Archive for February, 2010

Talking story with Jan Libby

February 24, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of content management and delivery tools for indie ARG producers. In the comments, Jan Libby (@labfly) noted that “the first element you need to organize and lay out is ‘your story’ and then later how it connects to the world. After all, this is a storytelling genre.” Knowing that Jan is a prolific and talented indie ARG designer, I asked her if she would be interested in doing a short interview about how she plans and evolves her games — and about the important role of story in ARGs in general. We exchanged a few emails, and Jan sent me these responses — along with some great behind-the-scenes images from her upcoming indie storyworld, 36nine

I wanted to dive right into some nuts-and-bolts writer stuff, so here goes. Suppose you’re setting out to make an indie ARG. How do you begin? Do you start with particular design goals (e.g. modes of participation you’d like to elicit, networks you’d like to engage with, etc), or do you look for a story first?

Whether i’m working w/a client or doing an indie, i always begin with story. Of course, with a client i will have many things to consider (brand’s voice, brand’s audience, brand’s platforms, etc.) while creating a story that fits for the gig, but story is still most important. The way the story unfolds to & interacts with the online and offline world happens organically as i write the story (but i keep that list of mechanics separate).

Screenwriters and novelists typically articulate their themes by moving a protagonist through conflict, crisis, climax, and resolution. ARGs and other distributed story/play activities arguably function in a very different way — not least because of their fundamentally participatory nature, which has the effect of fragmenting the role of the protagonist across the player community. What’s your thinking on how ARGs can engage with themes and create meaning?

My ARG stories are very much like screenplays.. except instead of the conflict, crisis, climax and resolution only happening to the character world, it also happens to my players/audience. So, as i write the storyline/storylines for the characters, i’m not only working out how the events will change the characters, but also considering where the players/audience fit into this world and how they will/may touch it/affect it/change it.

Boundaries seem to blur rather quickly in the ARG space. I wonder: do you consider yourself a game designer or a storyteller — or neither?

I really consider myself a storyteller that loves ARGs… and i still like “puppetmaster”.

I’m curious about how you structure your projects. Do you work with a storyboard from the very beginning — i.e., do you use it to discover the arc of your story — or is it something you only bring in once you know where things are going?

Usually a story has been in mind for quite some time before I begin to write it, storyboard it, etc. At some point i buy a notebook, foam core and index cards. The notebook comes first. i write and write and write and soon the notebook leads to index cards and foam core boards. The first set of boards i create break down the Acts of the ARG (this will include diff paths the players/audience may create). The next set of boards will break down the characters. Near these boards i place boards for “assets” and begin those lists. Later in the process i will connect story and characters to assets via string. i’m sure that sounds archiac but i work best when i can touch it and live with it around me like that. i can look at and rework these boards for a long time. i have boards up right now that i’ve been working on for over 8 months. i’m slowly building a world and the boards are evolving as i write scripts, build sets, props, shoot, etc. soon i will begin the ARG boards. My ARG boards will take me from day 1 to end game/goodbyes and beat out what happens each day within the storyworld (including mechanics, assets, shoot sched, etc).

In your comments on my earlier post, you wrote: “my storyboard is separated from my assets charts.” Why do you think it’s important to keep things separate this way?

I prefer ARGs with a story. Some ARGs just deliver a string of events. For me, by starting with a “storyboard” that is dedicated to story only, i can be sure i will not make this mistake.

ARGs are inherently collaborative; creators often work in teams, and games almost always involve a large amount of back-and-forth between the players and the designers. How do you accommodate for this dynamism in your story planning?

You make sure you communicate well with everyone on the team. This means you must have a great way to share information and to keep everyone on the same page. On a recent project i simply made a doc out of my ARG boards. Each day everyone could look at that and see what was happening that day and where we were headed. It’s also really important to have a great producer staying on top of everyone with a hot sheet. Everyone should know as you head into producing the ARG that some things will change due to players/audience interaction/participation. So, you must make certain that you have the time in your schedule to accommodate those changes and forks in the road. i don’t think its a good idea to shoot a ton of stuff pre-launch. i do shoot some, but most is scheduled to happen post launch so that is really is happening during the “story time”. (its like live theatre that can react/change/or not to the players/audience) And again, y ou make sure you communicate the changes well with everyone.

