In recent years, the United States Government has launched a number of experiments in alternate reality games and collective intelligence. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of ARPANET in 2009, the Department of Defense hid ten red weather balloons across the country with a $40,000 prize to the first organization to verify the location of all ten balloons. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded an alternate reality game designed to help set Hawaii’s pandemic priorities. And now, the intelligence community is interested in exploring how alternate reality games could serve as a platform for social, behavioral, and psychological research.
As initially reported on WIRED’s Danger Room blog, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) issued a Request for Information on “Using Alternate Reality Environments to Help Enrich Research Efforts” (UAREHERE). IARPA is particularly interested in collecting information on the practicalities of running research in tandem with alternate reality games, managing privacy and safety concerns amongst alternate reality game players, and designing a game that balances free play and interactions with more controlled data collection.
Hidden within the storied halls of the Upper Wolverhampton Library in Victorian-era England, a musty book lies in wait, ready to entrap the first hapless souls to peer into its pages. While Colleen and Samuel Quaice fall victim to The Maze of Games, it’s up to you, the reader, to lead the two children home by solving a series of puzzles presented by the book’s enigmatic skeletal guardian, the Gatekeeper.
The Maze of Games is a full-length puzzle novel that follows the adventures of the Quaice siblings as they make their way through the Gatekeeper’s labyrinth. While traditional Choose Your Own Adventure novels direct readers through branching narratives through a series of choices, The Maze of Games‘s “solve your own adventure” format directs readers through the experience through the same series of puzzles facing the Quaices. Solving the puzzle unlocks the page number of the next narrative installment. Illustrated by Magic: The Gathering illustrator Pete Venters, the book is designed to look and feel like a book from the Victorian Era.
The puzzle adventure’s author Mike Selinker launched a Kickstarter campaign for The Maze of Games last month seeking $16,000 to fund the project. To date, the project has drawn in over $109,000 in pledges, with an ebook/iDevice edition available to $20 donors and a hardcover edition available for $50. As an added perk, Selinker has arranged for the Gatekeeper to lock a series of famous puzzle designers in cages until they agree to contribute a Victorian-era puzzle to the Conundrucopia, a bonus set of puzzles in The Maze of Games. At set Kickstarter milestones, the puzzle designers are set free from their cages and put to work. The list of confirmed puzzlers is an impressive one that reflects the variety of puzzles contained outside the Conundrucopia. Innovators in the space including ambigram pioneer Scott Kim, 74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, Perplex City puzzle designer Eric Harshbarger, Puzzazz founder Roy Leban, and Duck Konundrum inventor Dan Katz have all spent their time locked up by the Gatekeeper, with more to follow.
Friday, February 15th is a big night for Psych, USA Network’s pineapple-loving homage to ’80s pop culture. Starting at midnight, fans will don their Psych slippers, heat up a pineapple upside-down cake, and settle in for a marathon of 7 fan-selected episodes. And as a surprise addition to the day’s festivities, USA is launching The S#cial Sector, sequel to the show’s Emmy-nominated transmedia experience Hashtag Killer.
The S#cial Sector will exist as an online interactive Psych episode elapsing over the course of eight weeks, much like its predecessor. Directed by Kirsten Nelson (who plays Chief of Police Karen Vick on the show), the narrative follows Shawn and Gus as they investigate a deadly reality television show known as “The S#cial Sector” that takes the elimination process literally. Unbeknownst to the show’s contestants, getting taken out of the competition means getting taken out. It’s up to the show’s fans, interacting with Shawn and Gus on “The Fan Theory Board” as digital assistants, to figure out why the contestants are being killed off, and how to pull the plug on the deadly reality show before it’s curtains for the show’s cast.
As one of Hashtag Killer‘s 452,000 players, I was deeply impressed at the team’s ability to capture the show’s tone, and transfer it to a smaller, more interactive screen. Struggling to keep up with Shawn and Gus’ witty repartee on the SocialSamba platform that drove players’ interactions with the show’s characters reinforced my excitement at hunting down the show’s seemingly endless pop culture references and easter eggs, and working through the meta-puzzles introduced me to the show’s vibrant fan communities as discussion spilled over from the show’s official social platform to more traditional social networks like Twitter and Tumblr.
