Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives – he didn’t belong to the library so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
-Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, JK Rowling
Remember that moment when Harry Potter got his acceptance letter, only to have it roughly snatched away by Mr Dursley? A magical destiny, unknowingly stolen away just like that. Who knows what would have happened if the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry didn’t have the most obstinate dead letter department ever devised. Which is why I owe Ms. Christinia Forshee one heck of an apology.
Let me explain. Earlier this week, I received this package in the mail. Perfectly normal box, except for a message “spelled” out on the side using Elder Futhark runes, stating “SPIRIT OF CONFUSION / MAY THIS PARCEL / NEVER REACH CHRISTINIA”.
Not even considering the possibility that this was a magical incantation designed to divert the parcel from its intended recipient, I opened the box up to find a small trunk containing an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her magical studies and providing her with the tools to get started with her education.
After brushing aside purple cloth swaddling the trunk’s contents, I uncovered a large red candle, four small vials of fragrant herbs, a bag of small black stones marked with the 24 characters of the runic alphabet, a deck of tarot cards, and four small vials of fragrant herbs – chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and peppermint. Shards of a smaller fifth vial were also present, and references in the full acceptance letter lead me to believe it was meant to contain gemstones imbued with Leda’s power.
One final secret was hidden within the tarot cards. While skimming through the deck, I noticed letters written in the lower right corner on many of the trump cards, as well as certain cards in the Cups and Wands suits. Sorting those cards spelled out an additional message, “BEWARE THE BLUE LADY SHE IS POISON SHE ONLY CRAVES STRIFE”.
One of the most impressive aspects of the launch of this alternate reality game is its economy of storytelling. Currently, the only overt narrative is an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her new magical life. We don’t even know for sure if Leda is a person or a school. But we have learned that runes are important enough to the magical system to warrant arming new students with runic stones, and that a phrase hastily scrawled on the side of a box is powerful enough to divert it from its rightful owner. Herbs possess power in their own right, gems can be imbued with it, and tarot cards can serve as a window into the unknown.
There are also hints of conflict in the near future. Someone doesn’t want Christinia to begin her magical education, and has the access and ability to divert official school missives. Someone also found a way to sneak a warning about a “Blue Lady” into her deck of tarot cards, assuming the cards would reach her. And Christinia’s plans of documenting her magical studies on a blog? Not exactly the most popular decision.
To learn more about Christinia’s magical studies, check out her blog at ChristiniaTheWitch.org, or other places she might be using to establish an online presence. And on the off chance she doesn’t know she’s been accepted? Pass along the good news – I’d hate to Vernon Dursley someone’s magical destiny from them.
Cards Against Humanity gave their fans nothing for Black Friday this year. More specifically, they sold their fans nothing for $5 a person. It was quite the profitable venture for them, too…they earned $71K with their blow-out sale, giving the company’s non-founding members a well-deserved holiday bonus. And they’ll have earned it, after the logistic nightmare they’ve endured preparing for another year of Cards Against Humanity’s holiday bullshit.
At this point, Cards Against Humanity asking their nearest and dearest fans to give them money in exchange for a series of random gifts (and puzzles) over the holiday season has become a tradition. In 2013, the company embraced their Christmas cheer with 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit, sending 100K fans everything from lumps of coal to personalized Cards Against Humanity Cards. In 2014 the holiday of choice shifted to the Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa, bringing an expanded list of 150K fans good tidings, miracle berries, and rights to a 1×1 square plot on an island in Maine. This year, it’s all about Eight Sensible Gifts, embracing their practicality and Hanukkah cheer.
I have a problem. Years of playing alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling experiences have trained me to love room escape games. Getting locked in a room and relying on a group of friends to figure out what we’re supposed to do to get out? Pretty much my dream come true. But there are a limited number of rooms in Philadelphia, and I’ve done them all. And for the most part, it’s not as fun playing a room escape game for a second time. It’s like going to the same murder mystery dinner party twice. Once you know everyone’s secrets and whodunnit, you’re either stuck watching on the sidelines, or end up spoiling the mystery for everyone else.
Okay, so I’ve done all three rooms currently running in Philadelphia. But there are hundreds of rooms running globally, so I can still scratch my room escape game itch when I’m on vacation…but I have to do it alone, unless the friends I’m visiting haven’t similarly run through all of their local games. Otherwise, I’m stuck waiting for more rooms to open up in my area, or for escape room designers to find a way to make their games more replayable. Luckily, Boda Borg has come up with a solution to both problems.
Boda Borg started in Sweden, and has been running “reality games” since the mid-90s, long before the current wave of room escape games swept their way through Asia and North America. Boda Borg currently has eight locations in Sweden and Ireland, but only recently opened their first North American location in Boston. The core concept is the same: a small team of participants enter the room, and have to figure out how to use the surrounding objects to get out of the room. But because Boda Borg evolved independently from traditional room escape games, the experience is considerably different, in practice. The main difference? The rooms are designed for teams to fail fast, and fail frequently.
Boda Borg’s business model enables this “fail fast” mentality. Rather than reserving a room for a particular time slot, Boda Borg Boston offers a 2-hour pass for $18, or an all-day pass for $28. This buys unlimited access to the building’s 20 “Quests”. Each Quest’s difficulty is rated primarily on the physical demands of the rooms, with “Green” rooms focusing on cognitive challenges, “Red” quests requiring moderate physical activity, and “Black” quests requiring…well, let’s just say “Black” quests lie somewhere between Survivor challenges and American Ninja Warrior, on the difficulty scale. Players who realize a Quest is too cognitively or physically demanding for them can easily move on and try a different room, finding the perfect fit for their personal appetite for challenge.
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.
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.