Obra Dinn’s Emphasis on Aesthetics

For the assignment to play one of two games, I chose to play “Return of the Obra Dinn.” Obviously, playing this game is different from playing an ARG since this is a virtual game and not a game played out in reality. The game did not give you any real instructions on how to play – it was more of a play and figure out as you go structured game. My initial reactions were that the game’s aesthetics were great and really attributed to its eery and haunted sci-fi theme. From the graphics moving into motion as your player walked through the ship to the narrative and backstory/flashback of each character in the game, all of these elements came together to assist with creating the “backwards” timeline of the game. It successfully uses its aesthetics to emphasize its narrative and enhance the player experience. During the whole time I was playing the game, I was observing the various elements incorporated to deliver an impactful and fun game to the player and how I could use these factors into our own ARG.

In terms of the sci-fi/fantasy aspect of the game with the use of its clock that transports the player to the scene of the event, we have incorporated this element through the use of our network of trees. But besides that, I realized that this game served a greater purpose in aiding the writing process of our Game Design Document. As someone mentioned today in class during our class reflections, the readings lacked in understanding how aesthetics are used in the creation of ARGs. After playing a virtual game where all you’re looking at is a digitized game screen, aesthetics is a big part of why people would want to play a specific game. In addition to having a good narrative, whether a game has outstanding graphics will set it apart from its competitors. One of the challenges that we’ve faced so far as a group is making our game aesthetic clear. We first started off with a sci-fi-esque theme with a portal to another world, but then changed it after a brainstorming session to have our aesthetic be magical realism to set us apart from the typical sci-fi themes that are prevalent in many games.

Unlike a virtual game, we aren’t designing an entire world from scratch like how Obra Dinn created its detailed ship. With less interactive artwork to be created, how could we make our game more mystical? An element I borrowed from the game was the sketches that the artist made of each character that depicted life on the ship. I had my character carry around a sketchpad and sketch various locations to emphasize that these locations are the same yet different due to the world’s condition (i.e., suffering in famine). With the creation of an omnipotent and cryptic tree that could transport items between worlds, we were able to emphasize the magical aspect of the game. Designing the aesthetics of an ARG has been proven to be difficult because there are so many challenges that come along the way. How much magical realism is too much for an alternate reality game? One thing that was important was to make it mystical but not too fantasy like so that it is still clear that this is a game being played in reality, as some things will make the game seem too much like a fantasy game and not an ARG. What are some of the challenges you all have faced along the way when it comes to designing the aesthetics of your game?

Rabbits Holes in Social Media

During Thursday’s class on social media, each group presented on different forms of social media that could be used for potential rabbit holes. Each platform had its own pros and cons to them, some easier to navigate than others. As our group decided on what platform to present on, we had to weigh the options of what elements would make up a “successful” rabbit hole. By going forth with Pinterest, we were able to create a very subtle rabbit hole, spelling out the url for argcourse.com. Some of the challenges we faced along the way was formatting the pinned posts to look like how we wanted it to, as we noticed that the display of the pinterest board varied based on one’s screen size. When choosing a social media platform to create a rabbit hole, I would not suggest Pinterest, as there wasn’t much room for growth or multiple directions it could lead to. It limited what we could do for a rabbit hole.

After watching the other groups present on their rabbit hole via different platforms, such as Tinder, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., it made me wonder what else could these platforms be used for. It’s easy to mimic someone’s identity or create a fake person’s profile on these platforms, easily creating a fake yet plausible character for an ARG and a successful rabbit hole. A rabbit hole is a good starting point to serve as a hint for a game player, but what else can it be used for? During the time that our group constructed our own rabbit hole to be playtested by the class for our ARG, I wondered what else we could use it for.

