Risks of External Environment in ARGs

Today, our team presented on Pac Manhattan. One of the aspects of the game that I found really intriguing was how it navigated safety (not well, in my opinion). There were antidotes about players waited until the last possible moment to cross streets to strategically gain an advantage. In other words, if a ghost decided to run after Pacman, they would be hit by a car.

In Pervasive Games, Montola speaks about using the unpredictability of the external environment to always guarantee a unique experience. Everything in the real world becomes an object that can be manipulated for the purposes of the game. Montola also points out the risks associated with this, however. For instance, players may unethically involve non-players, or in the case of Pac Manhattan, could potentially become dangerous.

I believe Pac Manhattan could easily become dangerous if someone experiences intense tunnel-vision, and the designers did not account for this well. Sure, the players were college students who presumably can handle the situation more rationally than a child, but Pac Manhattan is one of the unique ARGs that can be recreated. It isn’t inconceivable that some kids somewhere may try to play the game amongst each other and get hurt.

5 thoughts on “Risks of External Environment in ARGs

  1. This reminds me of the question someone had posed in class about Year Zero‘s use of flash drives in public restrooms as rabbit holes. In that case, the concern wasn’t so much direct harm from using the flash drives, but rather the idea that the game was encouraging people to do something that would be risky in any other context. In an example like Pac Manhattan that’s clearly presented as a game, I think the risk is easier to address, as players could directly be given safety instructions or safety could be incorporated into the rules. But for something like Year Zero, or most games with a “this is not a game” aesthetic, that’s harder to do, as you can’t really directly comment on safety without losing some of the game’s immersiveness. I’m not sure where the line should be drawn between limiting the possibility of harmful behavior and trusting your players to be reasonable.

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  2. You bring up a very interesting point @jerseyfonseca. It seems that unpredictability and uncertainty are sometimes vital aspects of an ARGs success in immersing the players within the narrative. This applies to some ARGs more than others. Specifically, in ARGs which paranoia aesthetics, the game is designed to make players constantly second guess themselves and test their limits. To bounce off @theoevans1‘s final thought in reference to the fine line between the possibility of getting hurt while playing ARGs, it is up to how devoted the players are to the ARG they are playing. Risk will always be a factor, but again may be one of the most crucial elements to feelings of alternate reality that separates such unique experiences from a typical videogame.

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  3. When researching for my presentation in I Love Bees, I also noticed a similar element of environmental danger. One of the calls was scheduled to occur at a payphone in Florida, and a man stayed very shortly until hurricane landfall in order to receive the information. In this case, however, the danger is unintentional – an unforeseen circumstance for which the designers could not have accounted. In Pac Manhattan though, it seems to almost be encouraged by the rule-set and location. The game is designed to take place on the city streets rather than in a secluded are where there would be no interference. This could be a case of the developer’s not adequately thinking through the design, but the interactions with real-world elements can be a source of danger for which developer’s ought to account while designing ARGs. The game (ideally) should not contain rules which encourage strategic usage of dangerous behaviors.

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  4. As ARG is a kind of interaction that boarders on the difference between game and reality, it is hard to explicitly limit the way the player can interact with the game (via using the environment around them). It would be very weird for the puppetmasters to not allow the participants to specifically not do something, and it may result in the participants questioning the “reality” aspect of the ARG. Even in ARGs such as Pac Manhattan, where it is more explicit that the the ARG is more easily seen as “not real”, it would be really hard to limit how the player uses the environment as it decreases the “fun” of the game, and also detracts from the overall “in-the-moment” experience of the game. I think that for an ARG to be an ARG, it has to go beyond a simple video game, and thus it inevitably has to allow the environment into consideration. Of course sometimes it may be very dangerous, but I think most of the dangers also aply to everyday lives as well. We are living in this world, in this environment, and it is ultimately up to us to protect ourselves. (And I think the problem of tunnel vision is not an envrionmental issue as it is caused by (in this situation) periods of high adrenaline production, which is part of the game itself, or like wearing glasses and headgear, which is again not part of the environment.)

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  5. I believe that as much as the structure of the game helps inform how safe players are; I believe that also fostering a safe community in many senses is necessary to make a successful ARG. One of the ways to do this is to deal with the response to an unexpected risky situation. For instance, after seeing a player cut the last moment across the street maybe it is time to check in with the players after the moment and see what practices can be used to encourage players not to behave that way. Furthermore, I believe that we need to be conscious of what risks we celebrate in game play.

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