Bad News

When I first entered the room for Bad News, I was pretty confused as to how the game would be played. He chose a member of the audience to be the main player of the game where she would have to go town person to town person to deliver the “Bad News” of who had passed away. They ran a simulation program and generated a virtual town with backstories and different characters that the player could ask questions to as the main actor would pretend to be those characters.

What stood out to me was how real the “fake” characters actually were. Each backstory was perfectly woven into the narrative even though it was completely simulated. Another thing that stood out to me was when the game was over and the creator of the game insisted that these virtual people were very real. It had a Westworld vibe in that the characters had back stories and could interact via code. It was interesting to get that perspective. Over the course of the game you do in fact get to understand the characters better and feel like you know them even though they are not real.

I was reminded of the writing in S.E.E.D creating and implementing an Alternate Reality Game when discussing different forms of Alternate Reality games. They define ARG’s as “These media may include (but are not limited to) videos, radio broadcasts, blog posts, social media, and invisible theater performances that unfold in public or unconventional spaces. As players move through the narrative, they encounter an assemblage of short games, puzzles, and playful experiences that use both physical and online spaces as their platforms. Explicit gameplay challenges may require players to crack codes using cryptography, engage in social engineering experiments with non-player characters and actors, and play traditional digital or analog games.”

We used many elements of this while playing the game. For example, there was an invisible theater performance with the unseen actor, and we were all encountering a puzzle on an online platform. I was also reminded of the Yes, and : Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy by Earl Vickers. The entire performance was essentially a “Yes And” where the actor had to improvise given the descriptions of the characters he was given.

Overall, it was a very unique experience. I was skeptical of how it was all going to work at first, but it was very fun to participate and watch.

Obra Dinn & Game Design As Narrative Architecture

For this blog post, I am going to talk about the game Return of the Obra Dinn as well as Henry Jenkins’s Game Design As Narrative Architecture. Honestly, I am not super into video games. I appreciate them, but was never quite good. However, I had a great time playing this game due to its narrative. As discussed in class, the game relies on the premise that you are an insurance agent and that you need to discover how sixty people died on the ship. This game is unique to other games that I have played because it requires a little more thinking. In the game you have a device that can let you go back to when a person on the ship dies and then you are given clues from there. The game is like a murder mystery with many misdirections. It is set in the early 1800’s on a merchant ship called the Obra Dinn which returns to the port years after it was reported to be missing. You as the character are the insurance agent who is in charge of figuring out what happened. When I first started playing the game the clues were pretty helpful in figuring out what was going on, but as I progressed things got more complex and confusing. I am not going to go into everything in the game because I do not want to spoil it, but It was truly engaging and challenging.

In Jenkins’s Game Design as Narrative Architecture, he discusses 5 main topics: spatial stories and environmental storytelling, evocative space, enacted stories, embedded narratives, and emergent narratives. In the section on spatial stories and environmental storytelling, he says “Game designers don’t simply tell stories, they design worlds and sculpt spaces” (Jenkins 4). In Obra Dinn, the game designer does just this. They are sending you to a new world and time period and sculpting a space that makes the gamer feel like a part of that time period. He is able to craft stories with the surrounding environment via clues. He then goes into evocative spaces. He talks about using stories that we are already familiar with to let us explore that space even more. For example a star wars game is only useful because it doesn’t just recap the entire movie, but adds another dimension to the narrative. In Obra Dinn, we can imagine a world on a ship that we have seen in movies and shows and use the narrative to further our understanding of life on a ship. The third concept Jenkins writes about are enacted stories. Jenkins argues that games do not need to me super constructed in its stories, but be multifaceted and allow the player to feel as though they have some sort of choice. In Obra Dinn, I felt as though I was paving my own path at my own pace. It was not a direct narrative. Obra Dinn also has the embedded narratives where there are clues placed throughout the game. Finally, I think the coolest part of a game are emerging narratives. Emerging narratives are interesting because they were not meant to be part of the game. In class we talked about an ARG where people formed different roles than what was expected, but a game that is able to adapt to me is a very sophisticated one in my opinion. In Obra Dinn, I’m not sure if this really occurs but in ARG’s this is very common as we learned.

What’s the best social media platform for creating a rabbit hole?

After our social media rabbit hole exercise, I wanted to figure out which social media platform would yield the highest conversion and how to get the most players for an ARG as possible. I thought this would also be pretty useful in understanding how to grow a user/follower base for other projects.. The social media platforms that we used were: LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Tinder, Youtube, Pinterest, and Twitch, and Snapchat.

When thinking about which platform would be best to use I think that it is first really important to understand who your exact demographic is. 30 year olds are going to have different social media preferences to high school or incoming college students.  For this example, I am going to assume that target market are incoming college students at the University of Chicago. The second important thing in my opinion is understanding what a certain social media platform is used for and how many people in the target demographic use it (Tinder is used for dating, Linkedin for networking, Twitch for gaming). By understanding the focal points of social media platforms we can eliminate ones that do not fit the purpose of the project and do not target the demographics of the incoming freshman. Lastly, it is important to look at the conversion rates for different social media platforms. This means how many people on average will actually click on the rabbit hole and convert to players. I think a good way to extrapolate would be to look at advertisement data that many of these social media platforms have.

