Milgram vs McGonigal: The question of group immersion

The readings this week reminded me of several elements of previous weeks such that addressing the readings for this week without referencing readings from previous weeks seems impossible. So, I think I’ll start with the references and then see if I can isolate the ideas from this week’s readings.

Some examples of connections I saw:
Towards the end of the Slater reading, the author focuses on how Milgram’s experiment had the effect of teaching many of its subjects that they should reevaluate their relationship with authority and build a stronger moral background (62). The Chess and Booth reading reminds us that this teaching moment would not have been possible without the debriefing at the end of the immersive experiment and in a sense, the continuation of the learning by the subjects was done by them further deconstructing their ideas regarding authority and then putting their experimental ideas into practice (much like ARG students made their own ARGs after debriefing on the ARG they played in class).

Then there’s the McGonigal article, where the lines “To make people believe is to make them act” (6) and the warning against “the ability of pervasive technology to inspire moblike behavior” (8) screamed of Massumi’s and McIntyre’s ideas (respectively) from last week’s post-truth readings.

But at the root of it all, I realize there is the question of the best kind of immersive situations, as Slater talks of Milgram’s live-action immersive experiment while McGonigal claims that “the Web was actually the largest and arguably most affecting component of the immersive experience” of the Beast.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m wont to agree with McGonigal when it comes to ARG’s and collective play. When isolated in a situation where other people are telling you what reality is and how to navigate it (such as the reality created by the actor pretending to be electrocuted and the actor pretending to be an experimenter in the Milgram experiment), it’s easy to fall into the trap. However, I believe that the more people are subjected to that kind of situation together, the less likely they would be to fall prey to such a situation. They could work together to oppose or see through the alternate reality, in a sense.

However, technology has a different aura to it. Perhaps it’s the ease with which we can make a fake website (or instagram post or other platform post) fit into the expectations we have for a “nonfiction website,” as McGonigal calls it. Perhaps it has something to do with how we socialize that makes seeing a ruse together in live-action play easier than when face-to-face interaction is taken away. I’m still trying to figure out why technological interaction feels like it can create more of a sense of immersion for large groups of people than a live-action event would, so let me know what you think. At least I feel a little better that McGonigal seems to agree too.

LARP: Identity and Believability

I was reading Katrina’s post about her own experience with the LARP when it got me thinking of how the medium of a game effects player immersion into their character and, as a result, the believability (and possibly even the fun) of a game.

Before I get too theoretical, I’ll describe my experience playing mayoral candidate Richard Johnson. As I mentioned in class, part of my struggle with the character was that he was the exact opposite of me – an extroverted white male who values tradition and stoicism. While I do tend to try challenging myself to embody characters that are my polar opposite, I very much did not expect the level of strain that this character would give me.

Thinking back, when I have played a character that was my opposite in the past, it was in a small DnD game with friends. My extroverted, 6′ 11″ idiot half-orc war veteran was not as hard to act out because I don’t feel like I’m expending a lot of social energy when I’m with my close friends. However, in the face of interacting with a lot of new people while also embodying a character that was in a social butterfly, I was torn between my actual self’s desire to take a break from the game versus my character’s desire to constantly be in action and doing something for the citizens of Oshtigwanegon. Before I was in the consistent narrative involving the current Mayor (as played by an ST), I was constantly floating around group to group, feeling the strong pull between identities that prevented my immersion in the game. Furthermore, like Katrina I felt a lack of legitimacy to the actions that I was a part of when there was not an ST around. It was a kind of psychological thing where I had at some point made up in my mind that if there wasn’t the guidance of the storytellers around then what we were doing didn’t “matter” and, if my reading of Katarina’s post is correct, the structure of the game caused that to be felt by many others as well.

So, this experience got me thinking as to how I understand “believability” and “identification” in online versus live-action games.

I think we all know how “hiding behind a screen” can allow a kind of freedom to become another character (or as in the case of online bullying, to be the meanest version of ourselves). The medium allows for an often visual separation of self and character – I am me sitting in front of the computer while Gordash Karth, legendary half-orc warrior, is the character onscreen. This separation also allows for the freedom to not only react as oneself, but also as the character and thus we do not have to stifle or feel guilty over our own natural responses to things – be it laughter or shock, etc. There is also safety in rules and constraints – there are only so many actions that you may perform in a video game and you often know them all beforehand while in the LARP, you may do anything and even risk the possibility of being “wrong” (such as someone who told me they were approached by the ST’s and asked to change their course of action as they “couldn’t just kill everybody”) or simply being out of character.

