ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES: THEORY AND PRODUCTION
BPRO/MAAD/ARTV/ENGL/CMST/TAPS (Winter 2023)
Time: Monday 9:30 am-12:20 pm
Location: Logan 501
Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (firstname.lastname@example.org), Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30-5:30pm (Weston Game Lab, MADD Center)
Instructor: Heidi Coleman (email@example.com), Office Hours: Wednesday 1-3pm or by appointment (Logan Cafe)
Games are one of the most prominent and influential media of our time. This experimental course explores the emerging genre of “alternate reality” or “transmedia” gaming. Throughout the quarter, we will approach new media theory through the history, aesthetics, and design of transmedia games. These games build on the narrative strategies of novels, the performative role-playing of theater, the branching techniques of electronic literature, the procedural qualities of video games, and the team dynamics of sports. Beyond the subject matter, students will design modules of an Alternate Reality Game in small groups. Students need not have a background in media or technology, but a wide-ranging imagination, interest in new media culture, or arts practice will make for a more exciting quarter.
This course will rely on individual preparation and an energetically collaborative mindset. While we understand not everyone will share the same fascination with “rabbit holes,” the ability to generate ideas through group work is highly valued. An approach that begins “yes and” is far more generative than “that won’t work because.” We work to discover and experiment, learning as much from what doesn’t work as what does.
Slack: We will use Slack for ongoing conversations with both shared channels for informal conversations about ARGs and classroom business, as well as private channels for communication with the instructors. For all course-related questions, you should contact instructors via Slack INSTEAD of email.
Course Website: We will use the course WordPress website to access the syllabus (with links) and to post blog entries. The blog will be publicly available.
Canvas: We will only use Canvas to access PDFs of shared course readings. You will have to log into Canvas, using your CNetID.
- Attendance, Participation, and In-Class Exercises: 20%
- Group Case Study Video Presentation (Week 3): 10%
- Group Project 1 (Week 4 “Tours”): 10%
- Group Project 2 (Week 6: “Cooperative Play”): 10%
- Group Project 3 (Week 8: “Transmedia Trail”): 20%
- Final Group Project (Week 9): Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Class Presentation/Performance, and Individual Reflection (2-3 pages): 30%
- We only meet for a few weeks, so arrive on time for each seminar or workshop session.
- Much of this course depends on group work and playtesting. As a result, missing a class derails the team and our race against the weeks of winter quarter is a sprint. Missing a class without a prearranged absence will immediately entail a grade reduction.
- Assignments and papers are due when they appear on the syllabus.
- Print out readings or bring your annotated pages to class.
- Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours (seriously).
- We are committed to meeting the needs of all students. To arrange class-related accommodations, please see Student Disability Services prior to scheduling a meeting with us: http://disabilities.uchicago.edu/accommodations
- We will rely heavily on Slack (instead of email) for course communication. Please join Slack at this link. You can message the entire group or instructors about any course questions.
COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)
Note: All readings that do not include links appear as PDFs on our course Canvas site.
Pre-Quarter Viewing and Reading (Completed by January 9)
For your viewing pleasure, you could consider watching The Game (David Fincher) OR eXistenZ (David Cronenberg) OR Dispatches from Elsewhere (TV series).
Please read the following short articles listed below, which will give you a sampling of topics:
- “Alternate Reality Games” (Sean Stewart)
- “Storytelling in New Media: The case of alternate reality gaming, 2001-2009” (Jeffrey Kim, et. al.)
- “Sleep No More” interview with Felix Barrett
Week 1: NO CLASS
Monday, January 2
- Finish pre-quarter reading and viewing
Week 2: Introduction to Critical Transmedia Play and Alternate Reality Games
Monday, January 9
- Read for Class: Pre-quarter viewing and reading
- Lecture: “A Crash Course on ARGs”
- Cases: The Source (educational game), ECHO (quest game), and Duck Variations (client-facing game)
- Play in Class: Ultimate Werewolf
- Project Introduction: Project #1: “Tours”
- Field Trip: Visit to the Costume Shop and introduction to Nathan Rohrer
Week 3: NO CLASS
Monday, January 16, MLK Day
- Meet with your groups, and rehearse in person for your designed “Tour” that you will execute in Week 4. Moving people around takes longer than you think, so plan ahead.
- Read for Assignment: Pervasive Games (Markus Montola, p. 7-23), Reality is Broken (Jane McGonigal, p. 119-45, 296-344), and “Introduction to Critical Play” (Mary Flanagan, Critical Play, p. 1-16)
- Assignment: ARG Case Video Presentation: In assigned groups, create a 5-7 minute video presentations on one of the cases listed under assignments.
