A few months ago, I wrote about Indiana University’s exciting new alternate reality gaming research project, Skeleton Chase. The game was a collaboration between professors Anne Massey (Kelley School of Business), Jeanne Johnston (Kinesiology Department), and Lee Sheldon (Telecommunications Department). Now that the game is over, the three professors took the time to describe the game play and their research to me.
During the first week of the game, students in Indiana University’s Foundations of Fitness and Wellness class were greeted by Steven Cartwright, a public relations representative from the Source Corporation, a fictional company researching health and nutrition. The students would participate in a series of fitness challenges, and were handed a worksheet and free bottles of vitamin water. Through the worksheet, students discovered the Source Corporation’s “Internal Site” using clues from the presentation to access the site. Through the Internal Site, students discovered IU Security reports relating to Sarah Chase, a missing student. Her former associate instructor Sam Clemens was also missing.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the students engaged in a series of physical challenges from the Source Corporation while digging deeper into the disappearance of Sam and Sarah. According to Lee Sheldon, students
searched Sarah’s office (staged with planted assets including Sarah’s diplomas and research notebook); hacked into the IU Security internal website where they could access security camera footage from the night Sarah vanished; found Sam’s hiding place (but not Sam); and were able to uncover a wide-ranging conspiracy tied to a formula that may or may not retard aging. In the process they learned of a third person’s disappearance; were alerted to flying saucers sited near IU’s Cyclotron facility; and investigated appearances of a creature dubbed the “Blomington Bigfoot” in some campus woods.
Last month I reported live from the Synthetic Worlds Initiative‘s Ludium II conference at Indiana University in Bloomington. The Ludium was designed by one of Indiana’s finest ARG companies, Studio Cypher.
At this point you’re probably wondering what a Ludium is exactly. Thomas Malaby, the spokesperson elected at the conference, explains it best on the Terra Nova blog, “The Ludia are conferences structured as games, and this one was modeled on a political convention, the first Synthetic Worlds Congress.” The goal of this Synthetic Worlds Congress was to develop a set of guidelines pertaining to virtual words that would be sent to all of the major 2008 presidential candidates along with members of Congress.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if Alternate Reality Games were at all similar to virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Second Life. I was reporting on the event purely because it was a Studio Cypher project and I was looking for ARGish elements in the Ludium’s game design. By the end of the conference, I had become a full and willing participant in the Ludium fighting for what I thought fair and just much like the other attendees. I realized that many of the issues facing virtual world designers are the same or at least quite similar to the issues facing alternate reality game designers–issues like developer liability and freedom of expression.
Editor’s Note: ARGNet’s Michelle Senderhauf is attending and reporting from the Ludium II conference, put on by Indiana University’s Synthetic Worlds Initiative.
This is Michelle Senderhauf reporting live from the Ludium II conference at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The conference is being run in game format which is interesting since the conference itself is about developing principles for sensible video game policy.
The Ludium game has two goals –
1. to develop a set of policies regarding synthetic worlds that will be sent to real world governments and
2. vote a single person as our de facto spokesperson for the ideas in the platform.
We’re in the second day of the Ludium conference and the group has reached a point where we 33 nominated policy statements and 3 nominees for the Speaker.
Of interest to ARG players, the conference has had its share of intrigue. Several “spies” are playing the game and are trying to derail the process. Also “reporters” are roaming the hall trying to get a scoop. Also, several of the conference attendees or players have thrown a wrench into the puppetmasters’ plans. Overnight, several players tried to merge members from their opposing groups into one large group. A response for this was not written in the game rules that were originally laid out so the puppetmasters were sent scrambling.
These events have brought up many interesting questions. If you’re using a serious game to solve a real world problem at some point or at what point do you abandon the game framework? Is there a point where the game becomes unimportant? Or even a hindrance? Many of the conference attendees agree that the game has definitely had a positive effect. It has successfully facilitated discussions in an organized fashion and allowed for a democratic decision-making process.
What will be the result? We won’t know until the end of the conference. Stay tuned!