Books as a form of entertainment are facing stiff competition from an increasing array of options. Patrick Carman, author and head of PC Studio, views this as particularly true with the younger generation, where mobile devices provide constant access to alternative content. As he explains, “if you’re twelve . . . and you don’t have an iPod Touch [or mobile device], somebody standing two people to your left does.” Responding to this shift in the consumption experience, Carman has two apps in development that aim to create a reading experience with the mobile environment in mind.
Books have been migrating to mobile devices for some time now, but traditionally, the pulp edition is imagined (and released) first. Carman’s thinking, however, is that “books have so much to compete with, that trying to stand out as a book, it’s almost better to blend in. [Young readers] are already doing all of these things anyway, so let’s see if we can get a way to have them also reading as part of everything they’re doing, as opposed to just putting it all away and pulling out a book.” What follows is a preview of two projects Carman is using to explore this blended approach to reading: 3:15 Stories and Dark Eden.
Like many red-blooded Americans, the idea of going on a cross-country road trip has an undeniable allure for me. I have fond memories of piling into the car for family vacations, and years of watching road movies have convinced me that there’s no better way to experience personal growth. I’m also a fan of living vicariously through reality television, so it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been hooked on Focus Rally: America ever since I wrote ARGNet’s first article on the game. The reality show features six teams of two as they travel across the country, competing in challenges for a chance at $100,000 and a 2012 Ford Focus. So far, the teams have danced in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, shot hoops with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in Dallas, and engaged in aerial acrobatics in Arizona. They even held a singing and songwriting competition, providing the hilarious footage below.
Focus Rally: America offers viewers the opportunity to vicariously follow contestants via livestream from their cars in between daily episodes posted to the show’s Hulu channel. Viewers can interact more directly by chatting with the contestants online or solving puzzles. While most puzzles typically consist of solving 3×3 slide puzzles and answering trivia questions, a few have involved talking contestants through solving the Tower of Hanoi puzzle, explaining tangrams, submitting photographs to Facebook, and even making an air freshener for the car. Since the Focus Rally website tracks the GPS locations of contestants, some fans have met up with teams on the road to cheer them on. And for one event in Texas, fans were invited to join the contestants for a cook-out challenge. Players can even vote for rewards and punishments for the various teams, ranging from hotel room service to a parrot costume the Red Team will soon be sporting on the road.
I spoke with Elise Doganieri, one of the Focus Rally producers and co-creator of The Amazing Race, who noted that “typically with a reality show, you don’t want people to know what the contestants are doing or where they’re going, but this is the complete opposite: you want people to know where the contestants are and see what they’re doing so they can cheer them on and help them.”
Adam Henderson is a technical wizard. Growing up working and tinkering at his father’s computer repair shop located in the shadow of Microsoft meant Adam had access to the latest and greatest technology. By fifth grade, Adam was engaged in white-hat hacking, finding and reporting security holes to companies. By sixth grade, his attention focused on Trackers–spy devices cobbled together from video game controllers, cameras, joysticks, and even remote-controlled cars. Adam called upon three of his friends to test these Trackers, not knowing that the four would quickly get sucked into a world of crime obscured by layers of subterfuge and deceit. This is the world of Trackers, a multimedia book series by Patrick Carman that almost seamlessly weaves short cinematic sequences, puzzles, and video games into the reading experience. As with Carman’s previous books, these elements emerge organically from the narrative, playing an essential role in the story’s development.
The two books in the series, Trackers and Trackers: Shantorian, are framed as the transcript of an FBI interrogation conducted by special agent Gantz. As Adam recalls the events that led to his arrest, he periodically provides Gantz with codes to access multimedia files he prepared to support his story ranging from site rips of websites he encountered to video footage recorded using his team’s Tracker devices. Readers can enter these codes on the Trackers Interface or read the text transcripts Gantz entered as appendices to the FBI’s interview transcript, located at the back of the book. While this process may sound complicated, in practice reading Trackers is fairly straightforward: every time you see a code, either go online to watch the action unfold, or read the text transcript if you don’t have internet access.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the series with Patrick Carman, who explained, “Kids will find a way to get to the material. Kids don’t have a problem with stopping and starting . . . that’s the way they’re wired.” This non-traditional reading experience appears to be resonating with young audiences. According to Carman, the online videos from Skeleton Creek, his previous multimedia book series, received over eight million views. Carman referenced receiving “…hundreds and hundreds of emails from educators, librarians . . . talking about how these kinds of formats are helping to bring readers that we had lost back to books.” Readers are becoming similarly entangled with the mini-games created for Trackers, competing to earn top scores. The scores have become so high, in fact, that the PC Studio team has been “trying to figure out over the past couple of months if there’s some way that [players are] hacking this thing so that they’re able to get these kind of scores, and we cannot figure out how that’s possible . . . the top three or four people are way beyond what we can do here at the studio.”
