#NOFILTER Imagines an Even More Dismal Social Media Hellscape for Us

Social media can be an absolute trashfire. But don’t worry, starting on October 2nd, it’s about to get a whole lot worse – that’s when pseudonym productions is launching out #NOFILTER, a “horrifyingly satirical, totally narcissistic thriller starring YOU.” For as little as $14, players can sign up to participate in a six-week long experience that invites players to enter an alternate world where the United States government created Connections™ as a mandatory social media platform designed to solve all our problems.

Sarah Elgar, pseudonym productions’ president and creative director, explains that the game is designed “to satirize the sad state of social networks…in the most absurdly over the top ways possible”, and the skewering of social media starts before the game even begins, with the registration process. For $14, players can sign up for the “Follower” level, which provides access to the main game experience that takes place on the Connections™ platform, with the ability to score coveted invitations to the games’ weekly live  “physical happenings”, centered around at least four major cities in California, Florida, and New York. Paying a premium for “Verified” or “influencer” status opens up more personalized character interactions, as well as in-game recognition for their elevated status as a reminder that some people are just better than others.

Once players are registered, they become drafted onto the Connections™ platform, where they are encouraged to perform compulsory life-affirming tasks like completing daily wellness routines and selfie duties. In parallel, players are encouraged to explore the stories of prominent users like the platform’s creator Nolan Stauf, yoga instructor Taylor Hill, and internet provocateur Vokorev with a story that might just verge into the supernatural.

While the game hasn’t launched yet, the #NOFILTER website provides a number of hints at the experience to come, sharing a sample chat log with Nikki as she goes about her daily selfie and NeoGa (Neo Yoga) quota in for the day that devolves into something else entirely. The FAQ is also peppered with more than a few bon mots, and the responses alone provide the best sales pitch for the experience available. Reminding prospective players that status is everything, the FAQ notes that “those who want to be all-in for 6 weeks and absolutely be part of everything they can and have us basically worship them should select the Influencer level, naturally. because Influencers are the most important people in the world. obviously.” The how to play section comes with its own ominous warning, noting that “#NOFILTER‘s story is a satire of social media, so it will help to be familiar with various social networks like facebook, instagram, and twitter – and the horrible trolling, doxxing, bullying, and narcissistic behavior that goes on there. but if that’s not your jam, you’ll still enjoy this experience. in fact, more power to you.” But as much as the game will explore peoples’ horrible behaviors online, it has a clearly stated zero-tolerance policy towards players directing that behavior towards each other – players caught harrassing, bullying, or violating the privacy of other players will receive instant bans, with no refund.

Validate my self worth by sharing this article. Then go back and like, share, retweet, hashtag, pin, upvote, toot, snap, and Insta-fave it whenever you see it online to fill the void in my life. Or better yet, sign up for #NOFILTER to find out how much worse things can get.  But remember, the game starts in earnest on October 2nd, so act quick or you’ll risk a serious case of #FOMO.

A Return for a New and Improved Emma Approved

Five years ago, Pemberley Digital released their first episode of Emma Approved, the Emmy-Award winning transmedia series that reimagined the character Jane Austen described as “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like” as a modern-day advice coach turned vlogger. Over the course of the show’s initial 72-episode run, Pemberley Digital painted a sympathetic and nuanced portrait of Emma Woodhouse that allows the viewers’ appreciation of Emma’s strength to grow in parallel with Emma’s own personal growth as the series progresses. And to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the show, Emma Approved is returning for a sequel, starting in October.

A Quick History Lesson: Pemberley Digital and the Birth of a Genre
When Hank Green and Bernie Su created The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 2012, it was far from the first modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s works, nor was it even the first attempt at telling those stories on YouTube as a web series. What set The Lizzie Bennet Diaries apart was its expert use of the vlogging format to make Austen’s characters come alive, reinforced by the social platforms they inhabited as part of the show’s transmedia strategy. This format inspired the birth of a genre, leading to the creation of over a hundred literary web series and the formation of Pemberley Digital that fittingly existed simultaneously as a fictional company within the world of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and as a company focused on producing new literary web series.

