Blog Post

A Class on Creating ARGs at Duke University

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to ARG (alternate reality game) proposals given by Casey Alt’s ARTSVIS 173: Gaming the System: Pervasive Gaming as Art class. It was very exciting to listen to the students flesh out their ideas for 2 possible ARGs to be performed on Duke University’s campus. The two proposals were presented to myself and five other jurors: Zach Blas (an artist and a doctoral student in literature and information science at Duke), Patrick Jagoda (a writer, a doctoral student in English at Duke, and one of last year’s HASTAC scholars), Harrison Lee (another HASTAC scholar, undergraduate student at Duke, and a student in my Systems Analysis class), Maureen McHugh (a writer who has worked on ARGs such as I Love Bees), and Steve Peters (a creator of ARGs such as the ones for Watchmen and The Dark Knight).

We were asked to provide feedback on the feasibility of the proposed ARGs and to help the students generate ideas to satisfy some preliminary questions. Issues that arose included how to get students hooked in to the ARG. With hardcore ARG players this is not as much of a concern; but with busy students who may have never played an ARG, this is a concern, one that my team has struggled with as well. Another issue was “doability.” For instance, one ARG is to last one week and the other a day. Given the need to fill the time up with the right amount of puzzles, allow players time to complete them and find clues while keeping up with school work, and the amount of resources needed to sustain differing ARG durations, this question is very important and is also one we have tackled as well on the team I am working with. Just because an ARG is shorter doesn’t necessarily mean it is easier to do. There are a lot of variables to consider; and for student players, one of the biggest is how to fit the ARG into an already busy school day.

I also commend the students of Casey’s class for considering the pedagogical value of the games. They wanted the students to learn something and reflect on it, or even to co-create some new tool or resource that would benefit the Duke community. We too want to make sure that our ARG at UNC has pedagogical merit for our students. If we are to entice them to play, to take time out for the game, we feel it is important to make sure there is a scholastic side to the game that complements and supports their purpose for being at a university – to learn. The similarities between Casey’s students and the team I am working with were striking. It was so fascinating to watch them tackle the same challenges and to try to devise strategies to maximize the strengths of the proposals and mitigate or alter the potential drawbacks. These students were really thinking and to watch that cognitive process was a great experience for me.

The ideas the students proposed were quite fun, full of thrills and suspense. Lots of mystery! Of course, I can’t tell you what the ideas are because I don’t want to spoil the plot! So you’ll just have to either be a Duke student and play the game or games (depending on if they choose to implement both or one game) or read about it once the game is concluded. I wish Casey’s class the best of luck and feel certain whatever they decide will turn out beautifully!



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