Last fall, veteran alternate reality game designer Adam Brackin taught a class on alternate reality gaming at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Emerging Media and Communications program. The course required graduate students interested in the developing field to read a series of academic works on the subject, learn about the history of the genre, and follow a currently running game. This semester, Brackin is offering students the opportunity to put their theoretical knowledge to the test with the ARG Lab, a class where students will design their own six-week long alternate reality game, scheduled to launch in early April.
Brackin’s graduate students seem eager to trade their tuition dollars for the opportunity to experiment with game development through the practicum. Candace Barnhill, one of the ARG Lab students, explains that “we learned so much about the history of ARGs and player experiences last semester that I coudn’t resist a peek behind the curtain. I had no idea PMs did so much to prepare for what often appears to be player developed.”
Both professor and students are understandably tight-lipped about the specifics going on in the classroom, but they did reveal that students are taking a hands-on approach with puzzle creation, filming techniques, and in-character blogging in order to gain firsthand knowledge of what it takes to become puppetmasters. They also revealed that Brackin is using his experience behind the curtain of the Deus City alternate reality game to prepare students for the challeges that await them, such as players taking the narrative in unforseen directions.
Dr. Brackin is pleased with the quality and consistency of what the students have achieved so far, although he says he often feels “like the moderator at a mad scientist’s convention.” Brackin hopes that the development of alternate reality games in academia will enable the genre to develop in new and exciting directions by giving teams the ability to take risks and focus on game design.