When Pemberley Digital released a DVD box set of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, they reinvested a portion of those funds into the creation of Welcome to Sanditon, their second foray into Jane Austen adaptations. In order to flesh out a narrative around Austen’s unfinished novel, the production team turned to the audience to create the town of Sanditon together, with viewers virtually settling to live in the town as an exercise in co-creation, powered by social media and the video platform Theatrics. Welcome to Sanditon was still focused on character-driven storytelling – it just expanded to draw some of its B-plots from the characters its viewers were role-playing. Sanditon veteran Kyle Walters borrowed much of that co-creation framework for The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, while Pemberley Digital opted for a more passive experience with their next project, Emma Approved.

Crafting a More Sympathetic Emma: This Review is Emma Approved
Like its predecessors, Emma Approved was set up as a character-driven show, allowing audiences to gradually come to know the show’s characters both through the video uploads and their online presences. But unlike Lizzie Bennet and fan-favorite Gigi Darcy, Emma Woodhouse doesn’t start off as endearing. “Emma Woodhouse…beautiful, clever, and brilliant. There are many intriguing female entrepreneurs in the love and lifestyle industry, but no one is more dynamic or has more potential than young Ms. Woodhouse.” Hearing Emma introduce herself by reciting that dose of hyperbolic prose to the camera doesn’t leave the best first impression. After seeing her systematically bully and lie to friends and coworkers to get her way in the next few videos, her second and third impressions could use some work as well.

And yet, in a series based in large part around Emma’s personal growth, Emma Approved is just as careful in highlighting how Emma’s greatest strengths are present throughout the series. When Annie Taylor is having doubts about her marriage to Ryan Weston, Emma is empathetic enough to identify what the underlying problem is, without being explicitly told. She just crosses the line by trying to fix everything behind everyone’s back, through subterfuge and deceit. After being confronted with her behavior, Emma internalizes the lesson so that when confronted by a similar situation with her sister, she takes a more reasoned tact. The lesson isn’t “don’t meddle in other peoples’ affairs” – that’s a core component of Emma’s personality and her business model. Instead, the lesson is to do so more directly.

Throughout the series, Emma learns a series of painful lessons after letting down most of the people in her life. And while she learns and adapts, she does not do so at the expense of who she is – the Emma Woodhouse who closes out the series is just as assertive, empathetic, and confident as the Emma who started it. She just finds better mechanisms for channeling that passion. And speaking of passion, it’s almost impossible not to ship the budding romances that form during the show. Bobby Martin and Harriet Smith’s awkwardly adorable overt flirting serves as the perfect foil for Emma Woodhouse and Alex Knightley’s more tentative banter, and the characters’ romantic arcs are equal parts fulfilling and nail-biting every step of the way.

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A Tale of Two Trailheads: Charity Kong and the Golden Age Conspiracy

In Seattle, a jodhpur-clad man wanders into a Seattle corner shop, using strips of gold foil as currency in order to send messages using the shop’s antiquated Telex machine. In Indianapolis, Golden Age comic fans converge at a flea market just outside Indianapolis, chasing a rumor to find a shred of evidence that their beloved comics publisher Stupefying Yarns exists outside their memories. And aspiring comic artist Brian Enright has gone missing, leaving a desperate brother behind. Three different stories all seem to converge with a series of trailheads that have been sent out over the past few days.

The Case of Charity Kong and the Tourist From Another Place
Earlier this week, a number of reports circulated of people receiving black envelopes from “A Friend” with the Seattle Mariners’ stadium listed as the return address. Inside the envelope? A screencap of a girl in a YouTube video, paired with an ominous message:

This is Charity Kong.
She does not know she needs your help.
She does not know our world is in danger.
Find her before they do.

A second, smaller envelope was also included, instructing its recipient to only open it after finding her.

Image courtesy of No Proscenium

On Twitter, @destiniesfic dove into the mystery and located Charity Kong’s YouTube channel. Through her videos, Charity documents her experiences tracking down and helping “The Tourist”, a strange man who uses strips of gold foil as currency and hints at a mysterious past that doesn’t quite add up.

Upon opening the sealed envelope, recipients found a printed Telex, which decoded to the message: “URGENT. BOWLERS IN SEATTLE. WORST CASE: THREE WORLDS WAR”. But back to that later.

