Category: Events (page 2 of 40)

Playing Around With Your Health at Games for Health 2013

thatdragoncancer

Image courtesy thatdragoncancer.com

Over the years, a number of alternate reality games and transmedia experiences have used their storytelling platform as a medium for serious gaming. In Conspiracy for Good, many of the game’s live events were used as a lure to get players actively volunteering for non-profit organizations. In games like Indiana University’s Skeleton Chase and the American Heart Association’s Cryptozoo, the underlying purpose of the game was to get players more physically active.

To get a better sense of the evolving serious gaming industry, I attended the 9th annual Games for Health conference in Boston. Zombies, Run creators Adrian Hon and Naomi Alderman were there to share some insight into the success of their story-driven exercise app and announce their company Six to Start’s partnership with the UK government on a new project, coming next year. A host of game developers, medical professionals, and technologists added their own perspectives to the topic over the three-day conference. While the conference’s multiple tracks made a full picture of events impossible, I’ve attempted to share a few highlights in the world of serious gaming.

Zombies, Run: Escaping from the Zombie Horde

Since its release, Six to Start’s Zombies, Run has sold over half a million copies of its episodic audio adventures placing fans directly into the shoes of Abel Township’s Runner 5. To date, runners have traversed over 12 million miles in the real world, foraging for supplies through a virtual British countryside during the zombie apocalypse. A vibrant fan community has contributed fan fiction and videos to the universe: one of the members of the Zombies, Run writing team got her start writing fanfic for the game.

It all started when Zombies, Run co-creator Naomi Alderman joined a beginner’s running class. The instructor asked everyone taking the course to explain why they wanted to get better at running, and one woman blithely responded, “I want to be able to escape from the zombie horde.” This motivation resonated with Alderman, as it captured the heart of her situation. As a professional novelist, running isn’t something that helps her reach daily word counts or edit manuscripts. Alderman explains that for most people, running is more about being prepared for when things go bad. At its core, the impetus to run is the wish, “I want to be a healthy animal to escape from predators.” For Adrian Hon, an avid runner, that primal motivation was what was missing from existing apps, pedometers, and sensors on the market. No amount of metrics about heart rate, steps taken, or calories burned provides as much motivation during a run as the shuffling groan of zombies approaching you from behind.

Many design choices for Zombies, Run were made based on what felt right to the development team. For instance, the decision to make runners speed up their pace by 20% was based on Adrian’s decision that it “felt right.” However, one priority for the team was ensuring players could step seamlessly into the role of Runner 5. That meant making Runner 5’s decisions always feel reasonable to the player, especially since those decisions almost always involved running during zombie encounters. It also meant that Runner 5 would always be discussed in gender neutral terms: while it would have been possible to record separate audio streams that customized the experience for the player-protagonist, the team opted to strike out gendered language. Alderman noted that the gender neutrality allowed her to reinforce a feminist subtext into the narrative, as Runner 5’s gender has no bearing on how the story’s protagonist is treated, and is treated as largely irrelevant.

During their keynote address, Hon and Alderman announced that Zombies, Run was undergoing randomized trials to test its efficacy. Additionally, the Six to Start team announced their partnership with London’s National Health Services and the Department of Health in the UK to create a new narrative health app to tackle the obesity epidemic, set for release in 2014. Alderman describes this new app, tentatively titled The Walk, as a spy thriller that mixes elements of North by Northwest with The 39 Steps. You play the role of someone who needs to get a package from Inverness to Edinburgh while evading both terrorists and the police. The goal is to encourage users to go on to add just a bit more walking into their daily lives.

