Image courtesy of Kevin Makice
For almost a decade, ARGFest has gathered game developers, academics, and players in one spot to take stock of the industry, sharing insights into the development process, best practices for design, and personal anecdotes from past campaigns. As I have previously argued, however, one of the best ways to hone the craft is to set aside the PowerPoint slides, step away from the podium, and play games. And since the first ARGFest in 2003, games have peppered the proceedings from start to finish.
FestQuest: An ARGFest Tradition
The longest-running tradition at ARGFest is FestQuest, an annual scavenger hunt through the host city. Exploring a new city through a series of puzzles provides an intimate way to experience the neighborhood, ensuring exposure to the city goes beyond the hotel conference center itself. This year, Studio Cypher designed a puzzle trail that took conference attendees on a tour of Indiana University’s campus with stops at the Monroe County Public Library, the Kirkwood Observatory, the tunnels running underneath Indiana University’s Chemistry building, and the Sweetheart Tree. The sometimes exhausting process of pounding through puzzles was captured on film by a documentary crew from beActive Media, who documented much of the proceedings.
Wisconsin Hustle: Pants-Optional Dancing
Awkward Hug is fast becoming an ARGFest institution: two years ago, they brought the characters from the romantic comedy alternate reality game Must Love Robots to Portland for a round of robot speed-dating, while last year Awkward Hug invited attendees to craft sock puppets as part of the New Employee Orientation to their new game, Socks, Inc. ARGFest 2011 saw a live-action game demo of the company’s first mobile app, Wisconsin Hustle. The game is like a dance-fueled game of Simon, with players competing to execute an ever-lengthening list of winning dance moves in sequential order. Awkward Hug kept the list of moves as memorable as they were simple to execute, including the pop culture-inspired “Egyptian,” “Travolta,” and crowd favorite “Carlton.” The first night’s festivities ended with a championship showdown, with panelists as judges. Co-creator Jim Babb had been an intern for Jane McGonigal’s Top Secret Dance-Off, a game designed to make people feel more comfortable dancing in public, and Wisconsin Hustle retains TSDO‘s whimsical innocence as it asks players to act ridiculously for a game.
The Wars of Authenticity
ARGFest is unrivaled in its ability to gather alternate reality gaming fans in one place, so it’s no surprise the conference is often used as a platform to launch games. One of the most infamous launches occurred in 2008 when the Smithsonian hired Craig Torres, a professional weight lifter and former Mr. New England, to walk into the conference covered in henna tattoos wearing nothing more than a banana hammock to kick off their game, Ghosts of a Chance. John Maccabee, one of the developers behind the Ghosts of a Chance launch, provided a repeat performance, calling in model Lindsay Forster to serve as the physical representation for Terra Firma in 1807. In a short, 10-minute puzzle-solving exercise, conference attendees were asked to answer a series of questions and assemble a device to guide a balloon to Terra Firma. This task introduced attendees to The Wars of Authenticity, an offshoot of the Smithsonian’s alternate reality game Pheon.
Who Is Martin Aggett?
Martin Aggett is not a real person. Rather, he is the lead character in an alternate reality game about…well, Martin Aggett, that’s been in the works for years. That didn’t stop him from attending ARGFest, and this year, Aggett has finally launched his game, which serves as tribute to his fictional narcissism. It started with slips of paper placed in the ARGFest welcome bags: properly assembling the pieces of paper revealed a QR code that contained a secret code that unlocked the first part of Aggett’s story. Aggett “lost” his locked briefcase at the conference, hidden amongst a display of artifacts from past ARGs. Aggett’s birthday unlocked the case, which contained his press pass and photographs from his past. One of the players to find the case set up a lunch meeting with Aggett to return the case. The chase concluded with a dead drop in Bloomington that completed the first chapter of Martin Aggett’s story.
Another Hint for the Stitch Media Puzzle
As for Stitch Media’s puzzle hidden in the ARGFest program print-out? You’ll have to stick around for the solution, but if you’re still puzzling through it, you might be interested to know that the extra print-outs of the program were put to good use as attendees went to great lengths making sure they were connecting the dots correctly.
