This is very much a game.

I’m posting about this week’s reading because I think posting today still counts for this week?

As I was reading the Chess and Booth article, “Lessons down a Rabbit Hole” in relationship to the Flanagan piece, I started wondering where the “this is not a game” aesthetic fit into a classroom ARG.

Chess and Booth mention that a good way to start teaching ARG creation is to, of course, have a lesson regarding what an ARG is before starting to play one. Admittedly, this kind of class was meant to learn what an ARG is, so wouldn’t the “this is not a game” aesthetic disappear altogether? Even the “this is a game” sense of fun seems difficult to find in such a scenario, as the game is the subject on which you’re learning about. In other words, wouldn’t it feel more like a lesson than a fun game? More like a requirement than a voluntary adventure?

Let me try to break down my thoughts a little more.

It seems to me that playing an ARG in an ARG-creation class, while likely very helpful in getting to know the medium, is not an embedded game and thus likely to cause the mental defensiveness to learning that Flanagan mentions.

An ARG in a non-ARG-focused class, where either the “this is not a game” aesthetic is held true (perhaps by making clues/the game occur outside of class and having the game basically be a secondary way of learning) or where the “this is very much a game” aesthetic creates a fun/non-traditional atmosphere (like in the McGonigal book) would be two ways that I can see an ARG in a classroom working to better students’ learning.

Then, this semi-conclusion of mine got me thinking – while the “this is not a game” aesthetic seems inherent to Flanagan’s description of embedded games, I think a strong and careful “this is very much a game” aesthetic could work as well, and I think that was seen in the McGonigal reading about the schools that were based on games or even about Chore Wars. The concepts of intermixing and obfuscating would certainly be powerful tools in a “this is very much a game” structure, though there would be other elements that would allow for a lesson to be a fun game without having to cloak it in too much or even any misdirection. For instance, for some lessons, simply the element of wonder is enough to make a lesson fun and disable mental defensiveness, such as those high school chemistry teachers who dress up as wizards on the day they’ll be teaching about color and light, turning flames green with a copper penny and such. Or, as in the chore wars example, perhaps simply giving a lesson a familiar or nostalgic structure is enough to make it fun. Another example could be those addicting typing games that we used to play in elementary school computer lab class.

I feel like there are more elements to how the “this is very much a game” aesthetic can create “embedded” (or perhaps a better word is “interwoven”) games to advance student learning. Let me know if you think of any or if you disagree entirely (and why!).

6 thoughts on “This is very much a game.

  1. I do agree with your point that the examples and games you have mentioned (such as addictive typing games and cool science experiments) are extremely successful in involving teaching elements even though they are very much in “this is a game” environments. However, would they be even more effective if they were in “this is not a game” environments? For example, these typing games were done in school, and the scientific demonstrations were done during class; this may influence students to finish typing exercises to get the credit or to not really pay attention to the scientific demonstration as it is shown within the confines of “class-time.” If these scenarios were in more “this is not a game” environments, they might even be more successful. For example, what if typing games were expanded into an online massively popular online game? (Kind of how Just Dance or DDR isn’t interpreted as an “exercise game” but still promotes exercise)

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    1. As I reread my response, I realize that my suggestion was an even more “this is a game” environment. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there may be ways to make these kinds of scenarios even more influential by adding further elements of obfuscation and intermixing which Flanagan discusses through making learning exercises seem less intentional in the messages/teaching points they are trying to convey.

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  2. I agree that on the surface level, the “this is not a game” aesthetic seems to be lost in a classroom ARG; but even if it is lost, I believe it could still be an ARG with a modified goal of pursuing “increased engagement, more developed problem solving skills, and peer/community support” (Chess and Booth). I say surface-level because I believe that interacting with a transmedia puzzle/storyline and one’s actual surroundings brings back the feeling of “this is not a game”, since typical games that we’re used to aren’t spread across so many media variants.

    I think that teaching ARG creation by having the students participate in an ARG wouldn’t necessarily destroy the “this is a game” feeling. In participating in an ARG, despite knowing that it’s an ARG if one is in an ARG-creation class, there are many levels of play happening; even if one isn’t convinced in the play between themselves and the fictional characters/storyline, there’s a play happening between the students and the professor (“puppet-masters”). By giving the opportunity to “learn in practice”, students are able to experiment in their play to give them resources to work with for their own ARG projects.

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  3. I agree that the “this is very much a game” aesthetic is important to ARG creation and reception, and your post inspired me to think of “this is very much a game” and “this is not a game” as perhaps not as contradictory as they might appear. Taking the game which happens alongside classes, for instance, its charm is (I think) partly due to player awareness that “it is very much a game”. Yet the lives of players do become impacted as they see their class in a new light, check slack channels more often, immerse themselves within rules and puzzles of the game, and view the class as something to look forward to. Without the “this is not a game” aesthetic slightly suspending player disbelief, the excitement and the feeling of involvement may dwindle yet when the “this is very much a game” vibe is gone players may start viewing the puzzles as assignments instead of play. Both aesthetics contribute to the ARG’s power to compete with reality, and to provide novel perspectives players can use in inspecting social issues.

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  4. I think it is an interesting notion to think that the “this is very much a game” aesthetic have some potential. One thing about the “this is not a game” aesthetic of ARGs is that the ARG has to be very elaborately and comprehensively planned out in order to allow the player the experience of “this is not a game”. And for that one requires time (both for setting up the game, and for the player playing the game, as it is difficult for a player to emmerse in an envrionment right from the start), and careful planning, not to mention all the risks that associates with the “this is not a game” aesthetic such as environmental risks and personal health risks of the players (as the creator cannot know everything about the informations of the players). Therefore, for a “this is not a game” aesthetic to be appropriately used in an ARG, it requires the ARG to be very much non-contained–and that is a very strong requirement, and it would get messy easily, (that’s why in writing a short story it is always good to contain the plot and the characters). For an “this is very much a game” aesthetic, however, this would not be the case. Because it does not need to maintain the “not a game” aspect of the ARG, it does not require immediate contact with risky environment, it does not require complex planning, and it could be done within days. Thus the “it is very much a game” would be a very useful tool to create something short, safe (contained in the classroom) and eduactional, which is suitable for learning or introducing the student into the world of ARGs.

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  5. I’ve been thinking a lot about the classroom ARG and its relation to the “This Is Not A Game” aesthetic. And honestly? I think it kind of fits the aesthetic. “This is not a game” to me always feels like more of a presentational style, and that in any ARG there’s always the chance players will figure out they’re playing a game. And yet when that truth is realized, they probably will still play the game. TINAG creates an element of fun that the player can play along with, like even though they know it’s not real they can have fun with something that treats itself seriously. We knew immediately the Terrarium stuff in class was an ARG, and yet we all jumped at the chance to figure out all the clues.

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