, the fact that the youth could do something completely different from what we intended but it solves the problem. But, maybe in a videogame only one solution works and that’s it, and if you don’t get that one solution, it’s over, right? So ARGs are really good at allowing for multiple solutions, multiple types of learning, and multiple players to come together and really work through a challenge.
PHILIP EHRENBERG (AV PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR, CI3; GAME AND MEDIA DESIGNER, S.E.E.D.): We spend a great deal of time scripting out potential narratives and developing media puzzles or aesthetic components of our games, and then passing those along incrementally to the youth. And what this allows us to do is to pull in the educational content that we want to for any one of our puzzles, but frame it in a really aesthetic fashion. And at the same time that we do all of this worldbuilding, we really invite the players to become co-creators in it and ask them to remix or even deconstruct what we’ve presented in front of them. And by inviting them to be co-creators of the narrative, we are effectively inviting them to become co-creators in their own learning.
MELISSA GILLIAM (SECTION CHIEF OF FAMILY PLANNING, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO; PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, S.E.E.D.): They’re a way of letting people step out of their daily lives; they sort of suspend their, their daily existence, the things that they’re fearing and worrying about and have anxiety about, and we, they enter into a play space. We are really interested in their ability to imagine and their ability to take the game and the experience to a place that we didn’t imagine. That point of creativity is really important. That’s the difference between learning something and then applying what you’ve learned, so it’s even another level of knowledge and understanding. And so an ARG where everything is scripted, planned but not scripted, really allows that also to come out.
PATRICK JAGODA: And so part of the reason that we wanted to create an educational alternate reality game was to connect these abstract fields like math to the everyday lived experience of the youth with whom we were working. So a group of us have been working on alternate reality games for many years together. I think of this as the Chicago School of Alternate Reality Game Design. So we’ve created games including Oscillation, Stork, The Project, The Source, and, ultimately, S.E.E.D.