Note: This article covers two SXSW Interactive 2008 events: Cross-Media Cross-Pollination: Mashing Up Video Games and ARGs (Saturday, March 8th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.), and its follow-up, Core Conversation: What Can the Video Games Industry Learn From Alternate Reality Games? (Monday, March 10th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.).
A last-minute change in programming on Saturday, March 8th, at SXSW Interactive 2008 brought together familiar faces from the Alternate Reality Games development community: Dan Hon of Six to Start, Tony Walsh of Phantom Compass, and Dee Cook, a freelance writer and designer who has written and developed content for games such as “The 4400” Extended Reality, World Without Oil, Unnatural Selection, and many others. Hon, Walsh, and Cook presented the panel “Cross-Media Pollination: What Video Games can Learn from ARGs”. The follow-up conversation on Monday afternoon with Steve Peters from 42 Entertainment, and input from Jane McGonigal, Ken Eklund, Hazel Grian, and others, rounded out Saturday’s panel.
Currently one of the most popular past-times world-wide, video games have an audience both extensive and diverse. Gamers are consistently asking for more from game designers – better AI, more content, more interaction, more story and narrative, more immersion. What can Alternate Reality Game designers learn from video game design and the needs of video game players (many of whom also play ARGs), and what elements of ARGs might video game designers consider when making games for gamers in a world of rapidly-evolving technology and techno-culture?
The panel opened with the question: what elements of ARGs might interest and engage video gamers? “I Love Bees”, a well-known ARG, tapped into the fan base of Bungie’s Halo video game by providing a glimpse into Halo’s (and its predecessor, Marathon’s) detailed backstory. Many Halo players enjoyed ILB because of the opportunity to explore more of that game’s mythology. The puppetmasters presented a Halo story that the players could interact with in a different way, affecting the game not by moving the controller but by problem-solving with other players, answering payphones, emailing the Sleeping Princess, and convincing an AI that they were, in fact, human, and one of her crew.
Perhaps, Steve Peters pointed out in Monday’s follow-up conversation, cross-media is one answer to a demand for more interaction and individualized response. A player’s progress through a game could be tracked, with content delivered not only through the console but also through SMS, phone calls, or even the post office! Similarly, Tony Walsh raised the idea that ubiquitous computing, the imperceptible integration of computing systems and functions into every day life, might indeed be the next game platform, heralding the end of the “couch-potato” gamer.