ARGFest is a yearly gathering of transmedia players, designers, and enthusiasts that has been going on for almost ten years. And while the gathering is now dominated by the series of panels and presentation that make up the conference, every year offers ample opportunities for attendees to settle down and tackle perplexing puzzles as a group. Often, the most challenging part is finding the puzzles in the first place.
Stitch Media hid the following puzzle in the ARGFest program, leaving attendees perplexed under an ever-increasing stack of annotated programs. After receiving a number of hints from Evan Jones at Stitch Media, a few players managed to break the code and make their way into the Winner’s Circle. Do you have what it takes to do the same? We’ll release the full explanation for the solution after ARGFest coverage is completed . . . until then, see if you can figure it out yourself!
Next week, from Thursday, August 18, to Sunday, August 21, alternate reality gamers and transmedia producers will descend on Bloomington, Indiana, for ARGFest-o-Con 2011. Led by this year’s Grand Inquisitor Andrea Phillips, the schedule taps into the local game development talent as well as the strong academic presence at Indiana University, which features such names as Professor of Telecommunications Edward Castronova.
Thursday night’s Kick-Off party will start the conference, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, with a special interactive event hosted by Awkward Hug, creators of the highly acclaimed ARG Must Love Robots and the pervasive kid-friendly community, Socks, Inc. I caught up with Awkward Hug’s own Jim Babb to ask about A Wisconsin Hustle. their first foray into the smartphone app space:
We are really excited to bring A Wisconsin Hustle to ARGFest! Wisconsin Hustle is something new for Awkward Hug and will be our first venture into Android apps. While the app is not ready to launch until the end of the year, we have turned the excitement of the app into a real-world pants-off dance-off. A Wisconsin Hustle is, an American tradition clothed in mystery and from unknown origins (we are doing intensive research ourselves into the legend). Men, and recently women, challenge each other in pantsless dance-offs for truth, money, and above all honor.
On a rare occasion Hustlers, as they are known, will pants-off dance-off to the death! Players at ARGFest need not worry, we are more interested in the ethnographic, ethnochoreographic, and pantsnographic study of A Wisconsin Hustle than running a “two man enter, one man leaves” sort of affair.
It’s the 10th anniversary of ARGFest-o-Con August 18th-21st in Bloomington, Indiana. Perhaps this seems inconsequential to you. Perhaps, you forget that 10 years ago an interactive experience called The Beast shook people’s lives more than any church mass ever has. So, chew on this: what once seemed crazy is now a definitive part of the future of interactive media. Today everyone from across the entertainment and media industries now lines up to imagine how an alternate reality game or transmedia storytelling strategies could be used to help market their products or shake their communities into action. In the music business right now, it’s the Lady Gaga ARG, while video games generate buzz through ARGs as with Valve 2’s ARG, and ARGs are used to support reality TV. Earlier this year, Fourth Wall Studios received a $15-million investment to bring together some of the most renowned ARG designers in one studio. They’re preparing to tempt the ever-growing audience for some of the latest and greatest blockbuster films on the horizon.
Not sure if ARGFest is for you? In the words of ARGFest’s primary organizer, Jonathan Waite, are you “ready to take part in a unique, perhaps life-altering experience”? Do you have “an open mind and a curiosity about how gaming can go beyond traditional media”? Then by all means, catch the early bird discount (promotion ends today!) and get yourself a ticket to ARGFest.
I asked Waite about the context of this year’s ARGFest: “I think one of the most exciting things about ARGFest-o-Con 2011 is that we are celebrating our tenth “anniversary.” Even though the first ARGFest-o-Con was in 2003, this is the 10th time we are gathering as a community, and the tenth city playing host for the event. I’m also very excited to be visiting Bloomington, Indiana, as it is a unique and welcoming city that we think will really impress the attendees. As always, ARGFest-o-Con will be a fun, informative and educational event where fans and players of games can sit alongside leaders in transmedia while enjoying intimate, interactive discussions and presentations.”