Our rabbit hole consisted of manipulating Facebook to create an account named “Aspen Groves” along with a “Lost and Found Under UChicago Trees.” Based on the success of one of the group’s fake Facebook account and the various interactions you can create with potential players, it seemed like a good way to introduce the game. In one post in the lost and found page, we had someone post a found piece of paper that revealed our website url. The website url showed a cryptic tree along with a seed on the side, which when clicked, prompted the player to a 2048 game which must be solved to reveal the designated location, the Regentree. Additionally, there were coordinates on the website that led to the tree. I left a map of UC Hicago and the X’s represented areas depleted of resources by the tree base and one of our classmates discovered it. At this point, the rabbit hole was concluded and people have been introduced to the game.

However, that is not the end of the rabbit hole. The format of our game uses the trees and by having this Facebook group, our starting point for the rabbit hole, we can reveal to the players various clues along the way through either losing or finding items under trees and reporting it on the Facebook page. Just like how other games use communication platforms like Discord, the Facebook page will serve as a way for players to share what they have found throughout the game. Although the rabbit hole was the starting point, its use is still alive and does not have to end once played out.

Queer Game Night

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend Queer Game Night, led by Patrick. During this time, we were each thrown a crumpled up piece of paper, which, when unfolded, addressed a detailed prompt. These prompts were special, however. Tied to the theme of Queer Game Night, each prompt had an underlying action. My group had “Coming Out”, and this was the motion that had to be activated during the game. With four paragraphs explaining the ins and outs of coming out, our goal was to design a game that would cause a player to play out this “coming out” action.

Without any other direction, we had to be creative and brainstorm how to effectively cause this game mechanic to work. Our group decided on creating an action based card game. As we only had 2 hours to design this game, the possible situations were limited. We kept it to an ideal number of 3 for the cards. The premise of the game consisted of players receiving 5 cards in their hand, and each player starts off with 12 points, which they may distribute however they like to the following attributes: courage, charisma, and connectedness. The cards in their hands, and the cards which they’d draw from the deck, are “boost” cards which have either +1 or +2 of one of the attributes. There were 3 “event” cards which was the “draw” deck in a typical card game. These events were tier leveled and consisted of scenarios in which the player’s character has to “come out.” The first tier was coming out to the doctor when he prompts the player with the question, “Are you sexually active?” The second event was the nosy aunt at Thanksgiving pestering the player, “When are you going to bring home a GF/BF (player should choose the typical heterosexual complementing partner to complete the aunt’s dialogue)?” The third event, which requires the highest amount of attributes, was asking your crush to prom, a very big event for teenagers, and a very big way of coming out to a large social network. With all of these elements, we were able to figure out a way to get everyone involved by creating a collaborative environment. The goal of the game for the players is to obtain 5 body parts, which they can get from completing events or assisting other people with their events by donating their boost cards. The first one to build their body essentially wins first place, but must keep playing because it is possible to lose body parts. If more than 1/3 of the body is taken away, then everyone loses. This aspect of the game encourages teamwork and for the players to keep playing until everyone is able to accomplish coming out during the game. Like I said, with the limited amount of time we had, the number of cards we had for each card deck was limited. Some examples of the boost cards were: courage – crushing a bug, charisma – got a new shirt, connectedness – spent 1-on-1 time with my mom.

During the brainstorming process of creating a game, I had to immerse myself as a potential player and think what elements of a game I would appreciate. It kind of felt like I took on the role of a player and was working backwards from an unknown finished game to reach the beginning phases of creating a game in order to think of each part that would be necessary to actually construct my ideal game. Looking back on other card games I’ve applied that involve a drawing mechanism, such as Exploding Kittens or Unstable Unicorns, it was easy to imagine needing boost cards to trigger an event to occur. When we talked about game design fundamentals during week 4, specifically Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop, and social experiments during week 6, specifically Jane McGonigal’s This is Not a Game, I realized that these are aspects that were part of our subconscious thoughts when designing the game.