- ARG Case Video Presentation Assignment Due Friday, January 20
Week 4: Presentation of “Tours” and Discussion of Improvisation
Monday, January 23
- Case: the parasite
- Read for Class: “the parasite: An Alternate Reality Game for Orientation” (Heidi Coleman and Patrick Jagoda), “‘Yes, and’: Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy (Earl Vickers, p. 1-19), “Improvisation” (Patrick Jagoda, Experimental Games, p. 253-282), and “Pasts and Futures of Netprov” (Rob Wittig)
- Project #1 Performance: Perform of Live-Action “Tours” during class time (20 minutes)
- Project #1 Design Crit
- Administration: Complete in-class survey for final project group formation
Week 5: Transmedia Game Design, Livestreaming, and Cooperative Mechanics
Monday, January 30
- Case: SEED, Terrarium, PBHere, and Cene
- Read for Class: “Alternate Reality Games” (Patrick Jagoda, Philip Ehrenberg, Ireashia Bennett, and Ashlyn Sparrow), “Game Mechanics for Cooperative Games” (José Bernardo Rocha, Samuel Mascarenhas and Rui Prada, p. 73-80), and Game Design Workshop (Tracy Fullerton, Chapter 1, “The Role of the Game Designer,” p. 2-21)
- Lecture: “Cooperative Mechanics from Live-Action to Live-Streaming”
- In-Class Exercise: Analog Chalk/Cooperative Games
- Play in Class: The Mind
- Visit to the Fourcast Design Lab
January 30 (5-7PM)
SPECIAL COOPERATIVE GAME PLAY SESSION: PICO PARK
FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE, February 3
Week 6: Presentation of Online Cooperative Play–February 6
Monday, February 7
- Project #2 Performance: Perform Live-Streaming “Online Cooperative Play” during class time
- Project #2 Design Crit
Week 7: Transmedia Trails and Quests
Monday, February 13
- Case: Speculation and A Labyrinth
- Read for Class: “Alternate World Design During the Pandemic and Beyond” (Heidi Coleman and Patrick Jagoda)
- In-Class Exercise: Transmedia Quest Design with “Exquisite Pressure”
- Play in Class: DollHouse Escape Room
Week 8: Presentation of Transmedia Trail
- Project #3 Performance: Perform Online Asynchronous “Transmedia Trail” during class time
- Project #3 Design Crit
Week 9: Final Project Presentations
- Powerpoint presentations of all projects
- Discussion: Course Conclusion
WEEK 3: ARG Case Video Presentation
In assigned groups, create a 5-7 minute video presentations on one of the following cases:
1. ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study (in Small Group): Choose a Case Study from Pervasive Games, such as Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, I Love Bees, Year Zero, etc.
2. “Serious” ARG Case Study (in Small Group): Choose one of the following “serious” ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST, ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of Babel, Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG), Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.
WEEK 4: “Tours” (Synchronous Live-Action Interactive Experience)
Consider that you have been tasked by the admissions office with developing an ARG that will take place on-campus in spring 2023 to convince potential students of the uniqueness of the UofC. Create a Rabbit Hole in the form of an official-looking letter to admitted but not yet accepted students, with an oddity or two, that collects the audience at the Logan Art Center. Using the Logan Art Center as your site, please develop a 15-20 minute “tour” that would launch said game.
Containing the following:
- A UofC tour guide that begins with the class outside of Logan
- A scripted tour that has moments of improv
- 2 Shills in the audience that have distinct characteristics and are from our shared reality
- 2 Characters that are encountered during the tour are a part of an alternate reality
- A “journey” that begins outside of Logan and ends on the second-level terrace
- An object hidden that must be found
- Three moments of audience participation
- The ending of the 20 minutes must have a launch into a future-specific segment.
- All characters should be in costume.
WEEK 5: Final Group Project Abstract, Title, and 2-3 images (Approximately 1 page or 300-400 words)
As a group, write a brief abstract for your final project. In this abstract, introduce your module and comment upon the type of research and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? Finally, what are the narrative, formal, social, and artistic innovations of the project? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline.
WEEK 6: Online Cooperative Play (Synchronous Live-Streaming Interactive Game)
Use Twitch and 1-3 performers to stage a 10-minute interaction with a group of players (in this case the entire class). The players might interact through video or solely through chat. This should be meaningfully interactive and include at least one cooperative mechanic.
WEEK 8: Transmedia Trail (Asynchronous Online Game)
Use 3-5 existing social media platforms to lead a group of players (your classmates) across a short narrative arc. There should be at least one live interaction and one short puzzle (with an adequate hint system). You should also create at least one central character who is experiencing some form of conflict.
WEEK 9: Final Group Project: Alternate Reality Game Module
Final Project In-class Pitch and Critique (10 minutes)
In class, on February 26, you will present your ARG module concept in front of a critique jury of representatives from the Admissions Office.. After this hands-on session, you will turn in your presentation deck. Slides should include: title, logo, narrative overview, objectives, locations, timing, descriptions of NPC’s.
Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)
Along with your actual group project, we’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 pages) individual reflection about your project that does three things. First, offer an artist’s statement on the formal significance of your project. This is your chance to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your ARG and to give a reader a frame for encountering your text. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? Third, and crucially, how would you revise and expand your project if you had more time?
Possible Other Readings:
- “Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play” (Guy Debord)
- “Worlding through Play Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source” (Patrick Jagoda, Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russell, p. 478-504)
- “Lessons down a Rabbit Hole: Alternate Reality Gaming in the Classroom” (Shira Chess and Paul Booth, p. 1-16)
- “A Psychologically ‘Embedded’ Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes” (Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan)
- Persuasive Games (Ian Bogost, “Procedural Rhetoric,” p. 1-64)
- “Theory of the Dérive” (Guy Debord)
- The Practice of Everyday Life (Michel de Certeau, “General Introduction” on p. xi-xxiv and “Walking in the City” on p. 91-110)
- Improvisation for the Theater Excerpt (Viola Spolin, p.3-19, p. 34-45; p. 252-253)
- Improvisation in Drama, Theatre and Performance: History, Practice, Theory (Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow p. 38-61)
- “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity” (R. Keith Sawyer, p. 149-161)
- “Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alternate Reality Games” (Christy Dena)