I think that is why my team’s group project is largely technology based and less live-action based. While certain bleeds into the real world can create a sense of reality, the extent of technology’s ability to allow deep character immersion seems stronger than immersion in live-action roleplay while also having the added benefits that technology allows for you to feel safe as yourself behind the screen. By creating this stronger, constant sense of immersion, technology also has the ability to slowly trick the player into thinking that the ARG is more than just a game.

Truth v.s. The ARG

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved acting but hated lying. Lying created a visceral response in me, a sense of disgust and hesitation that got me sweating and overly aware of my body. Not saying that I couldn’t hide it as easily as I could hide the “lies” involved in acting. But acting felt freeing and fun, there felt as if there was no web I was weaving that would catch up to me and trap me in the end. Acting was a web that I did not weave that we all knew about.

But what about acting in an ARG – i.e. in a setting where a “this is not a game” aesthetic is held true? This is acting where the web is not revealed to all participants, where you could get caught at any moment and, like a lie (or rather, I suppose it’s all “lies” isn’t it), the actor would have to make up an excuse to continue the façade. Even worse, in a post-truth era, lies and alternate reality seems to hold an especially weighty presence over truth when run under a “this is not a game” aesthetic.

I have to admit, when I was reading the McIntyre pieces I had a moral dilemma at the lies we create in an alternate reality game that has a “this is not a game” aesthetic. Even if it’s for a good cause, rather than creating another reality – another lie that precedes truth – shouldn’t we be championing truth and fighting for it like McIntyre encourages?

And then there’s Massumi who says that we have to learn to create our own affective realities and connections in order to fight back against harmful post-truth lies, thus validating (in my eyes) ARG’s with goals such as ours that deal with climate change or other big problems.

Excuse me for being a little all-over-the-place, but I honestly am having trouble. The ARG is a situation where lying and acting become one. Like the proverbial devil and angel on my shoulders, there’s McIntyre who is saying that a lie is a lie and thus is capable of causing damage to both the receiver and the deceiver. But is it possible that Massumi is right and McIntyre simply has not considered the power of the ARG – this web of what aims to be productive lies – to do good? Is it possible that these alternate realities are powerful tools at creating affective connections to counter the harmful (but affective) lies spouted by people like Trump?

In the face of people like Gingrich and their constant denial of facts, I do feel a sense of pessimism that makes me think Massumi is right – or at least playing the alternate reality creation game like the Right has is worth a shot. But hey, what do you guys think? Are all alternate realities ultimately harmful to the value of truth in our society, or can alternate realities be the white knight that affectively steers us toward truth?

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!).

Time, Space, and Improv

When I was reading Frost and Yarrow’s Improvisation in Drama, Theatre and Performance: History, Practice, Theory, I was particularly drawn in by the claim that to Neva Boyd, “games… condense time and space to promote more rapid and freer learning” (Frost and Yarrow, 50). While it seems obvious why the condensing of time would result in increased pressure to learn faster, I was curious as to how condensing time and space is done by games (particularly non-electronic games) and how that condensing allowed for a greater range of learning.

The condensing of time and space is easy to imagine in video games – like how Grand Theft Auto IV is based on New York City, but everything’s closer together or how The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has a three day cycle that does not actually span 72-hours – but imagining a decrease of time or space was difficult for me at first. However, as I write this I think I’m understanding it better. What pops into my mind is those old games of “House” that I would play with friends in elementary school that, in retrospect, were definitely improv games. We each had our characters in the family. Our house with its different rooms were designated by the lines of the Four-Square painted on the playground gravel and any other structures (the grocery store, work, school [woah meta]) were mimed a few steps outside of the Four-Square. Designations were key to condensed space. As for time, much like in Majora’s Mask, our days lasted minutes.

But did that allow us “freer learning”? Well the game certainly would have been boring if there were never any conflicts in our little made-up family. After a normal “day” or two in our game world, suddenly the dog will go missing or a murder would ensue and the game was on. Perhaps, the idea of “freer learning” has more to do with Sawyer’s emphases on the creative process and problem finding (152). In our little improv games, the fun was certainly first in finding one or more interesting-enough problems and then in playing at how to solve the problem. I suppose this could be called learning how to problem solve on subjects that we were interested in.

But how else can time and space be messed with to improve games? Is condensing time and/or space the only way to improve games or can increasing time or space lead to any positive outcomes? Let me know what you guys think!