Category Archives: ARG


It’s that time of the semester during which I functionally disappear from all areas of life outside my office or the conferences I’m obligated to attend, so I apologize for becoming a functional internet absentee. It’s also that time in the semester when my students put the finishing touches on their ARIS ARG (alternate reality game) projects.

Last semester, despite a good deal of effort, neither of my class development teams managed to put together anything functional. One team came very, very close. This semester, however, appears to be a very different story. If you happen to be in Richmond and own an iPhone, I’d love to have you come to the UR campus and try their games out.

Team Zed and Team Omega have both produced workable, functioning games on the ARIS platform (free download at the app store), and both are designed to encourage students to learn more about their campus. For instance, they take students to museums and galleries that most students wouldn’t go into while drawing on actual places, facts, and history from UR and the surrounding city (Omega learned that there is a real mummy on our campus in North Court, and Zed is capitalizing on the legend of the Richmond vampire connected to the Church Hill train tunnel collapse from 1921).

One of the things we study in class is the purpose of ARGs – to incorporate game components and games into the real world in order to fulfill a purpose. McGonigal’s Reality is Broken offers suggestions like Chore Wars, designed to give points for doing household chores, as a good example of this. My students’ task is to build GPS-based ARGs on the UR campus that can be used to guide new or prospective students around campus or to encourage students to go new places or learn new things about UR.

If you happen to come to campus and want to play, search for Omega or Zed using the ARIS app, and then explore! (Also, be sure to let me know how it goes!)

Dead Cats, Dead People

Today’s post is about two things. The first is Peter Molyneaux’s Curiosity, the second – entirely unrelated it would seem – is Tombstone Hold’Em. Both are cooperative. One is played on a cell phone. The other is played in a graveyard. Both do something interesting with gaming – namely, asking people to work together on something that is not at all an obvious game.

Curiosity (besides proverbially killing the neighborhood feline) is a game about tapping squares. Each square one taps disappears (shatters) and can earn you virtual gold. Each removal of a square reveals the next layer of a cube. The collective – for everyone playing the game is playing together in a giant collective – has thus far removed a green layer with bubbles and is in the process of removing a maroonish-orange layer to reveal some sort of picture (I’m voting for either cherries or tomatoes) underneath. Now what’s interesting about Curiosity is that despite the collective working together, only one person can win. What they win is an interesting question, but Molyneaux has said that this is both a game and a social experiment, so for me the best part is going to be finding out what he was trying to determine at the end of it all.

Tombstone Hold’Em, on the other hand, is a team game, but one that’s played among a collective that is cross-generational. In short, you need dead people to play along with you. This game has been on my mind recently because the Unorthodox Arts Foundation is hosing a game in Boston at Copps’ Hill Burying Ground (so if you happen to live or be in the area on November 17th, head up there… it’s free!). I find it fascinating that it takes not only the facilitators and players, but the dead to successfully play the game. Dead people become your literal ace in the hole.

So why do I think it’s worth posting about these two games together? It’s the collective element. People are playing without actively cooperating (Curiosity) and even without being alive (Tombstone), but they are nevertheless a part of the game’s collective. That, I think, is what strikes me about both games: they’re encouraging cooperative, collective play, but they do so in a way that creates an unwitting community simply by being played.

Our World is a Game-World

So much to my delight, yesterday SMCRVA posted an article about the “gamification” of social media. This idea is not new to me, but I’m pleased to see people picking up on it.

A few weeks back, I posted about Tag, You’re It, RVA! as a form of happiness engineering. It, too, is gamification in its own way – it’s an augmented reality game, yes, but it’s also the gamification of acts of kindness.

What SMCRVA is talking about, however, is both more and less obvious. It involves assigning “achievements” to real-world activities, as is done by social media games like Foursquare or SCVNGR, where the user receives points or badges for “checking-in” at certain places a certain number of times. This, too, is a type of ARG. But the question asked by SMCRVA is “Should you play?”

There are any number of reasons why playing is a bad idea – thieves have been known to use people’s “check-ins” to determine whether they are home (so that the thieves can rob them), to say nothing of the fact that not everyone on your Twitter feed needs or wants to know where you’ve eaten dinner. But it can also have positive feedback: people who check in at restaurants, for instance, tend to get coupons for use on their meal; people can also use check-ins as a way to review local businesses, which can lead to increased business and more wide-spread word-of-mouth.

But what I find more interesting is the idea of positive feedback in terms of achievement points. There is dual logic behind the achievement mechanic. First, achievements are addictive (believe me). You want to get them. You want to get more of them than the person sitting next to you. You want to get the harder ones (the one for beating Halo on Legendary, and yes, I have it), the skill-based ones, the ones that other people haven’t managed to get. And you feel good about getting them. Positive feedback. Second, though, they make games addictive. You keep playing because you want those achievements. You don’t sell your game back to GameStop or Play-N-Trade because you might get that one last achievement.

But achievements are – like Tag, You’re It! – a form of happiness engineering. We feel good when we have clear goals and accomplish them, and achievements let us do that. Maybe we need more achievements in life.  And maybe we don’t – after all, what have we really done to earn that achievement for going to the cupcake store, other than promote obesity and tooth decay?