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DIY Days 2013: Black Markets, Phenomenal Work, and Foster Care

My Sky is Falling

My Sky is Falling image courtesy of Reboot Stories, from the Envision 2013 playthrough

The elevator doors open. As I step out, a woman in a hazmat suit and surgical mask steps forward as our guide, offering surgical masks to our group. Masks firmly in place, we’re guided to a classroom liberally strewn with backpacks and jackets. There are already a handful of people milling about in the room without the dubious protection of our masks, grabbing sandwiches and chips from the front of the room. A dissonant hum serves as disconcerting accompaniment to the otherwise silent room. Finally, we’re welcomed by our guide and offered a choice: leave the mask on and remain a silent observer, or take it off and step into the strange world in which we found ourselves.

Over the next hour, my fellow participants and I progressed through a dystopic science fiction world designed to leave us disoriented, confused, and isolated as part of the interactive theater experience My Sky is Falling. The performance, a fictionalized retelling of filmmaker Lydia Joyner’s own experiences in the foster care system, was brought to light by creative director Atley Loughridge through the startup Reboot Stories. The project was also a collaboration with Reboot Stories co-founder Lance Weiler’s New Media Producing class at Columbia University and the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping teens transition out of the foster care system. Representatives from the United Nations went through the experience at Envision 2013, while I experienced the performance as part of DIY Days NYC, a free conference that took place at The New School at the end of April.

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StoryWorld 2012 Goes Hollywood

For its second year, the StoryWorld Conference & Expo will be taking in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for three days of panels and presentations from October 17-19 exploring transmedia storytelling from the practitioner’s perspective. Last year’s conference in San Francisco managed to bring in an impressive lineup of practitioners in the space, and this year looks to continue the trend. ARGNet is once again a media sponsor for the event, so you’ll find a discount code at the end of the article. Even if you’re not planning on attending, read on for information about a line-up of free podcasts promoting the event, curated by Transmedia LA.

Last year, StoryWorld’s focus was on the practitioner, with Conference Chair Alison Norrington proudly declaring that “[t]here are no theorists speaking at StoryWorld. I’ve done everything I can to remain focussed on amplifying the wisdom of practitioners who will share their real-life experiences.” While the schedule of events for this year’s conference retains that focus on highlighting practitioners, StoryWorld is placing a renewed focus on partnering with existing organizations to hone the message.

The first day’s panels, for instance, were developed through a partnership with Walt Disney Research & Development. Disney assembled the panels for October 17th, and Disney Imagineers are slated to moderate all of their panels. Similarly, the meetup group Transmedia LA has prepared a full lineup of podcasts, starting with one on Transmedia Activism later today. During the Unconference the afternoon of October 19th, Transmedia LA will be presenting a case study on their Miracle Mile Paradox alternate reality game while Storycode will discuss their recent Story Hack in New York.

If you’re interested in attending StoryWorld, register soon: Early-Bird Pricing ($550 for an individual ticket to the conference) ends this Friday, August 17. You can use the promotional code ARGNET to secure a rate of $525 until the end of August: after that, it will provide a $25 discount off the regular $650 ticket fee.

A Comic-Con Preview: SHIELD Returns for “Item 47”

Image via Marvel.com

On the Fourth of July, Marvel Entertainment released its “second screen” app for The Avengers DVD, two months prior to the release of the DVD itself. The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience, available for the iPhone and iPad, is designed to provide supplemental content, synced up with the film. The timing of the app’s release is odd, as second screen apps are traditionally released in tandem with their associated DVD. However, this particular app came bundled with the first countdown clock of Comic-Con 2012, leading to a scavenger hunt starting Friday to unlock the latest Marvel One-Shot video, Item 47.

According to The Avengers Initiative app’s description: “Become a SHIELD Agent and participate in the Item 47 Comic-Con experience either remotely or in the field.” So what is this Item 47 Comic-Con experience? Upon downloading and launching the app, the main screen launches with three options; “SHIELD Personnel Files”, “Avenger Initiative Timeline,” and “Item 47.” The Avenger Initiative Timeline is not unlocked yet, and the SHIELD Personnel files contain what you would expect: personal dossiers on all the Avengers. Currently, the only dossiers available for viewing belong to Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanov (Black Widow).

