My Sky is Falling image courtesy of Reboot Stories, from the Envision 2013 playthrough
The elevator doors open. As I step out, a woman in a hazmat suit and surgical mask steps forward as our guide, offering surgical masks to our group. Masks firmly in place, we’re guided to a classroom liberally strewn with backpacks and jackets. There are already a handful of people milling about in the room without the dubious protection of our masks, grabbing sandwiches and chips from the front of the room. A dissonant hum serves as disconcerting accompaniment to the otherwise silent room. Finally, we’re welcomed by our guide and offered a choice: leave the mask on and remain a silent observer, or take it off and step into the strange world in which we found ourselves.
Over the next hour, my fellow participants and I progressed through a dystopic science fiction world designed to leave us disoriented, confused, and isolated as part of the interactive theater experience My Sky is Falling. The performance, a fictionalized retelling of filmmaker Lydia Joyner’s own experiences in the foster care system, was brought to light by creative director Atley Loughridge through the startup Reboot Stories. The project was also a collaboration with Reboot Stories co-founder Lance Weiler’s New Media Producing class at Columbia University and the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping teens transition out of the foster care system. Representatives from the United Nations went through the experience at Envision 2013, while I experienced the performance as part of DIY Days NYC, a free conference that took place at The New School at the end of April.
For its second year, the StoryWorld Conference & Expo will be taking in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for three days of panels and presentations from October 17-19 exploring transmedia storytelling from the practitioner’s perspective. Last year’s conference in San Francisco managed to bring in an impressive lineup of practitioners in the space, and this year looks to continue the trend. ARGNet is once again a media sponsor for the event, so you’ll find a discount code at the end of the article. Even if you’re not planning on attending, read on for information about a line-up of free podcasts promoting the event, curated by Transmedia LA.
Last year, StoryWorld’s focus was on the practitioner, with Conference Chair Alison Norrington proudly declaring that “[t]here are no theorists speaking at StoryWorld. I’ve done everything I can to remain focussed on amplifying the wisdom of practitioners who will share their real-life experiences.” While the schedule of events for this year’s conference retains that focus on highlighting practitioners, StoryWorld is placing a renewed focus on partnering with existing organizations to hone the message.
The first day’s panels, for instance, were developed through a partnership with Walt Disney Research & Development. Disney assembled the panels for October 17th, and Disney Imagineers are slated to moderate all of their panels. Similarly, the meetup group Transmedia LA has prepared a full lineup of podcasts, starting with one on Transmedia Activism later today. During the Unconference the afternoon of October 19th, Transmedia LA will be presenting a case study on their Miracle Mile Paradox alternate reality game while Storycode will discuss their recent Story Hack in New York.
If you’re interested in attending StoryWorld, register soon: Early-Bird Pricing ($550 for an individual ticket to the conference) ends this Friday, August 17. You can use the promotional code ARGNET to secure a rate of $525 until the end of August: after that, it will provide a $25 discount off the regular $650 ticket fee.
On the Fourth of July, Marvel Entertainment released its “second screen” app for The Avengers DVD, two months prior to the release of the DVD itself. The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience, available for the iPhone and iPad, is designed to provide supplemental content, synced up with the film. The timing of the app’s release is odd, as second screen apps are traditionally released in tandem with their associated DVD. However, this particular app came bundled with the first countdown clock of Comic-Con 2012, leading to a scavenger hunt starting Friday to unlock the latest Marvel One-Shot video, Item 47.
According to The Avengers Initiative app’s description: “Become a SHIELD Agent and participate in the Item 47 Comic-Con experience either remotely or in the field.” So what is this Item 47 Comic-Con experience? Upon downloading and launching the app, the main screen launches with three options; “SHIELD Personnel Files”, “Avenger Initiative Timeline,” and “Item 47.” The Avenger Initiative Timeline is not unlocked yet, and the SHIELD Personnel files contain what you would expect: personal dossiers on all the Avengers. Currently, the only dossiers available for viewing belong to Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanov (Black Widow).
For Real Escape Game‘s North American debut, 9 out of 10 participants failed to escape from Werewolf Village in time. While this might sound like an abyssmal failure rate, it’s par for the course for Takao Kato’s narrative puzzle experiences, inspired by online “Escape the Room” games. During Escape from the Werewolf Village, visitors to San Francisco’s NEW PEOPLE center in Japantown were locked in the 3rd floor of the venue’s SUPERFROG Gallery for 90 minutes and charged with solving a series of puzzles leading up to the big escape. Over the next few weeks, Real Escape Game is rolling out two new puzzle adventures, both for San Francisco residents looking to redeem their puzzle-solving reputations, and for global participants looking for bragging rights.
