By Jenny Wakefield
Innovative and creative alternate reality game lovers recently got immersed in ARGFest-o-Con’s 12th annual conference in beautiful Portland, Oregon July 31 – August 2nd. This was a great conference! Excellent speakers shared freely about their work in immersive ARGs and transmedia games, training tips for game design, using helpful tools and platforms, their game experiences, and since this year marked the 10-year anniversary of the “I Love Bees” ARG, many of the conference sessions related to this particular immersive alternate reality game. The memory lane talks included both one panel with players of the game and one with the designers of the game. A few of the conference gems are shared below.
Always active game designer and producer Ken Eklund presented on how to make authentic fiction but also had a presentation about his latest immersive game FutureCoast which he had created with Sara Thatcher as producer. In FutureCoast players all over the states looked for chronofacts, which were falling to earth as messages from a 2020-2065 future. Players finding these artifacts submitted them so the encrypted message they held could be deciphered and posted on the game website. Meanwhile, players could also record their own messages sharing their thoughts related to a possibly climate changed future.
Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Michael Andersen interviewed Jenni Powell of Lizzie Bennet Diaries who has also worked on many other top rated Web story projects such as Lonelygirl15. She let her game play passion lead her towards also becoming a producer.
On the game discussion forums, Jenni connected with many like-minded people. One of them was Hank Green. He wanted to make a modernized Web version of the Diary of Anne Frank, i.e. to make the modern day equivalent story. Knowing that the Anne Frank organization required any such adaptions of the original narrative to be pre-approved, Jenni talked him out of it. Instead Hank and his wife Katherine’s favorite Jane Austin story Pride and Prejudice became the modernized story. This story lies in the public domain.
In the conversation with Michael, Jenny shared, among other things, that the first round of episodes, the first eight months in fact, of this very successful vlog series Lizzie Bennet Diaries, were filmed in a corner of her bedroom as they were on a very tight budget! The last episode of the diaries has published, however, interested parties may find the episodes on YouTube.
The Maze of Games
Often presentations include the presenter as the sage on the stage with some opportunity at the end for the audience to ask questions. Mike Selinker, from Lone Shark Games, decided to transform this often criticized format (at larger conferences) into a more active one. He asked the audience to interact with his slide presentation by using a puzzle from his newly published book The Maze of Games. The audience acted as puzzle-solvers and shared numbers which led him to certain slides in his presentation. The presentation thus became totally non-linear and totally different! The puzzle book is a product of his very successful Kickstarter and the book is hot off the press. It has, like transmedia should, a central story and a unique un-structure allowing the reader/puzzle-solver to find clues and his/her way through the book by solving one puzzle after another. The idea is to “solve-your-own-adventure.”
The I Love Bees Anniversary Panels, player and designer panels were led by Steve Peters. In 2004 he received a honey jar in the mail, which contained the initial clue leading down the rabbit hole. This was the URL leading to the ilovebees.com website and where the game picked up. The panels included both one for players and one for designers. In the player panel Lenore Henry, Geoff May, Preston Thorne, and Ariock® ‘s descriptions of their involvement with the game were mesmerizing.
The designer panel featured ARGFest-o-Con’s keynote speaker Jim Stewartson (now at Google), Elan Lee (now at Microsoft), Kristen Rutherford (writer, producer, & actress), and Sean Stewart (now at Xbox studios). Kristen was the actress who was hired to be the voice of the artificial intelligence and who would talk to players as voicemail and sometimes surprise them by speaking directly with them over the phone asking them to do things like get their guitar and play a tune. (Note: In the I Love Bees ARG the players were looking for clues that would often be the coordinates and time codes for when and where a phone would ring.) The panels were truly entertaining and remarkable.
The ARG Museum
In 2009, Geoff May started collecting ARG artifacts. An ARG Museum became an annual part of the ARGFest-o-Con. Many of the artifacts are from his collection. Other artifacts are owned by other Fest-o-Con participants, however, shared during the fest. Exciting ARG artifacts include such things as promo materials for The Dark Knight “Harvey Dent” ARG.
Many other interesting presentations were held during the three days of the conference. For instance, Patrick Möller from Berlin, Germany presented on transmedia experiences in Europe and spoke about immersive books. Last year he was also a presenter in the very successful iVersity Storytelling MOOC The Future of Storytelling, as was British author Robert Pratten. At ARGFest Robert presented on his storytelling platform Conducttr and shared tips and tricks on how to use this plus general techniques for creating engaging games. Another exciting presentation was by Mike Vogel who presented on his interactive storytelling app Phrenic.
In the annual tradition, at the end of the conference participants got to play FestQuest – an immersive game set up on site to introduce the players to the city. Teams of about ten players joined suit competing to see which team would solve the larger puzzle first. Clues led players from location to location in their search of new clues. One set of clues involved having the players use cookie letters to form words. Once the task was accomplished the players could eat the delicious clues. How’s that for an immersive game! Team Blue was the winner.
It is easy to immediately feel a part of this community of engaged and immersed gamers. As a first-timer I immediately felt that I was among friends. This was a great group of people with similar interests, open to sharing, and collaborating.
ARGFest-o-Con needs sponsors for next year. Attendance was down to about 70 attendees this year and not enough sponsors had been found. If you have ideas on how to collaborate with or find sponsors for ARGFest-o-Con please share them with the planning committee.
Learn more: http://2014.argfestocon.com
Please see attached the call for papers for a special issue of the Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments for AERA ARIEL presenters. This is going out to you, because you are a member of our SIG.
This special issue is focused on the theme, "The Power of Education Research for Innovation in Practice and Policy” (AERA 2014 theme). The Applied Research in Immersive Environments for Learning SIG mission is to steward a community of educators, scholars, and practitioners dedicated toward research in and on digitally-enhanced immersive learning environments. Using a variety of research methods, we support a diverse approach to understanding the optimal use of immersive worlds and environments for educational purposes. We're interested in developing a comprehensive research agenda, intended to encompass the breadth and scope of learning potentialities, affordances, challenges, and shortcomings of immersive learning environments.
Please submit any manuscripts related to this theme and/or our SIG mission via email to me by September 15, 2015 (1 month away!),
Thank you, and I look forward to receiving your submissions,
Dennis Beck, Ph.D.
Guest Editor, IJVPLE special issue
Assistant Professor, Educational Technology, University of Arkansas