You enter a dimly lit room. As you cross the threshold, you’re handed a mobile device and directed to stand over a luminescent circle on the floor, facing the curved video screen taking up an entire wall. Colored lights stream down from overhead, dividing you and your fellow players into teams. After keying in your location to your controller, you’re ready to dive into a moderately massive multi-player game. You’re ready for Eddie’s Social Committee.
Created by Edwin Schlossberg and ESI Design, Eddie’s Social Committee (ESC) is a platform for highly immersive multi-player gaming, delivering social gaming writ large, synchronizing large screen gameplay with dynamic lighting and haptic feedback for a surround-sound experience. Souped-up iPod Touch controllers drive the experience, allowing players to tap, swipe, and tilt their avatars through a series of mini-games with the room’s lighting programmed to literally shine a spotlight on each game’s top performers.
Emma Wilson’s journal, on digdecoded.com
The premiere of Dig, Tim Kring and Gideon Raff’s newest thriller on USA Network, DIG, is only two weeks away. But in many ways, the 10-episode series remains an enigma. In DIG, FBI agent Peter Connely (played by Harry Potter veteran Jason Isaacs) is stationed in Jerusalem, and finds himself tangled in a 2,000 year old conspiracy while digging into the murder of a young American. Beyond that, there are only tantalyzing trailers hinting at something hidden in the Promised Land to whet the appetite. Fans will just have to wait and see where the producers of Heroes and Homeland will be going with the mystery…unless, of course, the answer can be found buried deep within the show’s alternate reality game, DIG Decoded.
The DIG promotional engine has been revving up for a while now, with an official prequel novella posted to Wattpad that introduced the curious to Connely’s previous case for the FBI, tracking down the cyber-criminal known only as “Akula” for the theft of $25 million from the US Treasury across the streets of Jerusalem. The tale introduces Connely to the reader, along with Jerusalem’s FBI office head Lynn Monahan (played by Anne Heche) and Israeli detective Golan Cohen (played by Ori Pfeffer). USA Network announced a series of room escape games that will provide further insight into the world of DIG, with free puzzle adventures going live in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Hollywood, and Orlando starting February 26.
Many of the transmedia storytelling elements for DIG are scheduled to build up hype for the show’s March 5 launch, but the DIG Decoded alternate reality game that launched on February 19 is set to run in parallel with the show, with weekly installments adding to the narrative through the show’s May finale. While DIG‘s Wattpad story introduced fans to the show’s major players from law enforcement, the DIG Decoded alternate reality game prominently features the show’s archaeological cast. The story begins through the lens of a journal compiled by archaeologist Emma Wilson (played by A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol), whose story drives the initial narrative. In the introductory chapter of the ARG, a series of photographs, news clippings, text messages, journal articles and videos follow Wilson from her fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania to participate in a dig at the Temple Mount, one of Jerusalem’s holiest locations.
Image of Tomb’s sarcophagus illumination puzzle. ©2015, 5 Wits Productions, Inc. Used by permission.
The first time I visited Boston, I met up with a group of friends and broke into an ancient Egyptian burial chamber. The tomb’s resident pharaoh was not exceptionally happy about our flagrant act of trespass, and forced our group of amateur archaeologists to solve a series of puzzles before barely escaping with our lives.
The rooms in the tomb were designed with a family-friendly audience in mind, and our guide throughout the experience embraced his role with an exuberant gusto I had only seen before from a skipper on Disney’s Jungle Cruise. The experience managed to make even familiar puzzles feel extraordinary: no matter how many times you’ve solved Tower of Hanoi puzzles in the comfort of your own home, it’s a completely different experience when you’re passing oversized pieces across the room while the ceiling is slowly crashing down overhead.
When 5 Wits‘ puzzle adventure Tomb set up shop in Boston in 2004, it was something of a rarity. The interactive exhibit mixed theatrics with physical puzzles to make its guests feel like swashbuckling adventurers narrowly escaping danger thanks to their collective intelligence. And the design was flexible enough to reward that success, allowing for multiple endings based on groups’ performance. While the original location is now closed, the 5-Wits moved Tomb to Tennessee, launching additional puzzle experiences in Washington DC, Massachusetts, and New York covering themes ranging from undersea exploration to espionage. Over the past decade, this type of immersive puzzle experience has expanded exponentially, with hundreds of locations putting down roots across the globe. For many, visiting the nearest real-life escape room is a day-trip away.
Image courtesy of Investigate North
Kathleen Petersen, Deputy Director of Research at the Petersen institute, has gone missing. Hoping to learn what became of Kathleen, her co-workers Max and Thomas shared the footage of their investigations into the mysterious signal they were tasked with investigating at the Institute…the same signal that heralded Kathleen’s gradual emotional deterioration and disappearance.