Using the above framework we know the target market are incoming college students at University of Chicago. Immediately we can eliminate LinkedIn as many freshman do not have a LinkedIn account. Dating apps also tend to be pretty personal/not used a ton in comparison to other platforms. Pinterest has an older demographic and is predominantly female. Youtube is not really a social media platform but for of a content discovery and pure media platform. This leaves us with Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitch.

From the above charts courtesy of sproutsocial, we can see that Facebook is the most popular social media platform amongst our target demographic. Facebook also has facebook groups, interests, and can therefore be used to curate content even further. Instagram also has a pretty high percent of users but does not beat out Facebook.

The last criteria is to look at the conversion rate. Facebook’s conversion rate is 4.7%, Instagram’s is 3.1%, and Snapchat is .6% (pulled from Forbes: )

Thus, Facebook seems to be the winner. The last component to analyze would be the cost per impression and then see which option is most cost efficient, but I believe that the advertisements across platforms have pretty competitive prices. I also think Twitch is interesting because you are targeting gamers who are probably going to be more likely to convert to an ARG because they like to play games, but again not many students are on Twitch in comparison to Facebook and I thin the goal here is to also convert non-gamers as well.

Let me know what your thoughts are on this/if you think I missed something I probably did!

Bleeding in acting, gaming, and everyday life

Acting involves stepping into a different character other than yourself and role playing. This often causes bleeding. Out of the two types of bleed, the one that seems to be the most dangerous in my opinion was the spillover from character to player. The feedback loop also does not seem to be too ideal. An example of real-life bleed that had a negative effect was Heath Ledger. Heath was playing the Joker in Batman a few months before and it was said that he was terrified of his character. Some people say that this is what had resulted in his death, but his sister came out and said this was not true. Either way the characters that you have to play in games or while acting can require extreme physical and emotional bleed. Michael B Jordan for example had to completely change his physique which require immense amount of attention to his diet and workouts every single day. Christian Bale is another example of a method actor that goes to extreme lengths to play the character required. His transformation from machinist to dark night is unreal:

Pitchers in baseball, like Goose Gossage, personally put on personas during the playing of a baseball game to come off as an intimidating character. This all went away off the field but the persona still had to be maintained.

I was also trying to think of bleed in everyday life. Many of us ourselves are not truly genuinely playing ourselves in day-to-day lives. We may act differently and try to create our own personal image through this persona. Social Media is an example of bleed in our lives too. Instagrams are typically your brand that you are showcasing to your followers. Some people want people to think their life is perfect, others that they are artsy, etc. Social media seems to have created a bleed feedback loop in our everyday lives.

I wonder if it is a negative to let your desired persona leak into your everyday life. I think bleed can be draining too since it not how you are naturally wired as an individual. Maybe social media causes less of a dramatic bleed than method acting or being involved in an intense game situation. In a previous week’s readings there was an example that after game play, players had had negative effects such as losing their jobs or trouble with their spouses. Bleeding in gameplay in my opinion can be quite dangerous and game designers need to be extremely cognisant of this when creating and assigning characters.

This is Not a Game .. or is it?

In McGonigal’s piece “This is Not a Game”, she describes a particular game called the Beast played by a group of online gamers called the Cloudmakers. The Cloudmakers were a group of around 7000. After 9/11 they wanted to help solve the puzzle for who the terrorists were. Cloudmakers thought that their extensive experience in puzzle solving from the Beast would be valuable in a real life tragic event. However, the creators of the Beast quickly put this to a stop a few days later. They believed that this was not a game and should not be treated as such – but why not?

The game makers themselves stated how unbelievable the Cloudmakers were at solving problems. What the game designers thought would take the Cloudmakers months to solve took them a single day. Particularly with the Beast, the game had no game boundaries. The games and clues would be hidden in everyday life on websites, advertisements, faxes, and phone calls. McGonigal says “nothing about this virtual play was simulated” (McGonigal 3). In fact, the game the Beast became such a large part of the Cloudmakers life that once the game ended, the players’ lives were completely altered.
What makes it a game? The fact that there are game designers and clues planted? How is that different from a murder mystery or even a terrorist attack? They each have clues and can be solved. I think that this is one of the most powerful things of ARG’s. If implemented a certain way that can actually solve real world problems or at least bring awareness to the problem.
Another thing that stuck out to me in this reading was the lingering effects of immersion that the game players faced. It almost seemed unethical how invested they were in the game and the effects that the game had on them. A Cloudmaker moderator says “You find yourself at the end of the game, waking up as if from a long sleep. Your marriage or relationship may be in tatters. Your job may be on the brink of the void, or gone completely” (McGonigal 5). The game has taken so much of a player’s life that it has literally changed them even though it is just a game. In this case, it almost seemed for the worse. I think this is a pretty interesting topic of debate because this is the case for video games as well as ARGs. The gaming industry is going to get bigger and bigger as time progresses. Games like Fortnite, FIFA, etc consume most of a lot of students/kids lives. Time spent on gaming means less time spent on personal improvement, relationships, athletics, and maybe hurts education. Should time spent gaming be regulated? Although games can be a positive to society there are also many negative externalities that should be accounted for.