Spatial Design and its Importance in ARGs

Carefully constructed places allow for a different kind of storytelling. Spatial storytelling is probably the most intuitive way for humans to learn and take part in a game. This boils down to our very human nature. When placed in a new situation or setting, our brain automatically responds by analyzing what is around us. Because of this, it is something that all people know and do in their everyday lives. People feel more comfortable doing this then trying to answer any kind of riddle. I was impressed by Return of the Obra Din but also felt as though it did not hit on one of the strengths of spatial design and storytelling.

              I believe that one of the most important aspects of spatial design is the collaborative nature that it reinforces. For this I will use an example from when I participated in an escape room game when I was back home. Nothing represents spatial storytelling better than throwing 8-10 people in a room they have never seen before and expect them to find their way out. Because I went to the game with only my immediate family of 4, we had to be paired up with another family. I thought this might be awkward because we could be very different group with different abilities. What I found however, was that we functioned as a cohesive group almost immediately. After about an hour, we escaped and left the event as friends. I do not believe this was because we were socially inclined to become friends (The dad of this group was a factory worker, whereas my dad is a biologist) but we still put aside any sort of differences for the sake of the game. I believe this is because in spatial storytelling, everyone can interpret the setting differently. Because of this, it is important to incorporate everyone’s points of view. I also feel that spatial storytelling is by no means a high stakes game. What I mean by this is when working to solve a riddle or answer a problem, there are clear right and wrong answers whereas with spatial storytelling it is different ways of interpreting the same setting. Because of this character are much less likely to feel intimidated and will offer their opinion and observations more often. Because spatial storytelling is so fundamental to how we behave as humans, it is necessary to include it within ARGs.

Rabbit Holes and Social Media

Debatably the best form of a rabbit hole is the use of social media. This is true for many reasons that I will get into on this blog post. I will then compare how the different forms of social media offer different advantages and disadvantages. First, I will react on the in-class exercise of deploying these rabbit holes on other class members. I thought that this exercise was one of the most important that we have done in the class thus far. It is very important for an ARG to have a good rabbit hole; without the rabbit hole, players would have no way to step into the game world. Because of this, the rabbit hole needs to be seamless and fairly universal. This exercise helped my group decide how our own rabbit hole would be achieved. It also let us see how the strengths and weaknesses of the different forms of social media could be put to good use.

              In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that a rabbit hole must be fairly universal in order to draw in a wide and diverse player group. That is why social media is such a good rabbit hole. If we were to do something within the university for an ARG, the player group would be small (only a possible of around 6,000 undergrads at the university) and not very diverse especially in terms of thinking. Social media on the other hand can pull from millions and millions of possible players. These potential players are all extremely different and represent the general population well. Social Media is also a good rabbit hole because it is not expensive. When trying to reach out to a broad group of people hoping that some will respond, you do not want this to be expensive. For example even something as simple as using a physical object for the rabbit hole that only costs around $1, would result in extreme costs before the game has even started. Social media on the other hand does not cost a single dollar. Social Media is also a good rabbit hole because it can tell a full story. Social media profiles are supposed to give a glimpse into the entire life of the person. Because of this, social media can tell a full story and be riddled with clues.

              Now that I have explained why social media is in general a good rabbit hole, I will break down the individual forms of social media. In my opinion, I believe that twitter is the best form of social media for a rabbit hole. This is for a plethora of reasons: 1) twitter allows for all forms of media including pictures, videos, link, that could lead to the next step, 2) twitter profiles can be built and established a long time before the game in order to establish credibility, 3) people are more likely to interact with a tweet than a link in an email because of less fear of security. I believe that LinkedIn is also a very good form for a rabbit hole this is because LinkedIn is fairly official and people are much less likely to scam you on this platform. On the other side, people are not often looking for play on LinkedIn and might be deterred from entering into the rabbit hole. Thirdly, I believe that Facebook is a fairly good platform based alone on how much you can build up and hide within a page. However, people are generally pretty wary of Facebook scams and that might deter participants as well.