Investigate North’s Cloud Chamber is a video game that attempts to cleanse itself of nearly every design element typically associated with video games. In it, players assume the role of investigator, poring through video footage and scanned evidence to piece together the exact nature of the Petersen Institute’s research into the enigmatic signal, and to figure out what happened to Kathleen. Stripped of traditional methods of interaction, players unlock a branching spiderweb of evidence by selecting a piece of evidence represented by a node, exploring it, and discussing the new information’s implications with fellow players.
The evidence in Cloud Chamber is presented with minimal context, organizing the evidence thematically rather than chronologically. For example, in Part I, where the focus is on Kathleen’s disappearance, players are thrust into the experience through a computer-generated island and presented with a single question, “What is the Signal?” Selecting that question pulls up a video that begins the faux documentary in media res, as the game’s three protagonists break into the Petersen Institute’s roof. While there, the three tap into a massive antenna to listen to a signal without ever properly introducing who they are, why they are interested in the signal, or even what it sounds like. Watching that video unlocks a winding path along the island to “Her Decision”, a series of short, unordered snippets showing a frazzled Kathleen’s emotional deterioration before finally unlocking the video “You are Entering”, where Max and Thomas explain that they plan on releasing everything they’ve learned and appeal for the player’s help in finding out what happened to Kathleen.
The game’s story nodes focus on delivering a high level of authenticity, while the game engine itself delivers a surreal context that takes players from the initial island into increasingly surreal dreamscapes that resemble everything from outer space to neural networks. The juxtaposition of story and game environment should be jarring. But somehow, switching back and forth from the story’s “found footage” storytelling format to an abstract web of connections makes it easier to fall into an almost trance-like state while progressing.
Images of the Reddit expedition to Hawaii 2 courtesy of Pewwer42
Shortly after Christmas, a group of Redditors met up, planning on making the trek to an uninhabited island near Lake Saint George Park in Maine. Previous expeditions to the island confirmed the presence of a wooden shed containing a massive safe at the southern tip of the island: but without the six digit passcode to unlock it, the safe’s contents remained a mystery. Finally, after almost a month of poring over websites, YouTube videos, and physical mailings, community members felt fairly confident they had the passcode that would unveil the safe’s contents.
All this, because of a bit of Holiday Bullshit.
A Little Bullshit Backstory
For this year’s Black Friday promotion, Cards Against Humanity made headlines by removing their popular card game from the market, and replacing it with Black Friday Bullshit – for $6, the company would mail its customers literal bullshit in a box. No more, and no less. At the same time, the company was promoting a separate dose of bullshit for the holidays. While the Black Friday Bullshit promotion was perfectly clear in what it was offering, Cards Against Humanity’s Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa promotion at HolidayBullshit.com provided almost no guidance about what it would deliver: only that, for $15, the company would send ten mailings containing…just about anything.
Fans of the company had some idea of what they might expect by using the previous year’s Holiday Bullshit mailings as guidance: a handful of exclusive and personalized Cards Against Humanity cards, a miniaturized prototype of a game, a few comics, maybe a charitable donation to a worthy cause. But for the most part, $15 purchased the ability to find a surprise waiting in the mailbox for a few days…alongside access to an expansive puzzle hunt that promised to be bigger than the last.
Cards Against Humanity doesn’t approach its marketing efforts like most companies. Nominally, they sell a highly irreverent card game where players compete to find the most outrageous response to a prompt from their hand of cards. In practice, the Chicago-based company has used its past successes to finance a series of elaborate pranks to entertain its ardent fanbase and transform purchasing a casual party game into an experience…which is a good thing, since they give the game away for free on their website (some printing required). Two years ago they celebrated the holidays with a pay-what-you-want expansion pack, and then released an infographic breaking down how much people paid and donating the proceeds to charity. To encourage players to buy the expansion sets, the company sold an extra-long box for holding the game, The Bigger Blacker Box, to store the cards. Without telling anyone, they hid a secret card in the inner lining of the box. For their Black Friday sale last year, they increased prices. When they took out advertisements at last year’s PAX East, they used the platform to promote their made-up company, PWNMEAL: Extreme Gaming Oatmeal.
All of these efforts pale in comparison to the company’s Holiday Bullshit campaign. Last year, Cards Against Humanity asked 100,000 people to give them $12 in exchange for 12 mystery gifts from the company as part of its 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit. As thanks, the company donated $100K to DonorsChoose.org, sent out an early edition of a sex party-themed card game, mailed limited edition customized Cards Against Humanity cards, and even sent fans a lump of coal. And hidden within each mailing? A fiendish puzzle that took fans working together on Reddit’s holidaybullshit subreddit months to solve. Holiday Bullshit is back once more, promises to deliver an even harder puzzle than before.