For over ten years, a panel of judges pulled from the ranks of advertising agencies and brand marketing teams have sifted through the best the web can offer on a daily basis for the Favorite Website Awards (the FWA). Their goal? To highlight a single online property that exemplifies cutting edge creativity as Site of the Day. Rounding out the year, the international panel of judges select one site as FWA’s Site of the Year. And in 2012, that honor went to the interactive documentary Bear 71.
ARGNet previously covered Bear 71 when it was introduced to the world as a featured installment at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier. The 20-minute documentary follows a collared grizzly bear, tagged as “Bear 71″, as she travels throughout Banff National Park. Visitors to the site experience the wildlife of the forest through Bear 71′s perspective, narrated by The L Word‘s Mia Kirshner. The data-driven project taps into trail cams, animal tracking tags, and photography to tell a story customized to your exploration of the Park, its wildlife, and its many human intrusions.
More than a few transmedia campaigns we covered here at ARGNet have been selected as the FWA’s Site Of The Day. Prometheus, Daybreak, Tap Joint, and Byzantium Tests all received Site of the Day accolades from the FWA. But for the 58 international judges on the 2012 selection committee, Bear 71 stood out as the best of the year.
FWA’s founder Rob Ford praised Bear 71 for its ambition, noting “In a year when we have seen so much experimental work, so many agencies and clients focused on just trying to be cool with mobile, I was delighted to see a real idea and a powerful story win this year’s Site Of The Year.” Ogilvy & Mather judge Corinna Falusi praised the campaign’s design choices: “I especially love that the interactive and fragmented style of storytelling in Bear 71 does not act as superfluous artistry – it truly helps the film makers create a deeper narrative totality. People have been discussing the possibilities of interactive film for decades, Bear 71 is one of the first examples of a director getting it right.”
To experience Bear 71 for yourself, set aside 20 minutes to explore the documentary, but be prepared to spend a few more minutes exploring elements of the map you might have missed the first time around.
The silent epidemic began in the year 2011. Children around the world were born without the ability to learn language. They didn’t babble as babies. They didn’t speak as they grew older. They couldn’t understand what their parents were saying. They seemed to show no interest in using language at all. Parents became frustrated, trying every obscure teaching method and advertised miracle cure. Scientists were baffled. There was no virus, no environmental toxin they could pinpoint as the cause of the disorder. As years went by, hope for a cure dwindled, but it became obvious that there was something more to the silents, something everyone had failed to notice.
This is the premise of a new, serialized digital novel, The Silent History, by Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, Russell Quinn and Eli Horowitz. Fans of puzzle hunt books might recognize Horowitz as one of the authors of The Clock Without a Face, a children’s book filled with hidden clues that led to real-world buried treasures.
While The Silent History doesn’t have cryptic clues or buried jewels, it does encourage readers to explore the story in several new and exciting ways. The creators, who designed and released The Silent History as an iOS app, are calling it “a new kind of novel”. Initially, the app offers video and text that introduce the reader to the story world. There are then two different experiences a reader can choose to explore: the time-released Testimonials, or the location-based Field Reports.
Over the years, Rockne S. O’Bannon has transformed more than a few science fiction projects into cult classics: O’Bannon helped shape the futuristic worlds depicted in properties including Alien Nation, SeaQuest DSV, and Farscape. With his newest project, Defiance, O’Bannon explores a future, post-apocalyptic Earth where aliens and humans are forced to cooperate in constantly-warring factions to survive.
While humans and aliens are entering a tentative alliance in the Defiance narrative, television and video games are entering into a novel alliance to tell the story. While a Syfy television show will play out in a refugee camp located in the former city of St Louis, a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter (MMOFPS) developed by Trion Worlds (makers of the popular MMORPG Rift) will follow events in San Francisco, with crossover events from both storylines impacting the developing narrative. The Defiance television show does not debut until April, with the video game version preceding the television premiere by one week. However, the stage is already being set for the launch through a website for Von Bach Industries, a company within the transmedia narrative’s universe.