Stupefying Yarns and the Comics Erased From Time
Soon after people started receiving warnings about dire tidings for Charity, other reports of envelopes bearing addresses for Major League Baseball stadiums started circulating. Only this time, the letters came in red envelopes from “The Yarnies”, with a return address of Yankee Stadium.

The envelope contained a flyer promoting the Stupefying Yarns fan blog, along with torn up scraps of a comic book cover, paired with the following revelation:

Earlier this summer, a vintage SY cover – not advertised as such – was sold at an estate auction for $34,000.00 to a man in a pinstripe suit.

An intrepid Yarnie found the contents of this envelope in a neighbor’s garbage can the next day.

Image courtesy of ARG Insider

When assembled, the torn up scraps showed a seeming impossibility: the cover of Johnny Delta in Bandit of the Sky, a Stupefying Yarns comic. According to the Yarnies’ forums, their shared memories of Stupefying Yarns comics are challenged by the fact that no one can seem to find any physical evidence the publisher ever existed. Even the most fleeting traces are regarded as objects worthy of the “Holy Grail” designation. Last month, a group of Yarnies traveled out to an Indiana flea market at the mere rumor of a sighing of the Wasserstein Grail, a paper mâché art project rumored to have used Stupefying Yarns pages in its construction. Locating an intact cover seems beyond most members of the group’s wildest dreams.

And then, there’s the page on the flip side of the comic book cover. Scrawled in the margins of an advertisement for the Grumbaum Academy of Art is an ominous message: “Next: Brian Diffracted”.

Brian Enright and Introduction to Color Theory 
The website BrianDiffracted.net was set up by Brian Enright’s brother to help locate his sibling, who went missing two years ago. The site describes the brothers’ passion for imaginary words, namely the science fiction world of “Laminar” and the fantasy realm of “Old Gnarly”. Brian’s passion for these worlds continued, and one of the few remnants his brother has of Brian are two sketches of Old Gnarly and Laminar, left on the refrigerator door before Brian disappeared.

Curiously, the heroes featured in Brian’s sketches bear a striking resemblance to fan recollections of Golden Age heroes from Stupefying Yarns, including the musclebound Thor-Ax, his companion Esme, and the jodhpur-clad Johnny Delta.

One curious addition to the Brian Diffracted website is a short screed on color theory: the page recounts Newton’s addition of indigo to the rainbow. As the reflection on color notes:

The fact is, Science can’t tell where Blue stops and Indigo begins. Indigo is supposed to be a different country, but you can’t distinguish it from here. When I pointed this out to Brian, he pulled out a colored pencil marked Indigo and said, “Maybe you can’t find it, but I can.”

Has Brian found a way into these other worlds described in the telex card? And is that what the telex is trying to say about a “three worlds” war?

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Lessons on ARGs and Teamwork Through the Lens of Daedalus

Daedalus is an artificial intelligence built to solve humanity’s greatest problems. And over the next few days, it will be recruiting teams of 5-7 players to participate in a week-long series of puzzles that play out across Daedalus’ neural network, to “complete Daedalus’ programming”. While many of these tasks will take place on the game’s digital interface, some puzzles will cross over into the real world, requiring teams to have at least two players in the Boston area.

This week-long experience is a collaboration between Extra Ludic and Northeastern University that is looking to leverage alternate reality games to study team performance and adaptability, with a particular focus on “individual differences and their effects on adaptability and performance within teams.” Using survey and questionnaire data collected at the midpoint and end of the game, the team hopes to leverage ARG and digital escape room environments to study how teams work together. To provide an incentive for teams to participate, all teams who complete the game and the corresponding surveys will receive a gift certificate, with an additional prize for the team who completes the game in the fastest time.

This is not the first time alternate reality games have been used for research purposes. Indiana University’s Skeleton Chase game presented members of the school’s Foundations of Fitness and Wellness program with a sprawling game that led students across campus, confirming that players presented with a compelling experience could be encouraged to increase the amount they walk every day. Researchers noted that students reporting the highest weekly step counts were the teams that bonded well, forming a cohesive unit that worked together towards a common goal, serving as an early indicator for the success of games like Ingress and Pokemon Go.