Starting July 5th, veterans of San Francisco’s first installment of Real Escape Game and newcomers alike will have the chance to improve on their 10% completion rate as they attempt to unravel The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, a physicist who requested that his will be sealed for 50 years after his passing. Dr. Mad’s challenge, “can you unravel the mystery of my life’s work,” is unlikely to be a simple disposition of Mad’s possessions. But what else would you expect from a Mad scientist? Tickets to The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, which will be held at the Fort Mason Center, are $22.
Prior to Real Escape Game‘s North American debut, the game’s founder Takao Kato explained to ARGNet that “as a kid, I always wanted to ‘live in the story,’ and survive the adventure, solve the mystery, and be a hero like the characters in books I loved as a child…Real Escape Game is an opportunity to make these dreams come true.” Sara Thacher, one of the participants of the first installment (and one of the devious minds behind the Jejune Institute), noted in her review of the experience that “it was an elegant puzzle hunt. I think everyone from the girls in Classic Lolita getups at the table behind us, to the sweatshirt-clad MIT Mystery hunt regulars on my team enjoyed themselves.” Thacher went on to add that this was a puzzle hunt with narrative underpinnings, and not a literal translation of the screen-based Escape the Room games that helped inspire the Real Escape Game franchise…many of the tropes of the genre, such as riffling around for hidden keys, were absent.
For those looking for a more traditional Escape the Room experience, Real Escape Game is holding a live online challenge on July 24th (1PM GMT, 9AM EST) in both Japanese and English. Players will have one hour to collect clues within an online locked room, racing against other players for the bragging rights of first to escape. A 15-minute version of the game is free to play, giving players a brief preview, but admission for the main event is $5.
ARGFest-o-Con, the annual conference dedicated to bringing together players and creators of alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling experiments, is heading north to Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada between July 26th and July 28th. Over the past 11 years, ARGFest has played host to city-wide puzzle trails, panels, and live events that allow attendees to roll up their sleeves and practice what they preach, playing through interactive experiences in between discussing past campaigns and best practices. Last year’s conference won Bloomington Indiana’s “Host of the Year” award. In addition to the mainstays of previous years, ARGFest 2012 is adding a little something extra: an advanced screening of The Institute, a documentary about San Francisco’s long-standing alternate reality game, The Jejune Institute.
For those unfamiliar with the project, The Jejune Institute was a highly immersive alternate reality game that took place in San Francisco over the course of three years. The narrative centered around a secretive new age cult, leading players on an exploration of the city that asked them to discover hidden secrets by following puzzle trails throughout San Francisco that showcased overlooked landmarks both real and fictional. The 90-minute documentary features interviews with the game’s developers at Nonchalance and some of the game’s players/inductees. The Nonchalance team were panelists at a previous ARGFest, providing an introduction to the experience.
Early-bird registration for ARGFest is open until May 31st, so you still have two days before the cost of admission goes up. Keep an eye on argfestocon.com in the coming weeks for updates on speakers and events.
Over the last five years, Takao Kato has locked over 100,000 people in bars, clubs, cathedrals, and baseball stadiums with a deceptively simple challenge: solve the puzzles within the time limit, and escape. And between March 23rd and March 25th, Kato is taking his narrative puzzle experience, Real Escape Game: The Escape from the Werewolf Village to San Francisco’s Japantown for a locked room mystery that is quickly selling out.
The premise, inspired by the popular social game Werewolf, is simple. There are sixteen villagers, three of whom are werewolves. Players have 90 minutes to work together in groups to navigate a series of increasingly difficult puzzles that will help them identify the werewolves, save the villagers, and escape. The game is designed to provide a challenge, and Kato explains that players have direct control over the unfolding narrative, noting
[t]he story unravels with each mystery completed by the players and their teammates. If you do nothing, nothing moves forward. And there are no guarantees that you’re even going to finish everything. So you’re going to have to give it your all if you want to put all the pieces together and finish the final puzzle in time.
Past iterations of Real Escape Game prove that Kato is true to his word: as the Real Escape Game‘s explanatory video states, only 9.6% of participants completed The Escape from the Werewolf Village when it was first conducted at Tokyo Culture Culture, with similar success rates for the game when it played out in Taiwan. After failing to complete a Real Escape Game murder mystery in Tokyo, Japan Times writer Edan Corkill explains “the most difficult part of a Real Escape Game is not answering questions — but identifying them in the first place.”