Every year, alternate reality game developers and players assemble at ARGFest to talk shop, discuss recent innovations in the field, and find exciting new locations to discuss future plans while partaking of drinks sporting umbrellas. This year, ARGFest’s planning committee is aiming for transparency throughout the process, and will be holding a General Meeting this Sunday, October 10, online at 1PM EST.
ARGFest has pulled off some impressive activities since its humble beginnings in Las Vegas. At ARGFest 2008 in Boston, attendees watched The Dark Knight alongside creators of the film’s viral experience, took part in The Lost Sport as part of an alternate reality game for the Olympics, and witnessed a bodybuilder clad only in a banana hammock flex for the crowd. The following year in Portland, attendees donned cardboard and tinfoil robot costumes for an invigorating round of Robot Speed Dating, experienced the premiere of the 10-minute alternate reality game Mime Academy, and learned of the early days of the genre at the feet of Jordan Weisman. This past summer in Atlanta, the Transmedia Artist Guild officially announced its formation, Jim Babb trained attendees in the delicate art of sockpuppetcraft, and Ian Pottmeyer led a rousing game of No Talent Required, a quickfire artistic showdown.
Clearly, ARGFest has a strong history of bringing together strong panelists and engaging events, but according to Unfiction creator Sean Stacey, it’s “the impromptu discussions between sessions and events that make ARGFest all double rainbows and shit. It’s a good place for ARG and transmedia enthusiasts of all stripes to get together and concoct crazy ideas, such as she-crab.” Based on anecdotal evidence, a number of alternate reality games and partnerships have spawned out of casual conversations in hotel rooms and hallways across the country.
Creating the perfect world for ARGFest’s fruity bounty is a daunting task for the ARGFest staff, and they need your help to make ARGFest 2011 more delicious than the cocktails at a tiki bar. Think you have an idea for a great location, panel, or event? Interested in adding your voice to the discussion on how to make ARGFest 2011 a resounding success? Log on to IRC on Sunday at 1PM EST to join the conversation. The discussion will take place in the #argfest channel on chat-solutions. If you’re less accustomed to IRC, you can get there by clicking on ARGNet’s chat link, selecting a username, and then typing /join #argfest.
Near, far, wherever you are – ARGFest 2010 in Atlanta, GA was a blast. Whether at ARGFest or its virtual Twitter counterpart #PretendARGFest, the annual conference dedicated to alternate reality games was filled with informative panels and discussions, hands on gaming, mysteries, and social and professional networking opportunities. While the player community in attendance was less this year and creative minds and industry folk were in relative abundance, all aspects of the ARG/Transmedia genre and community seemed well represented.
To usher in ARGFest 2010, Brian Clark welcomed everyone and introduced the newly appointed “Grand Inquisitor“, Steve Peters. The first session was presented by Andrea Phillips of Deus Ex Machinatio. Andrea set the pace for the fest by presenting Beyond the Brunette – an analytical look at stereotypical gender roles in gaming and storytelling. By providing a look at numerous common character cliches, attendees couldn’t help but notice throughout the remainder of the conference how common they actually are. As one of her session’s focal points, Andrea posed the challenge to be unique and break away from using standard, typical archetypes.
Other panels and sessions this year covered a host of informative topics, including:
- Brooke Thompson‘s Can Transmedia Save the Soap Opera
- ARG TV panel with Nina Bargiel, Mike Monello, and Owen Shiflett
- We Want To Play! discussion panel with ARG veteran players
- Evan Barba‘s The World Outside on Augmented Reality
- Jim Babb and Simeon Poulin‘s Keeping It Casual on casual gaming
- Patrick Möller‘s Follow the Rabbit on ways to launch projects to existing players
- Peggy Weil‘s TransGenre: City Gaming & Public Art panel
- Behnam Karbassi‘s Transmedia Production – a videochat via Skype
- Mike Monello and Brian Clark‘s Beyond Blair Witch