The project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is no stranger to using competitions to test out models for group dynamics. In 2009, they ran the DARPA Network Challenge as a competition to locate ten red balloons located across the country. Player data for Daedalus will remain anonymous, with survey and other data collected through the project anonymized and associated with a unique identifier for use in the research.

It will be interesting to see what emerges from Daedalus from the research standpoint. It will also be a novel experience for participants to get paid to play an alternate reality game – and it’s not too late to make a play for the grand reward. The team is still in the process of recruiting their third cohort for the experience. Registration is limited to participants who are US Citizens or Permanent Residents who are 18 years or older, fluent in English, and have access to a cellphone. However, you don’t have to live in Boston or assemble the full team yourself to participate: the game’s sign-up form implies that researchers may help form teams for prospective players who haven’t assembled a full team.

As appealing as the research element of Deadalus sounds, the most alluring element in the teaser trailer is what almost sounds like a warning from the game’s artificial intelligence: “it sounds simple, but in this puzzle not everything is what it appears to be. So you must be clever, and work together.” To find out what that means, head over to the game’s sign-up page to get started – but don’t take too long, as Daedalus will be wrapping up at the end of September.

Thanks to Room Escape Artist for directing this game to our attention.

Bunker Buddies at the Wildrence, with Broken Ghost Immersives

Note: ARGNet received a comped ticket for this show.

Fifteen people huddled together in the Bunker, arranged in a rough circle of couches and chairs. The room itself was a pastiche of Cold War era kitsch, just big enough to fit our group, but small enough to feel a little cramped. The Nostalgia Electrics refrigerator was fully stocked with beverages of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety, and the kitchenette was stocked with all the essential cooking implements, hanging from the wall. Near the couch, a chess set was prominently displayed near period magazines to help us while away the time in a makeshift living room space. On the other side of the room, a small crafting table was positioned to give the group space for tinkering with the odd bits and bobs we found. The only signs of real modernity in the room: a handful of tablets strewn around the room, and a laptop propped up in the corner, broadcasting security cam-style footage of the room to our Artificial Intelligence-based overseer, De-Bunk. The apocalypse arrived, and this would be our home for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that foreseeable future was severely limited by dwindling food supplies and a malfunctioning life support system.

This is the scenario that Broken Ghost Immersive’s The Bunker thrusts its players into at Wildrence, a basement events space in lower Manhattan. A loose collective of individuals, met with the challenge of surviving in a post-apocalyptic hellscape with only their wits, a few rolls of duct tape, and a supply of Twinkies. The roughly 2 hour long show is a bit of a hybrid experience: while it combines elements of a number of immersive styles of play, at its core the experience feels like an intimate parlor LARP, where players’ decisions help them learn about the world they find themselves in as they struggle to survive. Routes to survival might involve using tablet devices to negotiate with residents of other nearby bunkers, donning hazmat suits to explore the wastelands to search for supplies and interact more directly with neighbors, and use those supplies to craft items useful for the bunker’s residents. While there is a set narrative underpinning the entire post-apocalyptic scenario, player choice dictates what elements of that story any given show (or player within that show) might encounter.

The Bunker: A Game of Resource Management
Bunker resources are represented through a series of cards that can either be found through exploratory missions into the wasteland, or created by playing a mini-game to combine items at the crafting station. And over The Bunker‘s seven “day” narrative, carefully managing those resources is essential to survival. Every day, players must “consume” one food card, or run the risk of dying right there, on the spot. Satisfying that need is a constant weight hanging over the bunker, with the very real threat of death looming at every turn. Additional cards can be spent at the crafting table to obtain items necessary for short-term and long-term survival, both for the expeditionary forces and the bunker at large. And along with limited resources comes challenges with distribution. Some resources might be pooled for group consumption, while others get held back to ensure individual survival.