Game Design Workshop mentions playtesters, but due to the structure of the game night, we took on all encompassing roles of game designer and testers, as with each step of the way, we had to envision how the game would play out and whether it would make sense. We also had to think about any repercussions along the way from each mechanic of the game. We continuously kept the player experience in mind and wanted to create a game that would have an emphasis on the queer community. As game designers, we want to create a safe environment for our players so that they can enjoy the game to their fullest desires. With such a sensitive topic like coming out, especially when it’s known to be a special, built up moment for many people, we had to think of a game where it wouldn’t create any homophobic/unsafe situations for the players. Although each player is participating in “coming out,” the event cards we created are all real life situations that are common for many young adults struggling with the right words. When McGonigal talks about immersive and pervasive play, we really had to think about how the game would align with their lives pre- and post-game. With the immersive play of the game, players who don’t identify as part of the queer community get a chance to see how difficult it is to come out by having to gather the necessary amount of points for each attribute. For the players who are part of the queer community, they get to either relive the moments or practice for the future. The best part of the game is that all of the players’ sexual orientation is hidden so no one is openly exposed if they don’t want to be. The pervasive aspect comes from what the players choose to do with their experience from playing the game. Players can bring the courage they gathered from the game and apply it to their real lives.

Influencing a Player’s Path

Darren Brown revealed to us how they were able to influence people to be more complicit and go along with their plan. By inching their foot in with small unnoticeable tasks like sticking vegetarian toothpicks into the sausage rolls, they were able to begin their plan for influencing the way the subject behaved. These small favors that grew larger and larger controlled the ultimate outcome of the situation, with either the subject choosing to push or not push, which ended up being only 1 person choosing not to push.

When taking into account how this whole social experiment was designed, it’s similar to how a game designer would think about creating an ARG. They have to think about how to get the player to start the game with rabbit holes and think about all of the different possibilities of routes that a player can take. With the clues they stumble upon, how will they problem solve and win the game? The game designer also has to think about the next steps a player will take in order to figure out how to design the rest of the game. Based on what we saw in Brown’s social experiment, you can influence and guide the player but you have to be prepared if the player does not choose the story path you wanted them to. However, the challenge with this is that the game designer cannot have an invasive presence inside the game, otherwise the idea of an alternate reality is compromised.

Too much influence from the game designer and it becomes noticeable to the players. This is a problem that must be avoided at all costs because it will cause the players to be aware and make them realize that they’re playing a game, rather than having the mindset that “this is not a game.” How much should the game designer be allowed to intervene in the game so that the player enjoys their playing time? Should a game be designed so that it is rigid and formal with structured paths to a predetermined ending or open-ended with no real set ending so that the player can uncover new elements within their alternate reality? If it’s the latter, what is considered the ending for the player?

Roger Stone, Get Me the Truth

Post-truth, politics, and the public. Lee Mcintyre introduces us to the idea of post-truth and where we stand in society in alignment with it. According to her, in the post-truth era, “truth has been eclipsed— that it is irrelevant.” There is an endless conversation on politics and how Trump made fake news a reality, how his words somehow became factual to others even though there was contradicting evidence to prove otherwise. So why exactly was “post-truth” Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016 and what makes it so special for us to understand? “Post-truth amounts to a form of ideological supremacy, whereby its practitioners are trying to compel someone to believe in something whether there is good evidence for it or not.” Roger Stone perfectly explains how Trump is able to play into this role of embodying someone who lives in a post-truth world. By using alternative facts to be what people know as truth, their reality becomes distorted. Who are we supposed to believe? Is everything we know just a giant lie? What determines reality and what determines falsity? How do we survive in this post-truth world when we cannot distinguish between facts and lies?

“Post-truth is not about reality; it is about the way that humans react to reality.” Post-truth doesn’t just relate to the world of politics. It aligns perfectly into our world of alternate reality games. Roger Stone is like a game master, with Trump acting as his puppet, and America as his platform. He’s transformed America into an alternate reality with Trump’s election campaign and presidency, and the players, the American citizens, are playing right into it all. They’ve fully immersed themselves in a post-truth, alternate version of America, and it’s up to the people of the United States to determine how they’ll continue with their lives.

