Image courtesy of Ben Chance
By Nathan Maton and Rebecca Thomas
School changed this year for the majority of freshman at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Driven, talented future media makers normally waited until their sophomore year to produce any major media through the program, but this year USC partnered with Ph.D. candidate Jeff Watson to produce Reality, an alternate reality game focused on media creation.
Reality, which just completed its first season, is one part trading card game, one part media creation tool, and one part web portal. Three hundred unique cards, color-coded by type and designed to fit together, were handed out to students who unraveled a series of clues leading to the game’s secret campus headquarters or tucked away for discovery as the game progressed. As students discovered other students who were playing, they made “deals” by trading or pooling cards that led to collaborative projects and then published their work to Reality’s web portal so other students could rate and review the projects. Winning projects earned interesting rewards, like meeting industry professionals, for the creators.
Editor’s Note: Daniel is an administrator at the Unfiction forums and was part of the team that created the Project MU Archive Book. He was on the scene at PICNIC ’07 as a representative of the ARG community and was kind enough to submit a report on his experiences. This is part three of the report. We thank Daniel for his support of ARGNet and his wonderful report and pictures.
On to the Friday then, which, like last year, was divided into three separate ‘tracks’: Feel, Make and Play. Being on a mission to report on PICNIC for ARGNet, and not having encountered a lot of ARG-related topics yet, I naturally chose the Play track. It kicked off with a keynote address by Katie Salen, who is, among other things, executive director of the Gamelab Institute of Play. If you listened to episode 37 of the ARG Netcast series, you might have heard that the panelists were all especially looking forward to this presentation. Maybe this raised the bar a little too high, because I was fairly disappointed in Salen’s talk, but I think this had a lot to do with its length: it was only 30 minutes, which was just enough time to put forward some interesting notions, but not nearly enough to give an in-depth look at them. However, here are a couple of the things that stuck with me:
- When designing a game, keep asking yourself, “What does the game want?” i.e. what does it desire or require from the player? Sometimes a game might surprise you in this area. Just as poker is a game that requires lying (bluffing), other games require collaboration. Keep in mind what you want your game to require and make sure that what you add to the game fits with how you expect the players to behave.
- There’s the aspect of lusory (playful) attitude. If a game encourages players to take on an active attitude, you do not necessarily need to design or create as much yourself, as players will bring a lot to the game already. It is important, however, to keep in mind that this works best when there’s a transactional relationship between the game and its players: the players give to the game, but it they should also receive something back from the game in exchange for their input.
Salen ended her presentation with a nice example that demonstrated all the theoretical points she addressed: Karaoke Ice. It’s a project she did in the past which features a person in a giant squirrel suit driving around in an ice-cream truck which doubles as a karaoke bar. At first, onlookers were given free popsicles, but then they were invited to get into the back of the truck to do some karaoke. Against the expectations of most, people turned out to be more than willing to perform a few songs. One of Salen’s conclusions was that players of a game are generally willing to go along with, say, an alternate reality, if they understand that the point is that they are part of an experience.
This example was followed by some closing remarks regarding interactivity in play — interactivity only works when it’s meaningful, core interaction must be fun and audience/player expertise should be rewarded. I think these are some excellent points that easily apply to the ARG universe. Interaction for the sake of interaction is meaningless and therefore completely uninteresting. Interaction only enhances play if it’s actually fun and serves a purpose!