As previously reported on ARGNet, Wired magazine and Lone Shark Games have created a special “Underworld Exposed” issue to delight and confound puzzle-solvers and would-be thieves eager to join the nefarious Ring of Dishonor, a special place for the craftiest of puzzlers. Frustrated by the secret ciphers hidden in the magazine, available both in print and on the iPad, I cornered master puzzle-maker and president of Lone Shark Games, Mike Selinker.
In mid-August, I had the opportunity to work with No Mimes Media, one of the major players in the ARG/Transmedia-creation world, co-founded by ARGNet founder Steve Peters. My role: to “scrub” the websites and puzzles for an alternate reality game (commonly known as an ARG) – what I call “QA” in my day job, consisting of assorted tasks like verifying website content against design documents, and playtesting puzzles to make sure they can be solved as designed. However, it also afforded me the opportunity to see how ARGs are designed and run – a glimpse behind the curtain, and into the inner workings of a development team (often referred to in the alternate reality gaming space as “Puppetmasters” or “PMs”).
The Hunt is the second game by Juxt Interactive and No Mimes Media created for the Cisco Global Sales Experience (GSX), Cisco’s annual sales meeting. For the second year in a row, Cisco has conducted this meeting virtually, using their own products such as Telepresence and WebEx to virtually gather their sales force together for training and information sharing. Including an alternate reality game enhanced the experience while providing education and experience using Cisco’s products by putting the sales force in the center of the action, using Cisco tools to help solve the mystery. An important game mechanic involved players discovering “Key Asset Codes” which are entered into the game’s Hub for points, where the player with the most points at the end of the game is declared the winner.
This year’s experience centered around Isabel Travada, a Cisco System Engineer on a leave of absence to do volunteer work with the Red Cross. Upon returning home one day, she discovered that her apartment has been ransacked, and her father’s journal stolen. Isabel’s father, Ferdinand, traveled the world as a cartographer before his death, and kept a journal of his adventures which he shared with Isabel when she was a child. She was recently featured holding the book on the cover of a magazine that covered her father’s work on an important communications project in Africa, and someone who saw the article broke into her house to take it. Curious about why anyone would want such a private journal, she went through his papers and realized there was more to his writings and drawings than she had noticed as a child. Being very familiar with the book, she is able to recreate some of it from memory, but some portions like the pictures from the places Ferdinand visited are beyond her ability to recall. However, as she pieces her memories together, she realizes the journal is filled with puzzles and clues, and calls upon her friends in the worldwide Cisco sales force to help her solve the puzzles, follow the clues, and send pictures to replace the ones lost. As the players solved the puzzles and figured out the clues, Isabel found herself traveling the world with her father’s former colleague Keith, retracing her father’s steps and coming closer and closer to solving the mystery of the journal, and the man who stole it – and why. Continue reading
Author, media theorist, teacher, and winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is well-known for his insightful books and documentaries about how cultures, people, and institutions shape values in the digital age. Since his 1994 observational book Cyberia, Rushkoff has often been at the forefront of digital counterculture. His latest book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, provides clear, actionable ways to master technology before it masters us.
Recently, Rushkoff collaborated with games production company Smoking Gun Interactive to create an experimental alternate reality game (ARG) and graphic novel “proof of concept,” Exoriare. After chatting very briefly about ARGs at the eBook Summit last week in New York City, I thought our readers would enjoy a more focused e-mail interview with Rushkoff about his experience with Exoriare, ARGs, and play.