The biggest resource for players to manage, however, is time. As with many megagames, how players choose to spend their time is a much more valuable resource than the cards themselves. This isn’t a game where players can get by focusing exclusively on one element of gameplay, as each element informs the others.  Players chatting with other bunkers might unlock new abilities for players tackling the crafting table, while players going out on expeditions might come across information that changes what players negotiating with other bunkers discuss. To encourage players towards a more well-rounded play experience, the game has “nudges” built in that require switching around tasks on a fairly frequent basis. Expedition members might become afflicted with wounds, ailments, and mutations as a result of their journeys, forcing them to be temporarily bunker-bound, while some bunkers may become so hostile that further communications become pointless. Other “nudges” were more direct, as an Achievement Book would dole out cards as rewards to players who helped the team reach set milestones of exploration, crafting, and experimentation.

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A Return to Puzzlecraft, Just in Time for Gen Con

Starting in 2004, puzzle designers Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder wrote a column on puzzle design for Games Magazine called “Puzzlecraft”. In 2013, the pair condensed a decade of commentary and learnings from the column into a book, the ambitiously titled Puzzlecraft: The Ultimate Guide on How to Construct Every Kind of Puzzle. The book was intended to serve as a resource for aspiring puzzlemakers, passing down guidelines for designing elegant puzzles. As Selinker explains in the book’s introduction, “Whether you’re making puzzles to publish online or befuddle your family or educate your students, you should find what you need [in Puzzlecraft]. If you master everything we talk about, you’ll be on your way to being a puzzlemaker.” The spiral-bound book’s 192 pages lived up to that promise, detailing over 70 different puzzle variations through solvable examples of each type, guidelines to help new puzzlemakers construct those puzzles, and offering italicized hints and color commentary along the way. The only problem was, when you sell a book of puzzles to fans of the genre, they’re going to write in the books. So when Puzzlecraft‘s limited print run was exhausted, obtaining a used copy became a costly endeavor. When Puzzlecraft was initially released, it retailed for $9.99. When I finally got my hands on a copy on the used books market, I ended up spending $65.

No one has to pay that much for puzzling wisdom again, since Lone Shark Games just announced the book’s return, on the eve of Gen Con 2018. The new version of Puzzlecraft has been updated to feature a new forward by Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me‘s Peter Sagal and over 20 new puzzle types, with a focus on ARG-adjacent puzzle types like interactive fiction, escape rooms, puzzle rallies, and videogame puzzles. The alternate reality gaming section of the book has also received an update, adding a miniature alternate reality game to the book. As one of the book’s italicized flavortext hints reads,

To build our ARG, first we had to figure out how a book could become a springboard for an ARG puzzle. Once we had that, we came up with the parts necessary to make that work. I’d tell you more, but This Is Not A Game.

When reached for comment, Puzzlecraft developer Gaby Weidling cryptically responded, “all I’ll say is that it’s our smallest ARG ever!”Puzzlecraft is available for pre-order at the Lone Shark Games store for $29.95 for the book, or $15 for the PDF. And if you’re reading this article after August 15th, you should absolutely do that. Otherwise, there’s an even better option.

To celebrate the book’s release and support the Girls Make Games and Girls Who Code charities, Lone Shark Games partnered with a collection of game designer friends to release the Game Design & Puzzlecraft Humble Bundle, a series of game design books. For $8, aspiring puzzle fans can have a Humble Bundle exclusive edition of the newly expanded Puzzlecraft, along with 10 other books that provide different perspectives on game design like . For $15, newly released “DLC”editions of Puzzlecraft and The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design are unlocked. For Puzzlecraft, the DLC takes the form of a 400 page digital tome of Selinker and Snyder’s first drafts of Puzzlecraft articles for Games Magazine that served as inspiration for the reference book. For The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design, readers are treated to a sneak preview of the book’s 2019 update, featuring essays from Bruno Faidutti, Chad Brown, and Mike Selinker. The Humble Bundle also comes with a 20% off coupon for the Lone Shark Games Store, in case a print copy of the book is what you’re looking for.

If only for its skill at exposing readers to the depth and variety of puzzle types available, Puzzlecraft is an essential text for puzzle solvers and makers alike, and the book’s re-release has made that recommendation an accessible one, at a price that’s hard to beat. Now about that embedded alternate reality game…

To get started, check out the Game Design & Puzzlecraft Humble Bundle for downloadable copies of Puzzlecraft, and the Lone Shark Games store to pre-order its print release. The full list of books included in the Humble Bundle are included below.

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