ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES: THEORY AND PRODUCTION
BPRO/MAAD/ARTV/ENGL/CMST/TAPS (Winter 2019)
Time: Tuesday and Thursday 11am to 12:20pm
Location: Logan 501
Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (firstname.lastname@example.org), Office Hours: Tuesday 1:30-3:30pm or by appointment (Walker 504)
Instructor: Heidi Coleman (email@example.com), Office Hours: Tuesday 12:30-3 or by appointment (Logan Cafe)
Games are one of the most prominent and influential media of our time. This experimental course explores the emerging genre of “alternate reality” or “transmedia” gaming. Throughout the quarter, we will approach new media theory through the history, aesthetics, and design of transmedia games. These games build on the narrative strategies of novels, the performative role-playing of theater, the branching techniques of electronic literature, the procedural qualities of video games, and the team dynamics of sports. Beyond the subject matter, students will design modules of an Alternate Reality Game in small groups. Students need not have a background in media or technology, but a wide-ranging imagination, interest in new media culture, or arts practice will make for a more exciting quarter.
This course will rely on individual preparation as well as an energetically collaborative mindset. While we understand not everyone will share the same fascination with “rabbit holes,” the ability to generate ideas through group work is highly valued. An approach that begins “yes and” is far more generative than “that won’t work because.” We work to discover and experiment, learning as much from what doesn’t work as what does.
Slack: We will use Slack for ongoing conversations with both shared channels for informal conversations about ARGs and classroom business, as well as private channels for communication with the instructors. For all course related questions, you should contact instructors via Slack INSTEAD of email.
Course Website: We will use the course WordPress website to access the syllabus (with links) and to post blog entries. The blog will be publicly available.
Canvas: We will only use Canvas to access PDFs of shared course readings. You will have to log into Canvas, using your CNetID.
- Attendance, Participation, and In-Class Exercises: 25%
- One short presentations on Alternate Reality Game topics (in groups): 5%
- Gameplay Participation with Written Response: 10%
- Blog Posts (Individual 4 and short weekly responses): 20%
- Final Group Project: Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Class Presentation/Performance (with Rabbit Hole), Group Project, and Individual Reflection (2-3 pages): 40%
We only meet for a few weeks, so arrive on time for each seminar or workshop session.
Do the reading. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with these texts, films, games, and other media. Readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.
Assignments and papers are due when they appear on the syllabus. Extensions are discouraged but, if necessary or in case of emergencies, should be requested well in advance of the deadline. Late assignments will immediately entail a grade reduction, unless we have arranged an alternative due date in advance.
Print out readings or bring your annotated pages to class.
- Exercises are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the events, you must pre-approve this absence and play the game prior to our class discussion.
Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours (seriously).
We are committed to meeting the needs of all students. To arrange class-related accommodations, please see Student Disability Services prior to scheduling a meeting with us: http://disabilities.uchicago.edu/accommodations
- We will be heavily reliant on Slack for course communication. Please join Slack at this link.
COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)
Note: All readings that do not include links appear as PDFs on our course Canvas site.
If you would like a textual jump-start, please join us in reading the articles listed below, which will give you a sampling of topics:
- “Serious Fun” in The Economist
- “Collaborating with the Audience: Alternate Reality Games” (Sean Stewart)
- “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character”(Sarah Lynne Bowman)
- “Terror” and “Embarrassment” (Anne Bogart)
Week 1: Introduction to Critical Transmedia Play
Tuesday, January 8
- Course Introduction and Personal “pitch” Exercise
- Discussion of pre-quarter viewing and reading
Thursday, January 10
- Lecture: “What is an ARG?” (Patrick)
- In-class survey for final project group formation
- “Introduction to Critical Play” (Mary Flanagan, Critical Play, p. 1-16)
- “Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play” (Guy Debord)
- “Storytelling in New Media: The case of alternate reality gaming, 2001-2009” (Jeffrey Kim, et. al.)
- Reality is Broken (Jane McGonigal, p. 119-45, 296-344)
Week 2: Alternate Reality Games: Overview and Case Studies
Tuesday, January 15
- Lecture: “ARG Case Studies: The Chicago School” (Patrick)
- Pervasive Games (Markus Montola, p. 7-23)
- “Worlding through Play Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source” (Patrick Jagoda, Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russell, p. 478-504)
- “S.E.E.D.: Creating and Implementing an Alternate Reality” (Philip Ehrenberg, Patrick Jagoda, and Melissa Gilliam)
Thursday, January 17
- Exercise: ARG Group Presentation (1 or 2)
1. ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study (in Small Group): Choose a Case Study from Pervasive Games, such as Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, I Love Bees, Year Zero, etc.
2. “Serious” ARG Case Study (in Small Group): Choose one of the following “serious” ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST, ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of Babel, Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG), Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.