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“Real Escape Game” Returns with Mad Scientist, Online Hunt

For Real Escape Game‘s North American debut, 9 out of 10 participants failed to escape from Werewolf Village in time. While this might sound like an abyssmal failure rate, it’s par for the course for Takao Kato’s narrative puzzle experiences, inspired by online “Escape the Room” games. During Escape from the Werewolf Village, visitors to San Francisco’s NEW PEOPLE center in Japantown were locked in the 3rd floor of the venue’s SUPERFROG Gallery for 90 minutes and charged with solving a series of puzzles leading up to the big escape. Over the next few weeks, Real Escape Game is rolling out two new puzzle adventures, both for San Francisco residents looking to redeem their puzzle-solving reputations, and for global participants looking for bragging rights.

Starting July 5th, veterans of San Francisco’s first installment of Real Escape Game and newcomers alike will have the chance to improve on their 10% completion rate as they attempt to unravel The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, a physicist who requested that his will be sealed for 50 years after his passing. Dr. Mad’s challenge, “can you unravel the mystery of my life’s work,” is unlikely to be a simple disposition of Mad’s possessions. But what else would you expect from a Mad scientist? Tickets to The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, which will be held at the Fort Mason Center, are $22.

Prior to Real Escape Game‘s North American debut, the game’s founder Takao Kato explained to ARGNet that “as a kid, I always wanted to ‘live in the story,’ and survive the adventure, solve the mystery, and be a hero like the characters in books I loved as a child…Real Escape Game is an opportunity to make these dreams come true.” Sara Thacher, one of the participants of the first installment (and one of the devious minds behind the Jejune Institute), noted in her review of the experience that “it was an elegant puzzle hunt. I think everyone from the girls in Classic Lolita getups at the table behind us, to the sweatshirt-clad MIT Mystery hunt regulars on my team enjoyed themselves.” Thacher went on to add that this was a puzzle hunt with narrative underpinnings, and not a literal translation of the screen-based Escape the Room games that helped inspire the Real Escape Game franchise…many of the tropes of the genre, such as riffling around for hidden keys, were absent.

For those looking for a more traditional Escape the Room experience, Real Escape Game is holding a live online challenge on July 24th (1PM GMT, 9AM EST) in both Japanese and English. Players will have one hour to collect clues within an online locked room, racing against other players for the bragging rights of first to escape. A 15-minute version of the game is free to play, giving players a brief preview, but admission for the main event is $5.

Tickets to the San Francisco hunt can be found at Real Escape Game‘s English website at RealEscapeGame.com, but if you’re interested in the live online game, head over to REGame.jp.

ARGFest 2012 Toronto Locks in Dinner and a Movie

ARGFest-o-Con, the annual conference dedicated to bringing together players and creators of alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling experiments, is heading north to Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada between July 26th and July 28th. Over the past 11 years, ARGFest has played host to city-wide puzzle trails, panels, and live events that allow attendees to roll up their sleeves and practice what they preach, playing through interactive experiences in between discussing past campaigns and best practices. Last year’s conference won Bloomington Indiana’s “Host of the Year” award. In addition to the mainstays of previous years, ARGFest 2012 is adding a little something extra: an advanced screening of The Institute, a documentary about San Francisco’s long-standing alternate reality game, The Jejune Institute.

For those unfamiliar with the project, The Jejune Institute was a highly immersive alternate reality game that took place in San Francisco over the course of three years. The narrative centered around a secretive new age cult, leading players on an exploration of the city that asked them to discover hidden secrets by following puzzle trails throughout San Francisco that showcased overlooked landmarks both real and fictional. The 90-minute documentary features interviews with the game’s developers at Nonchalance and some of the game’s players/inductees. The Nonchalance team were panelists at a previous ARGFest, providing an introduction to the experience.

Early-bird registration for ARGFest is open until May 31st, so you still have two days before the cost of admission goes up. Keep an eye on argfestocon.com in the coming weeks for updates on speakers and events.

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