Reflection on ARG gameplay experience

Just a few hours ago, I participated in an ARG designed by DePaul University students today in the MADD center, and it was a really fun experience.

The gameplay started with a mock wine tasting where the creators secretly took our cups after the tasting. Then we are gathered together and were told that they have tested our DNA and have determined that we were part of the 500, an ancient race of people that interacted with earth. We were then given a very old journal and were told that we need to find stuff to open up a portal to the other dimension. This took the form of a scavenger hunt as we searched through the areas (outside of the building) around the library. Each location of the hunt was given as a hint in the journal. In the end, we found all the pieces of the puzzles wich were pairs of glass test slides with two colors on each slide, and a final box with a code. Then we were led back inside and were told that we need to fix an engine that opens the portal. We used the sequence of color on the test slides and the color mentioned in the journal to plug the slides in the machine and also connect the wires (also with colors on them). Then we are shown a short video about the mission to go to the other side and revealed us the answer to the code. We opened the box to find a glove (with electric wires on it, amongst other objects), and using the glove and our bodies as conductors, we connected a circuit and opened the protal, which marked the end of the test trial for the ARG.

One thing I really noticed in my experience in the whole game was that I was unusually hyped and energetic, especially during the scavernger hunt. This feeling is kind of the feeling of the participant/player beeding out as the character of the adventurer affects the emotional state of the player. I was really interesting especially under the circumstance that first I knew that this is formost not a real adventure, and secondly that this is not even a real game, as it is a playtesting for the game. Also, it is weird that this bleeding affected me very unconsciously, as I was really unaware of this heightened state of mind until after the game ended. After that, I could recall how I was walking faster than usual, how my voice was louder, and that I was so eager to find anything. It is one thing to talk about bleeding in and out, but to actually experiencing it in person, is really something else. Of course, technically speaking, this should not really count as bleeding out as first the established character is maliable and thus not set in place, and also that the affect of the character on the person is limited, and a bit ambiguous. But still, it was a very interesting experience.

In our reading of Guy Debord, he mentioned that: “The element of competition must disappear in favor of a more authentically collective concept of play”, and I could really understand that in the context of the ARG I played today. When we were doing the scavenger hunt, we werea automatically assigned as a group, which implies the elimination of competition, and as a result the group of players were very much collective in collaboration as a team. We never disperesed anywhere away from the group, and we never even argued about what the puzzles meant. There was an instance when I thought one of the clues lead to a statue around the corner, and was wrong in that assumption. But is was very interesting that all the people in the group trusted my judgement (as they all followed me to the statue), and even when finding out that the goal was not there, there was no disagreement or anything. It feels like everyone was centering on the goal, and this made the gameplay much more affective, and much more whollistic, as it encorporated every single person as part of the experience. One more interesting thing is that when we were opening up the boxes that contained the hidden clues in the scavenger hunt, we took turns opening them, someone even said something like “there is no rush, everyone gets their turn, nobody is left out.” Which really exemplifies how the elimination of competition grants this more collective experience. When we finished the game, and were discussing the pros and cons of the game, the creators mentioned that they were at first undecided about whether to put the players together as a group (eliminating competition), or just have them do the scavenger hunt individually (allowing competition). And in a sense they did the right choice, and the experience proved the effectiveness and arguably the neccessity of the disappearance of competition for more collective experience.

When Spolin talked about imporvisation, he mentioned seven aspects of spontaneity. And one of the first aspect is the feeling of personal freedom, and how we should not seek approval/dissaproval from the other (in the context of an ARG, the game designers), as this action inhibits the freedom of the player and detracts from the overall gameplay experience. In this game, whereas most of the time we felt free to do stuff, at some instances this feeling of the need for approval or dissaproval kicks in. At the very start of the game, when we are asked to find the clues (the scavenger hunt), we are not really sure the limit of the search. More directly, we are not sure whether we should search inside the building or outside the building. And as a result, we took a bit of time looking everywhere inside the building and even thought we found a clue. But we were confused to whether the object we found was a clue, and had to ask the game designers to tell us the truth. While the game designers tried their best to be ambiguous about the truth, she eventually told us to go outside to seek the clues. And I feel that this is an example of having to look to the game designers to approve or dissaprove. Of course, I believe that situations like this happens a lot in ARGs, and that is why there are shills in the ARG, to approve or dissaprove when the players are straying too far from the game. But of course, as a game designer, one wants to decrease the possibility of such an engagement of an outside force. Although this experience correlates to what Spolin spoke about the inhibition of personal freedom, it is also neccessary for the continuation of the game. One aspect of an ARG is that it requires rules, and the rules are what keeps the storyline and gameplay together. One way I see of solving this contradiction is to allow the players to discover the rules, where in this case, it is less a thing about approving or dissaprroving, but more about the player’s own decision whether to keep with the rules or to ignore them.

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