Week 3: Improvisation
Tuesday, January 22
- Improvisation for the Theater Excerpt (Viola Spolin, p.3-19, p. 34-45; p. 252-253)
- Improvisation in Drama, Theatre and Performance: History, Practice, Theory (Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow p. 38-61)
- “‘Yes, and’: Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy (Earl Vickers, p. 1-19)
- “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity” (R. Keith Sawyer, p. 149-161)
Thursday, January 24
- An Actor Prepares (Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski, p. 1-100)
- Exercise: In-class improv
Week 4: Game design fundamentals and serious games
Tuesday, January 29
- Game Design Workshop (Tracy Fullerton, Chapter 1, “The Role of the Game Designer,” p. 2-21)
- “Lessons down a Rabbit Hole: Alternate Reality Gaming in the Classroom” (Shira Chess and Paul Booth, p. 1-16)
- “A Psychologically ‘Embedded’ Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes” (Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan)
- Persuasive Games (Ian Bogost, “Procedural Rhetoric,” p. 1-64)
Thursday, January 31
- Exercise: Take-home group game design with in-class presentation and crit
Week 5: Post-truth and Affective Politics
Tuesday, February 5
- Watch Get Me Roger Stone (documentary) for class
- “What Is Post-Truth?” (p. 1-16) and “Fighting Post-Truth (p. 151-172) in Post-Truth (Lee McIntyre)
- “Navigating Movements: A conversation with Brian Massumi” in Hope: new philosophies for change (Mary Zournazi and Brian Massumi, p. 210-242)
Thursday, February 7
- Exercise: Newscaster improvisation
FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE
Week 6: Social Experiments
Tuesday, February 12
- Watch Derren Brown: The Push (Netflix special)
- “Obscura: Stanley Milgram and Obedience” from Opening Skinner’s Box (Lauren Slater, p. 32-63)
- “This is Not a Game” (Jane McGonigal, p. 1-10)
Thursday, February 14
- Exercise: Disruptive public action performance
Week 7: Performing the Self
Tuesday, February 19
- Watch at least one film: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond or Gaga: Five Foot Two (documentary)
- Watch: Two clips of The Colbert Report
- “Technique” (Robert P. Crease and John Lutterbie)
- Revisit: “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character” (Sarah Lynn Bowman)
Thursday, February 21
- Exercise: Future self improvisation
Week 8: Social Media Performance
Tuesday, February 26
- “Pasts and Futures of Netprov” (Rob Wittig)
- “Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alternate Reality Games” (Christy Dena)
Thursday, February 28
- Exercise: Social media platform rabbit hole creation on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitter, Discord, or Twitch
Week 9: Spatial Storytelling
Tuesday, March 5
- Play at least one video game: Tacoma (Fullbright) or Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope)
- “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (Henry Jenkins, 15 pages)
- Sleep No More interview with Felix Barrett
- “Theory of the Dérive” (Guy Debord)
- The Practice of Everyday Life (Michel de Certeau, “General Introduction” on p. xi-xxiv and “Walking in the City” on p. 91-110)
Thursday, March 7
- Exercise: Pitch preparation for final presentations
Week 10: Collaboration
Tuesday, March 12
- Final Project Presentation
Blog Posts and Responses
Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (located on this WordPress site) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 4 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s digital narratives or theoretical reading, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 4 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.
Gameplay Participation with Written Response
We would like you to participate in at least one live-action roleplaying (LARP) game or tabletop game during the quarter. The following two games are conveniently located and scheduled on-campus events.
1. February 2, “Ask Again Later” (Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry)
2. February 21, “Bad News” (Location TBD)
Alternately, you can propose a Chicago-area tabletop game or LARP of your choosing (with instructor approval)
Please submit a response within a week of gameplay that references (and applies!) at least two theorists from readings. We are particularly interested in the integration of players as improvisors, and encourage you to use specific example from the game you experienced.
ARG Group Presentation
On Thursday, January 17, you will select a transmedia game from an approved list and give a 7-10-minute presentation of it in groups of five. These presentations include:
You can choose an ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study. Choose from case studies in the text Pervasive Games, which include Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, etc.
You can also select a “Serious” Transmedia Game Case Study. Choose one of the following “serious,” educational, or politically oriented ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST, ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of Babel, Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG), Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.
As you think about your selected work, be attentive to the media-specific techniques through which the game tells a story or establishes a playful situation. While a brief summary of the game will be necessary for your classmates, you should focus on the analysis. Your presentation style may be as poetic or innovative as you’d like, provided that it tells us something meaningful about the production, aesthetics, gameplay, and form of your selected games.
Final Group Project: Alternate Reality Game Module
Final Group Project Abstract (Approximately 1 page or 300-400 words)
As a group, write a brief abstract for your final project that is due approximately a month before the project deadline on February 7. In this abstract, introduce your module and comment upon the type of research and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? Finally, what are the narrative, formal, social, and artistic innovations of the project? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline.
Final Project In-class Pitch and Critique (10 minutes)
During the final week of the class, on March 12, you will present your ARG module concept in front of a critique jury. After this hands-on session, you will turn in a Game Design Document for your proposed module.
Final Game Design Document (variable length)
Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill. While novels and poems are often written by individual authors, most digital and transmedia games depend on partnerships among writers, artists, programmers, and designers. For your final project, you will not write a traditional research paper, even as there will be an analytical dimension to your work. Instead, you will create a rabbit hole (prior to class) and Game Design Document (as the final submission). While we are not specifying a page count, the effort and production should be substantial and appropriate to your group size.
Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)
Along with your actual group project, we’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 pages) individual reflection about your project that does three things. First, offer an artist’s statement on the formal significance of your project. This is your chance to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your ARG and to give a reader a frame for encountering your text. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? What did you contribute to the group? What was the balance of work like in your group? Third, and crucially, how would you revise and expand your project if you had more time?