Images courtesy of the MIT Education Arcade
Scientists from the future reached out to present day scientists as part of Project Phoenix to investigate a natural disaster that wiped out the historical record as part of Vanished, an alternate reality game designed exclusively for children. The game was a collaboration between the MIT Education Arcade and the Smithsonian Institution, and sought to engage kids and teens in the role of scientific detectives and inspire scientific learning through an epic story. Prior to the game’s launch, ARGNet provided a sneak peek at the upcoming campaign. Now that the game has come to a conclusion, I followed up with Caitlin Feeley and Dana Tenneson of MIT’s Education Arcade to take a post-mortem look at the game.
The true heroes of Vanished were the players, who uncovered the mystery by making scientific progress week by week. The game was also populated by a full cast of characters; the most prominent was Lovelace, an artificial intelligence who traveled back in time to assist in the investigation. Moderators had in-game personas, like Storm and Megawatt, who played the roles of guardians and guides. The journey also involved interacting with real-world scientists from a variety of fields, and players even encountered a few villainous trolls and hackers among their own ranks before reaching the end.
Image courtesy of the BBC
On September 10, 2011, Pete Ryland cracked The Code and took home the coveted prize, a unique bronze and silver mathematical sculpture by Bathsheba Grossman. The lead-up to the tense finale was a collaborative transmedia treasure hunt centred around the three-part BBC2 show The Code, presented by Marcus du Sautoy. The game was designed by Six to Start, working with the BBC from the beginning to integrate clues and puzzles seamlessly within the broadcasts.
Before the first airing of The Code on July 27, about 700 postcards were sent out with an image and a code. Collaborating on Facebook, participants in this first stage soon discovered that each postcard image was a thin horizontal slice of a three-dimensional Platonic solid. Several of these “perfect” shapes then had to be combined and arranged into three concentric spherical shells – revealing the complicated nested sculpture that would be the grand prize.
Now the hunt could begin in earnest. The main stage of the game was intricately connected with the three episodes of the show: Numbers, Shapes, and Prediction. For each episode, participants discovered three clues: one by watching the program, one clue by playing related Flash games on the website, and one clue by solving a puzzle described on the blog. They also had to complete the Prime Number Challenge as a group, which involved uploading photos of all 305 prime numbers from 2 to 2011 to collectively receive the sixth clue for each episode. The six clues were then entered into a codebreaker to reveal three passwords, which granted access to the next stage of the game: The Ultimate Challenge.
In the past three months, players have demonstrated their willingness to pay for alternate reality games.
Taken in isolation, players reaching into their pocketbooks to pay money for alternate reality games is not news. Ever since the genre’s inception, opportunities to pay money for ARGs have emerged. Majestic, Electronic Arts’ venture into the world of alternate reality games, reportedly convinced about 15,000 players to pay $9.95 a month (or $40 for the CD) for access to its content. Studio Cypher adopted a similar model for its month-long multiplayer novels, which offered custom content to “Wakeful Agents” willing to pay $9.99 for a more immersive experience. Games like Perplex City tied gameplay to collectible puzzle cards that collectively unlocked additional content for approximately $5 per pack, while local interactive experiences like those produced by Accomplice, 5-Wits, and Ravenchase Adventures charge admission to their real-world adventures and hunts.
Having said that, the past few months have seen a resurgence of campaigns seeking players willing to pay for their alternate reality games, with more options of game experiences to buy into than ever before. The past quarter has been a busy one for alternate reality games with experiments in new storytelling platforms and additional institutional assistance for developers. This article will offer a taste of some of the campaigns that have caught my attention since my last broad look at the industry in April.
Last month, I presented you with a deceptively complex puzzle Stitch Media used to challenge ARGFest attendees. To date, only six puzzlers have managed to walk away with the solution. If you still want to attempt to join their ranks, stop reading here, because I’m finally going to reveal the solution below.
It’s been three months since ARGNet’s first look back at this year in alternate reality gaming, putting over half of 2011 behind us. Alternate reality games have continued to insinuate themselves into pop culture, spanning movies, television, music, video games, and books. The genre has stretched out beyond the entertainment industry to support social causes, provide more enriching museum-going experiences, and even sell packs of chewing gum. During the past three months a number of major campaigns have come to a conclusion, to be replaced by a number of tantalizing prospects. Read on for a few highlights from the quarter.
Growing up, my parents had me convinced that one of the local librarians lived the building’s basement. For years, Jim Caccamo was an archivist at the Hudson Library and Historical Society, and spent countless hours preserving the library’s collection of artifacts. He spent so much time there, it was a relatively simple matter for the librarians, with a little help from our parents, to convince many younger library patrons, myself included, that he never left the building. I suspect that one of the reasons we were so willing to believe this local urban legend was because the prospect of staying overnight at the library with all of its artifacts from history was such an exciting one. Sadly, Jim is no longer with us, but the legend he inspired stuck with me through the years. On May 20th, the New York Public Library invited five hundred people to stay overnight as part of the Centennial celebration. I was lucky enough to be one of the attendees at the launch of Find the Future, letting me live out the fantasy Jim planted in my head so many years ago.
Find the Future is a game developed by Jane Mcgonigal and her husband Kiyash Monsef along with Natron Baxter Applied Gaming and Playmatics, on behalf of the New York Public Library. The game itself involves a mobile scavenger hunt to discover one hundred artifacts including a fireproof copy of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Malcolm X’s briefcase, the stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Charles Dickins’ letter opener with a handle made from his cat’s paw. QR codes near each object can be scanned in using iPhone and Android apps to unlock writing prompts that ask players to think about their futures. The game provides individuals with a casual way of exploring many often overlooked details of the library along with prompts designed to make visitors think about how each artifact is relevant to their own lives. Interacting with the experience is a deeply personal, contemplative experience that plays out over time as players gradually return to the library and post their responses online. Players are rewarded with points for unlocking artifacts and submitting stories, allowing them to level up their writer level and receive achievement badges. Players can then assemble their favorite stories into an online Epic. Visitors to the public library can play the Find the Future game through the end of the year.
The Write All Night event invited 500 players to experience an intensely collaborative version of the Find the Future game. Players were selected from a pool of 5,000 entrants who explained what they would accomplish by the year 2021. The goal for the night was to create a 600-page book collecting player responses to each artifact prompt between 7PM on May 20th and 5AM on May 21st: in turn, the library promised to preserve and protect the book as long as New York City exists. Paper Dragon Books’ Gavin Dovey was on hand to bind the entries into a book before the night’s end, and editors made themselves available to help participants polish submissions. Before the event started, McGonigal assured players, “we have not rigged this game so you will win: it’s up to you.”