We Changed the Game

lctglogoFriday 5th December: screening room, underneath the giant 3D ‘4’ at Channel 4 HQ. A hitherto unseen convergence of education, charity, broadcasting, games industry and student representatives, listening, discussing and brainstorming at length on the subject of ‘Games for Good’ – or more precisely, Alternate Reality Games for noble causes.

The first conference of its kind, dreamed up during a conversation with Adrian Hon of Six to Start and Juliette Culver of Law 37 and the Open University, this was certainly not the last: the happy crowd were discussing the next get-together in between soakings on the mini pub crawl afterwards.

Adrian and myself had, between us, managed to get a good cross section of the cutting edge of ARGs for Good at the moment: for my education section, I was thrilled to be joined by Nic Whitton (Manchester Met., ARGOSI) and Katie Piatt (Brighton Univ., several fabulous induction games), which combined with the recently completed Great History Conundrum, gave a great range of ARG- and pseudo-ARG approaches.

Juliette was up first, to give an overview of Operation: Sleeper Cell (which ended last week having raised over £3000 for Cancer Research UK – more on this later), followed by a good Q&A where we discussed the highs and lows of making the first international ARG for charity. The broadcasters were up next, Alice Taylor (C4 Educational programming) and Philip Trippenbach (BBC Current Affairs interactive)  giving very interesting accounts of their upcoming plans – interesting things in 2009, viewers!

The academics were up next, and it was great to get a chance to hear more about ARGOSI’s Viola Quest and Katie’s Herring Hale, What is GG, and Neverending Uni Quiz projects, as well as to give an overview of the Great History Conundrum and its hot-off-the-press results. There was some surprise at how much was going on in education and off the industry radar, and the Q&A raised some interesting questions about whether ARGs can ever be all-inclusive (probably not) but are still a very useful educational tool (probably so).

A breakout session followed, where we asked groups to come up with a pitch for a new ARG for education which would take advantage of industry, charity, broadcasting or gaming involvement. Some great ideas were bouncing around (not least the one for an online popularity game – not particularly educational, but it could take off in a big way…).

The day finished with details of the GameRaid project (Comic relief -style in-game video spoof event: interesting but slightly above my head) and an insightful theoretical perspective on participatory media by the BBC’s Nicola Smythe. Dan Hon (Six to Start co-founder) then finished up with an irreverent but highly entertaining (and pertinent) attack on the current state of ARGs. 

Fabulous day, with lots of cross-sector thinking and idea storming. Many thanks to Adrian for pulling in such a great bunch and sorting out the fabulous venue, and to Nic and Katie for holding up our end so well. We’re keeping the group going online, and I look forward to the next meet-up with eagerness – but meanwhile, there are some funding ideas to mull over…


4 responses to “We Changed the Game

  1. You know, as a seasoned LARPer I’ve always rather looked down on ARG as low-rent LARPs for norms.

    But interesting that folks are doing some good with them, so I shan’t cock a snoot at them; even if they just leave me cold. I don’t think they appeal to my kind of free-wheeling big picture mind set 🙂

  2. Pingback: We Changed the Game | Online Gaming

  3. Thanks, Alex.

    “… the Q&A raised some interesting questions about whether ARGs can ever be all-inclusive (probably not) but are still a very useful educational tool (probably so).”

    I’m thinking about running an ARG in South Africa for middle school kids, and this point comes up often in my thoughts. The question hat I keep asking is: is any educational intervention all-inclusive? Some kids hate sitting in a classroom (they’re more hands-on, active learners), some hate textbooks (“I’m not much of a reader”), and yet these are two education approaches that we’ve settled on as all-inclusive.

  4. Cheers both. LARP would scare the hell out of most of our students, but I like the ‘watered down’ analogy 😉

    Steve: one of the key design features of my Great History Conundrum was to encompass as broad a range of students as possible to widen engagement across the course. This meant dropping most of the story/narrative parts of an ARG, keeping them to a handful of puzzles, and providing flexibility in assessment so that students could engage with one or more of three distinct activities (puzzle solving, discussion on the forums, and production of a shared reflective WIKI). In this way we managed to keep the traditional academic students fairly happy (they liked the non–cryptic puzzles and the WIKI stage) and also the students who liked short, non-traditional gobbits of information (puzzles and forums). I therefore think that careful use of certain features of ARGs can be useful for widening, not reducing, engagement.

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