Immersion and the ARG

In watching the interview about Sleep No More and generally just thinking about the show and immersive theater, an interesting question is posed in relation to ARGs. In Sleep No More all of the audience members, the parallel to the players of an ARG, wear masks. According to the interview, this is central to the immersive nature of the show. It allows the individual to fade into the crowd and behave as they wouldn’t usually, to become part of the show. In an ARG, however, players are not necessarily masked in this way. In a primarily online ARG, a player might be masked by their username, but if the game has some real-world components that mask is taken from them. The question I see is would allowing players to remain metaphorically masked, able to take on new identities, enable them to build the game world up in interesting new ways?

While I know theater and ARGs seek immersion in different ways, the question of masks is still important, I think. Theater seeks to immerse in a way that makes the audience feel like they are living within the show. This, to a degree, is true of an ARG, however in a game you must be able to continue with your everyday life, whereas you are fully able to set that aside for the duration of a performance. I think allowing players to take on game identities, like in a LARP, would assist them with stepping in and out of the game as necessary, and maybe even help with bleed.

Netprov: Defining a Genre

When reading Wittig’s post regarding netprovs, it struck me that this genre, which I had ostensibly never heard of, was, in fact, something with which I was intensely familiar. These kinds of twitter narratives, like the one described in the article about the Bronx Zoo Cobra, are the whole reason I am on twitter in the first place. The situational humor of taking these quasi-real, quasi-fictional characters and orienting them in the real world is, to me, hilarious. One of my favorites is @actual_smaug, a twitter that took off shortly after the release of one of the Hobbit movies, where “players” interacted with someone claiming to be the dragon Smaug from the movie. The content was in no way limited to the movie, however, Smaug was happy to discuss real-world events. Some similar accounts pick characters that stride the boundary between reality and fiction even more, like accounts for the squirrels on a particular college campus or some such thing.

This concept of transplanting a quasi-fictional character into the real world is inherently similar to the process of creating characters in an ARG. When doing so, the character is fictional, as in a netprov, but is designed to appear as real as possible and to be interacted with regarding the world. While ARG characters are primarily concerned with the game world, the world built into and on top of the “real” world, they still must interact with the “real” world to a degree. The familiarity of the medium, and the way it is used, make us inclined to treat with these characters in a way we might not otherwise. Even though we know we aren’t talking to Smaug from the Hobbit, the familiarity of the format gives us an underlying comfortable structure that tells us how to play and encourages us to do so.

Game Design Night Reflection

My “live gameplay experience” was not, per se, gameplay, but rather the Queer Game Design night hosted at the MADD center. We set about in small groups making games with queer mechanics. The game my group made was a collaborative card game. In trying to get it to be collaborative, we ended up thinking about things similar to what we talk about with collaboration in ARGs. We were trying to determine what would inspire or motivate players to cooperate, how to reward them for doing so without really penalizing them for not. We toyed a lot with what players might find to be engaging mechanics, especially in a game that emphasized non-competitive play. Our biggest challenge, however, was one of affect. Since the game mechanic we were designing around was “coming out” we wanted to be extremely careful with the implications of rewarding or penalizing certain behaviors, like competitiveness or helpfulness. We wanted players to have to think about coming out as a communal good that they needed to achieve for everyone as opposed to an individual process that they could win. Our thinking on this problem ended up almost entirely shaping the nature of the game.