When a player is participating in an ARG, they’ve integrated the game into their real life. From rabbit holes to puzzles that reveal clues, they’re letting in bits and pieces of the game into reality, until the line between real life and game becomes blurred. Post-truth is an element of ARG in respect to its components – believing in something whether there is good evidence for it or not. As a game player, you have to convince yourself that this is not a game, and that it is reality, and it is up to you to decide how to react to it. If we’re living in a post-truth era since the presidential election, are we just convincing ourselves that we’re only temporarily in an alternate reality, or should we give up hope and forget fighting post-truth and accept the world for what it is? At the end of the day, we’re all just pawns in the game of life.

Reflection on Week 1: ARGs – the Future of Gaming?

For those of you who are neither Heidi nor Patrick, this post is my reflection on Week 1 since I was absent for both days of the first week of class. This is more for make-up work.

When I first think about alternate reality games (ARG), I automatically associate it with virtual reality (VR) or live action role-playing (LARPing). In all three different games, the player is taking on a different character to experience a different realm. Whether it’s being the complete opposite of who they are in real life in terms of physical features or having gamer confidence because of the situation they find themselves in, players are attracted to the chance to be someone who they are not. Kim et. al suggests that ARGs are an example of collective problem solving and a new genre of storytelling. Thanks to new media, easy access to the Web, and owning a smartphone, our networks have spread across the globe. There are people in America communicating and playing with people in Australia and China. There is no limit to how far the influence of games can spread. But what keeps the wheel turning to continue the game instead of having it become game over?

In “Critical Play” and “Contribution to a situationist Definition of Play”, it they talk about different notions of play. “Critical Play” touches upon the term subversion. Subversion is a “powerful means for marginalized groups to have a voice.” When a person becomes a player in a game, they are a completely different person – they are their character. As I mentioned before, they experience the gamer confidence in being someone who they are not. There is no limit to who they can become, and the game becomes a powerful platform for them.

In “Contribution to a situationist Definition of Play”, it talks about the notion of play. “Due to its marginal existence in relation to the oppressive reality of work, play is often regarded as fictitious.” We grew up hearing the phrase, “Let’s play [insert context, i.e. “after school today.”].” Whoever we were “playing” with, we were creating an environment to let our creativity out and experience a world that was different from reality. Something we were also told when we were younger was to not talk to strangers online. Fast forward to present day, internet friends have become a thing. How is that we have become so willing to befriend strangers and play with them? Is it the fact that in an ARG, we’re different people and the same rules don’t apply? What makes complete strangers inclined to collaborate with one another and, essentially, tell a story?

Presently, millenials and Gen Z are the ones who are controlling which direction the world will go next. We have become so dependent upon the digital age that everything is done online. From filling out applications, submitting homework, and communicating with one another, it is all done electronically. ARGs have adapted to this trend and created their stories online to send players on an adventure. Relying on the fact that we are so trusting of people with like interests, ARGs have accomplished something that VR and LARP has not done, which is blurring the lines of reality. One knows they are playing a game when playing VR because of the headsets that you use. LARPing is very isolated within the system of the game so that you’re either in role and participating in the game or you’re simply not and you’re not in the game. With ARGs, they’re combining the elements of the game and the real world so that the game is played as they live their lives. Perhaps it is due to the fact that playing an ARG no longer seems fictitious or the fact that the player becomes the character in real life and has a voice not just in a fictitious world that people readily participate in ARGs. Maybe it is the yearning to make their daily lives a bit more exciting by incorporating a game into their routine. Whatever the reason may be, ARGs could be the future for the ultimate gamer to satisfy all the reasons for playing a game in the first place.

Now that you’ve heard my analysis on the role of ARGs in a player’s life and how it will shape gaming in the future, why would you participate in an ARG?