picnic0927.jpgWritten by Sean C. Stacey and Brooke Thompson

Our day began with the International Game Developers Association’s Alternate Reality Gaming Special Interest Group’s (or IGDA ARG SIG) White Paper presentation. Adam Martin, founder of the SIG, introduced the project and overall goals of the special interest group, to provide a network for potential ARG developers who might need advice on the various aspects of creation. He offered the group up as a networking resource for authors and producers, support with design, and advice on how to obtain funding. He then presented Brooke Thompson, who filled most of the first hour with an intriguing lecture on current trends in Alternate Reality Gaming. Brooke talked while Sean Stacey took notes and occasionally heckled.

Brooke spoke about how Alternate Reality Games are primarily story-driven narratives that are tied together with puzzles and action. Recent trends have shown a growth in the experimentations with new media – from the tangible paper to YouTube. She also touched on the history of the genre’s promotional focus, from the original Beast, through a period mainly supported by grassroots productions and the few big promotional games, up to the recent explosion of interest in ARG development. Lately, many organizations are entering the fray by exploring the use of ARGs to promote their own intellectual property, rather than merely advertising someone else’s brand or product. Television shows such as ReGenesis in Canada and The Lost Experience in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, have extended their fictional universes through the use of ARG or ARG-like creations. Perplex City, of course, has its own puzzle cards and upcoming board game. EDOC Laundry’s coded apparel and 42 Entertainment’s soon-to-be-released Cathy’s Book are the latest examples of this trend.

Other changes in the ARG landscape have included the more frequent jump from more passive forms of delivery, such as web sites and emails, to large-scale live events. Last Call Poker presented opportunities for players to congregate for weekly events at cemeteries, and also encouraged players to do public community services such as cleaning or repairing grave sites near their homes. Perplex City has delivered several grand scavenger hunts and Waking City in Toronto, an interesting exploration in pervasive gaming, was entirely to be played in the public space. It is an exciting time to be involved in the world of ARGs.

Unfortunately Christy Dena, one of the authors, couldn’t quite make it from a presentation in Brisbane, Australia, to Amsterdam within 36 hours to present her section of the whitepaper. Adam Martin presented on her behalf, quickly running through the slides she had prepared regarding all of the recent academic research and study on Alternate Reality Gaming. The number of researchers who are examining ARGs was surprising. Some are well known, such as Christy herself, Bryan Alexander of Infocult, Jane McGonigal and Henry Jenkins of MIT (who authored the recent landmark book Convergence Culture), the latter two of whom have focused on ARG Communities. The list also included academics looking at the philosophical aspects of ARGs, their educational, value, and of course their worth to the entertainment industry. We look forward to reading her section of the White Paper when it is released.

The second half of presentation consisted of a discussion panel including not only Brooke Thompson and Adam Martin but also Alice Taylor, Vice President of Digital Content for the BBC, and Tom Chatfield, who some may know as a guest puzzle architect on Perplex City. The group debated comparisons between ARGs and MMORPGs, ARG players and LARPers, ARGs in traditional media and how they may reinvigorate what might be considered old or dead forms of art, Alice Taylor spoke about her work on Jamie Kane, which was targeted specifically at teenage girls, and well-received by them through their particular interests, such as instant messaging applications, SMS messages, and boy bands. Despite a few difficulties at the start of the presentation, this was a great way to wrap it up.

Of note, some presentations given during Picnic ’06 are being streamed and archived on the Picnic website, while the Picnic ’06 blog continues coverage. Be sure to check out the event from home if you can!