This chapter discusses Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as simulated experiences, and presents the conceptual framework that informed the design and development of an institutional capstone course aimed at fostering global thinking and real-world problem-solving skills. The course engages community college sophomores in a capstone experience in which learners design and develop an alternate reality game (ARG) based on the theme of global sustainability and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
In two different locations across the city from one another, Joshua and Samantha open a website that they receive by e-mail from an anonymous source. The text of the site appears to be for a small company called Patton Industries. Each player opens an instant messenger client, finding the other’s icon glowing quietly. “How do we proceed?” Joshua types, his question flickering on-screen. “Revelation Strategy Two,” Samantha replies. “Sometimes, the link only shows itself when highlighted.” Running the cursor across the screen and holding the left mouse button, a blue highlight shadows the text until a blurry hyperlink appears. They click a barely visible word that glows in the corner of the website and a video begins to play that shows a dark forest, filled with pine trees. After a few seconds, it ends suddenly with a series of letters and numbers. They replay the video a few times, typing their thoughts back and forth to one another across the digital ether until they slow the last few frames down to half speed. A pale white, recognizable face reveals itself for a flash, but the eyes are deathly black. “We had better report this to the others,” Samantha says. “Something is wrong with the game. . .” What is the game? It’s an emerging genre of digital game known as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG)1. The skills involved in playing such games differ somewhat from those associated with more traditional forms of electronic gaming.
In the information age, the need to develop in learners the higher order thinking skills that translate into real-world problem-solving ability is more urgent than ever before (Dillon, 2006; Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991; The Safflund Institute, 2007). As early as 1991, the Secretary of Labor’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills found that basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics were the “irreducible minimum for anyone who wants to get even a low-skill job” but those skills were not a guarantee to either a career or access to higher education. Employer surveys continue to emphasize “thinking skills... [that] permit workers to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate complexity” are requisite to success in the global workplace (p. 14).
Moreover, the accountability movement in American education has driven educational institutions at all levels to examine what learning should be occurring at their institutions, devise means to measure that learning, and seek to continually improve the processes that have an impact on this learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2002; 2007). However, as a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored report suggests, educational systems continually have to do more with less; although employers are demanding these additional skills, learning institutions have to instill those skills without adding additional credit hours or courses to their programs (The Safflund Institute, 2007). The means to achieving this end then is through changing instructional strategies in existing courses, and/or providing that vital added value through communications technologies, simulations, and other forms of digital media.