It’s time for day two of PICNIC, and a new day means a new theme: Exploding Media. The theme brought with it an exciting schedule, filled with more on social media, but this time focusing on trying to find parallels between social media and brands and marketing strategies, as well as on games and interactivity.
The first speaker was movie director Chris Burke, who is also the creator of This Spartan Life, the world’s first and only “talkshow in game space”. I hadn’t previously heard of This Spartan Life and thus wasn’t familiar with the show’s format, where a host (Burke) interviews a guest (in this case, Gerri Sinclair, CEO of the Center for Digital Media), while playing Halo.
Apparently, This Spartan Life has been a big hit since 2004 and has gathered quite a bit of praise for its innovative presentation. I can see how the concept might work well with smoothly edited episodes showing Halo game play supplemented by added voiceovers. However, as a live concept, I thought it came off as a forced way of trying something new. The Halo backdrop compounded by the clumsiness of Sinclair trying to master the controls of the game were so distracting that I hardly followed the actual interview.
Sinclair, hailed by Burke as a “gaming professor who actually knows what she’s talking about” has a great track record when it comes digital media and narrative . Most of the times when the interview took an interesting turn, though, the conversation got interrupted by shrieks of “Oh no! I fell of a ledge!” and “someone is shooting at me!” or with Burke trying to keep track of where his interviewee went in the Halo level. It’s a shame, because I would have loved to hear more of what Sinclair had to say on gaming and the changing ways of delivering narratives.
Last Friday’s episode of Numb3rs (as reported here at ARGNet) sparked discussion at UnFiction. And while the show received generally positive reactions for a positive depiction of the community and a thorough look at the puzzle solving aspects, many were disappointed that the episode downplayed the narrative elements of alternate reality gaming.
Apparently, people spoke too soon, as ARGNet’s own Brooke Thompson received an email from Spectre, one of the characters from last week’s Numb3rs, leading to Chain Factor. Spectre mentioned in the show his plans of developing Chain Factor to rival “Primacy”–if you haven’t yet seen the episode, I won’t spoil you more. At first glance, the website appears to be a casual puzzle game created by a slightly megalomaniacal game developer. The puzzle game has hidden 36 keys “hidden in plain sight among the visual trash of today’s marketing-mad culture”. These keys unlock special powers that can be used in the Chain Factor gameplay. Some of these keys have been discovered as banner ads on Viacom websites such as CBS Sportsline and StarTrek.com.
The admittedly addictive puzzle game has a few bugs in the system. Players have noted that error codes strongly resembling internal memos crop up from time to time indicating the future placement of media. The memos suggest keys will be transmitted via text messaging, television promotions, and out-of-home advertising in California and Minnesota. These production notes indicate that a story may be forthcoming.
The Numb3rs episode defined alternate reality as “a treasure hunt played out in the real world using actual media”. Following that logic, Chain Factor may be a quest to unlock a series of clues hidden throughout the world around us. However, it appears as though the creators of this game are gradually and subtly revealing a narrative to support the treasure hunt. We may get to see Spectre’s plans for an alternate reality game that is all-encompassing…or at least all-encompassing within the Viacom umbrella.
Television shows are releasing supplemental extended realities and alternate reality games more and more frequently. This may prove invaluable to shows looking to keep their audiences engaged during the WGA strike. Who knows which program will be next? Stay tuned to ARGNet for more updates.
Click Here to play Chain Factor.
Click Here for the discussion at UnFiction.
Click Here for the Chain Factor Wiki.
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!