The Pedagogical Application of Alternate Reality Games: Using Game-Based Learning to Revisit History

The Pedagogical Application of Alternate Reality Games: Using Game-Based Learning to Revisit History

Ronan Lynch, Bride Mallon, Cornelia Connolly
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/ijgbl.2015040102
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The advent of the Internet has been instrumental in producing new Game Based Learning (GBL) tools where education and games converge. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are one such GBL tool. Interactive narrative games that use the Internet as a central communications platform, ARGs challenge players to collaboratively collate a fragmented story. When used for educational purposes, Serious ARGs provide a novel form of GBL that encourages critical thinking, develops problem-solving skills and fosters collaborative learning. However, the pedagogical application of ARGs is still relatively new. This article presents a background to ARGs and Serious ARGs. It also outlines the lessons drawn from Plunkett's Pages, a Serious ARG that focuses on actual historical events. A selection of evaluation criteria, extracted from the reflections of those who played Plunkett's Pages are presented. These criteria are intended to enable novice ARG designers or educators to formatively evaluate an emerging ARG design.
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1. Introduction

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are cross media narrative-based games that use the Internet as a central communications platform. The interactions of participants drive the progression and direction of the story and play experience. Boundaries between reality and fiction are disguised, as game designers ensure that the characters and scenarios react dynamically to player input. Working collaboratively, players collate a fragmented narrative by deciphering codes and clues.

ARGs challenge players to work collaboratively to untangle an underlying narrative that is woven into the fabric of the real world (Bonsignore et al. 2013, Martin et al. 2006). Game creators, known as puppetmasters (PMs), typically use the Internet to initially disperse game clues and monitor the progression of their game, while simultaneously interacting with players, through game characters. Meanwhile, players, operating as digital detectives, uncover an underlying narrative; pooling their resources to solve problems, they piece together the narrative, and discuss the game, typically on Unforum (2014b) the primary message board for the ARG community. Games are played out on, and bound by the Internet, and yet, elements seep out into the real world, often becoming part of players’ everyday lives. Online, collaborative communities, namely Unfiction (2014a) and the Alternate Reality Gaming Network (ARGN) (2014) are the driving forces behind all ARGs.

The emergence of ARGs at the turn of the 21st century has provided the public with a stimulating cross media storytelling game. The first of these Internet-based ARGs, The Beast, emerged in the spring of 2001. Developed by 42 Entertainment alongside Microsoft, The Beast was created as a marketing vehicle for the Hollywood movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Blending aspects from the movie into a twelve-week, murder-mystery, interactive narrative game, the success of the ARG pioneered the formation of a new game genre.

The features of this game genre are included in Table 1.

Table 1.
ARG game features
ARG Game Features
This Is Not A Game – TINAG
ARGs blur the lines of reality and fiction, asking players to suspend their disbelief and deem what they are experiencing as real, and asking PMs to create ‘real life’ (and not game) experiences. This is known as the TINAG mantra.
Rabbit Holes/Trailheads
PMs initially entice players to play an ARG through a series of rabbit holes or trailheads (posters, phone calls, messages, emails, websites, adverts, or packages). Rabbit holes should intrigue and capture the players’ attention.
Player/Character Interaction
ARG players are active participants in the game and interact with characters through multiple media elements. For example print, telephones, email, websites, chat, radio, television, social media etc. Real world encounters also allow players to interact with characters.
Narrative with White Space
White space may be defined as gaps in the underlying narrative, which are developed and influenced by the players through game play.
Agency is the level of control and influence that a player feels they have when playing an ARG.
Collaboration and Community
ARGs are created for the hive mind, meaning that one person alone cannot complete a game. Collaborative play, and not competitive play, is promoted within the community.

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