I'm excited to tell you a bit about a project I am working on. Myself and others are creating an alternate reality game (ARG) for UNC Chapel Hill's undergraduates. Although Matt Wood says I am the "brainchild" of this; I would hesitate to qualify my contribution to this project in quite so grandiose a way. I am simply one among many who are working on this.
An alternate reality game is a multiplayer game that mixes technology with the real world. There is a storyline with characters; and as events progress through the storyline, players must follow clues. They challenged to solve a variety of puzzles and often have to work together to do so. To learn more about ARGs, I recommend reading
Kim, J.Y., Allen, J.P., and Lee, E. (2008) Alternate reality gaming. Communications of the ACM, 51(2): 36-42.
For example, the ARG associated with the movie premier of The Dark Knight led players to certain GPS coordinates. At these coordinates there was a bakery. Players were told to give a secret phrase to the baker and in exchange for this phrase, they were given a cake. Then the cake begins ringing. Inside the cake is a cell phone. Players had to dig the phone out of the cake and answer it. The voice on the other end led them to another clue or puzzle.
So in thinking about ARGs and talking about them with university librarian, Chad Haefele, I began to also think about UNC Student Affairs. I used to work in the Division of Students Affairs at UNC, back before the doctoral program; and around this time, I had been talking with various folks who work there and are concerned about not only preparing undergraduates for future professions but also for life as independent adults. Student Affairs doesn't just provide dorms for students to live in. Student Affairs, through its various departments, also provides a lot of learning that is intended to prepare students to get out in the world on their own. For instance, the Campus Y focuses on social justice and service to the community. The Dean of Students Office often has to teach students about honesty and integrity (in the form of our Honor Code system), relationship and behavioral issues, and tough stuff like alcohol use. In talking with my former co-workers in Student Affairs, I discovered how wonderful it would be to employ ARG methodology to teach students about living in the world. In particular we decided to focus our storyline on relationship issues.
Our campus sponsors include the following Student Affairs departments: the Campus Y, Counseling and Wellness Services, the Dean of Students Office, and the Department of Housing and Residential Education. Additionally we have my program, the School of Information & Library Science (SILS), and the University Library backing us. Our efforts are a part of the Games4Learning initiative on campus.
Members of the core development team include Karen Crenshaw (master's student in SILS), Elizabeth Evans (director of the Games4Learning initiative), Chad Haefele (university librarian), Emily King (university librarian), and Brian Sturm (professor in SILS).
On Monday, our team laid out the entire storyline, all our puzzles and clues, and all our media content (blog posts from characters, emails between characters, photos of characters, audio and video files, etc.). We walked through the entire thing, looking for holes in the plot line, missing connections between plot bits and puzzles, missing media content, etc. Now we have a To Do list of things we need to work on in preparation for our student game testers! Several students in my Systems Analysis class (that I am teaching) have graciously volunteered to be our game testers. Ultimately we hope to launch the ARG (which will run for 2 weeks) in February of 2010.
I will keep you all posted on our progress!