Blog Post

Oscillation Transmedia Game Trailer

Oscillation Transmedia Game Trailer

A portion of my research concerns the emergent artistic form of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), which are also often called "transmedia," "pervasive," or "immersive" games. One early vision of ARGs is David Fincher's film The Game (1997), which is about an investment banker (Michael Douglas) who begins playing a game that quickly becomes indistinguishable from his daily life. Popular ARGs released after this film have included The Beast (2001), I Love Bees (2004), and Year Zero (2007). Recently, Jane McGonigal has written extensively about this form in her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She has also designed ARGs such as Evoke (a World Bank Institute project that won the 2010 Games for Change social game of the year award).

In addition to studying ARGs, I have explored the form through game design. Last quarter, at the University of Chicago, I assembled a group of five undergraduate students who were interested in creating and running an ARG in the Chicago area. These immensely talented and dedicated students came from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including majors in computer science, economics, political science, and English. They all had an interest in digital games and brought with them different types of digital literacy. Beginning in the winter quarter, we met on a weekly basis and produced a Game Design Document to guide the project. We also applied for and received funding from University of Chicago organizations, including the Festival of the Arts and the Uncommon Fund.

The game itself, which ran from early May through June of 2011, was an experiment in telling a science fiction narrative (about another world the came into contact with our own) across numerous media, old and new. Players experienced (and reassembled) story fragments, solved puzzles, and engaged in various collaborations. Through its run, the game incorporated paper flyers on building walls, chalk symbols on sidewalks, character websites, Facebook pages, emails, letters, a Zork-style text-adventure game, a conversational chatbot puzzle, numerical and text codes, an LED-box construction task, a live IRC chat with a character, cassette tapes with secret audio messages, a physical rope puzzle, and a live performance featuring hired actors. Hints were hidden in library books, on city walls, and in the page source of websites. In order to proceed through the game, players had to solve a multitude of puzzles that required linguistic, spatial, social media, and computer science skills. Many of these challenges depended on collective intelligence and collaborative problem solving. Few of the puzzles could be completed by individual players. Shortly after the ARG began, players even created their own discussion forum on which they shared information about the game as it unfolded.

Recently, our team completed a postmortem trailer that features video footage, images, music, and audio recordings from the game experience. I wanted to share this with anyone interested in ARGs, game design, digital storytelling, and game-based pedagogy. The trailer is located on Vimeo now and we should have a youtube version up soon.



Patrick this is truly incredible.  Please extend an invitation to those five U of C students to be HASTAC members.  We would love to hear more from your ARG .. . I envision extending it to MLA someday or, even better, to the HASTAC Conference in Ann Arbor, Dec 2-.,   That would be very exciting.  Think about it! 


Cathy, I really like the idea of creating an ARG that runs at an academic conference. Since these game types are both media-rich and site-specific, a team could presumably design a 3-day transmedia game to run through a conference (and have something to do with its themes). It could even mix live components (which could only be solved by conference attendees) with online components (which could be solved by remote users). Collaboration between these two groups would be required to complete the core narrative.

On the critical front, I organized a panel about gaming for the upcoming MLA, which will include papers on both virtual worlds and ARGs (by Stephanie Boluk, Patrick LeMieux, and myself, with a response by Victoria Szabo). There is at least one other such panel. It will be interesting to see if the organization embraces gaming, as a medium and art form, more fully in the coming years.


I hope you think about submitting an ARG proposal--due Sept 15--for HASTAC.  It would be pretty amazing.  Let us know if you do!   Victoria too, if she can make it.  That would be pretty incredible.