Bad News Reflection

When attending the Bad News Demonstration, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had read the description of the event but did not really know what it meant; that is because it is very hard to categorize what took place in that room. The event link described it as having Wizard of Oz techniques, this means that there is some all-powerful world maker that can alter the game at their own discretion. In this demonstration, one participant from the crowd was selected. The whole concept of the game is that someone has died, the player does not know who, and they must find the next of kin of the deceased and communicate what happened. For this a whole world is created. This is done by live coding of one of the game makers. This world is so complex that the code generates 100 years of history in a matter of seconds. This includes everything from physical appearances to love interests to knowledge of other people in the town. The coder then communicates details about the world such as the deceased, next off kin, and other important details to an actor who acts all of this out to the player so that they can decipher the clues and figure out who the next of kin is so that they can ultimately win the game.

Because I was not picked as the participant, I was able to observe all of this from the position of the game maker. This was very interesting because I knew who the next of kin was from the beginning and the audience along with the coder and actor had to figure out ways to clue the player. By seeing the other side of an alternate reality game, I was able to see all of the improvisation that goes into an ARG. I found that actually in most cases throughout the game, the game makers were working much harder than the player was. This connects back to our readings about the improvisation associated with ARGs and the fact that the game makers job is not complete until the game is completely finished. This could not have been any truer for the Bad News ARG because going into the game, nothing had been set up. The actor had not been informed of the deceased. The coder had not done any of the coding needed yet. The world that this ARG would take place in had not even been created yet. This caused the game makers to scramble in order to stay ahead of the player. This dynamic is very different than any ARG I had seen to this point. In my opinion, I think being the player would have been significantly less interesting because the best part of the game was trying to come up with clues that the player would understand but were not too easy.

It was also very interesting to observe the actor and how he presented the clues that we gave him. This is a classic example of bleeding in. He took the very plain information that we gave him and tied it into elaborate clues and riddles. The actor also seemed to be yelling throughout the entire presentation. I thought all of this was for effect and thought he executed his role perfectly. After the game was over, he came out for a Q&A. In this I found that his personality matched that of the roles he played almost perfectly. It was clear that he took his own personality and reflected it into his acting.

Bleed and the ARG

 When watching Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, I became fascinated with concept of bleeding in and bleeding out. I immediately went and reread the Bowman article “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character” after Tuesday’s discussion. After this I started to look at different examples of bleed in and out in pop culture as well as in ARGs.

              Even though a very elementary example quite literally, I think the show Hannah Montana does a very good job of depicting bleed. As a student who even quoted Hannah Montana in my college essays, I have long been a fan of the show. I was always intrigued with how Hannah Montana/ Miley Cyrus managed her changing role. One of the interesting aspects of the show is that early on, her friends do not even know that she is Hannah Montana. This is done in order to try to allow her to have a normal teenage life without the added attention from the media. I feel like this disguise actually influences Miley in a negative way. In the show, certain aspects of her character Hannah Montana start to bleed out into her everyday life as Miley Cyrus. This can be seen as the show goes on because Miley starts talking like Hannah Montana which is not true to herself. At certain points before her friends find out, she also acts like a prima donna as part of the star of Hannah Montana starts to bleed into her everyday personality. If this were a real life examples, Miley Cyrus would have been much better off if she had just performed herself instead of in costume. This would have prevented the bleed between two characters that was difficult to maintain.

              Bleeding out is much less likely to have permanent effects within the world of ARGs. This is because normally ARGs do not last all that long to have effects on the personality of the player. Bleeding in is very real in terms of ARGs. This is because a lot of times players get to choose  their characters personality and will similarly mirror similar aspects of their own personality. This allows the player to feel more comfortable in their role. Although bleed is not inherently good or bad, I believe that bleed in is very beneficial within the ARG community. This allows games to flow much more naturally because characters are less likely to try personalities extremely different from their own. When participating in ARGs, bleed is good as long as the player can recognize this bleed and correct it if it becomes overpowering.