Where are things going for ARGs? And for you?

i really don’t know where ARGs are going. i think if ARGs are to survive they need to grow and change. First, we need to tell better stories. i would love to see more artists and filmmaker types dive into the genre to help push the envelope. We need to examine how ARGs play out. There are many problems with how and where ARGs are played out now. Many people have told me they’d love to play an ARG but just don’t know “what to do” or “where to go”. i’ve been playing around with different “live help” ideas. On Levi’s we had “GameTeam” who were around the boards to help out newcomers. i know it was a useful tool but its only the beginning. Also, traditional forums are overwhelming to many newbies. The forum set up hasn’t changed much since.. um forever. we should redesign “the forum” or the space where the players organize and meet. Beyond all that, i do think that “interactive storyworlds” have a big future. i’m certain that someday, in the not so distant future, some cousin of ARGs and MMORGs will deliver episodic adventures to players/audience. i like this idea that on a given night a storyworld comes alive and you are invited to step into it and for a couple hours and then check back next week for the next episode.

Thanks, Jan!

Jan Libby created the popular indie Alternate Reality Games – Sammeeeees & Wrath of Johnson (Sam II). Her year following Sammeeeees was spent writing and designing for LG15 Studios (on the Lonelygirl15 Series season 1 & 2). She then partnered on Book 3 of the horror/sci-fi Eldritch Errors with Brian Clark & GMD Studios. Jan now works primarily as an ARG/ARE and Community consultant to Media Companies and Agencies. After recently wrapping on Levi’s GO IV Game/Experience, Jan has spent the last couple months building up her next indie ARG storyworld, 36nine.


ARG readings and reflections: an annotated bibliography

February 22, 2010

ARGs in institutions: museums, libraries, schools, and beyond

February 17, 2010

This resource contains examples of alternate reality games (ARGs) created for museums, libraries, schools, and government agencies. Also included are links to related resources, designers, observers, and policy-makers.

Know of something that should be listed here? Please get in touch with me via the comments and I will update the resource.



  • Ghosts of a Chance (Smithsonian, 2008-2010) “We live in a world in which information and entertainment are customizable and immediately available. The Internet has become a larger part of everyday life, and so too have networked games, as people seek community, activity, a sense of achievement, and the chance to be part of something bigger . . . Museums can reach out to their audiences in more ways, using blogs, podcasts, video, and social media, but can they meaningfully engage visitors using games? In the fall of 2008, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosted an Alternate Reality Game titled “Ghosts of a Chance.” We did this with three goals in mind: to broaden our audience, to do a bit of self-promotion, and, most importantly, to encourage discovery around our collections in a new, very interactive way. This paper will discuss the challenges that the museum faced, evaluate the successes and failures of each part of the game, and make recommendations for other museums interested in trying something similar.” (Archimuse)

  • More on Ghosts of a Chance: Georgina Goodlander’s paper, Nina Simon’s blog writeup, Anika Gupta’s piece on and goSmithsonian, Washington Post coverage, and NPR’s coverage.
  • PHEON (Multiple institutions, 2010) “For the past couple of months CityMystery has been building a new game, called PHEON. (A pheon is an ancient Greek arrowhead that has come to symbolize nimbleness of wit.) The purpose of our game is to celebrate (and reinforce) the American impulse to innovate. An economist friend of mine recently said that we have to “invent” our way out of our current mess. With PHEON I am promoting the idea that Americans understand innovation as a reoccurring utility of our democracy, one that matches our ability to adapt and succeed. PHEON’s subtext has to do with how ideas are passed along: how one person articulates a wish that another fulfills.” (“Sneak Preview of a New Museum Game“)
  • More on PHEON: see Pass on the PHEON!.
  • Many museums are also developing location-specific games and storytelling activities (like this) that don’t fit comfortably into the definition of an ARG. For some starting points for looking into these kinds of projects, see my locative media and ambient storytelling resources, and visit Nancy Proctor’s site, Museum Mobile.

Articles and discussions

  • Reshaping the art museum June 2009 article from ArtNews: “Confronted with urgent demographic realities, art-museum directors are drawing on game theory, interactive technology, and a host of other new strategies to help people feel welcome, engaged, and emotionally fulfilled.”
  • Smithsonian 2.0 “The two-day Smithsonian 2.0 gathering explores how to make SI collections, educational resources, and staff more accessible, engaging, and useful to younger generations (teenage through college students) who will largely experience them digitally. Over 30 creative people from the web and new media world will meet with 30 Smithsonian staff members to generate a vision of what a digital Smithsonian might be like in the years ahead.”

Libraries and Library Systems


  • Find Chesia (Carroll County MD Public Library, 2009) “Carroll County Public Library simply defined their ARG as a game played online and in the real world, where players solve puzzles, collect clues and objects, and ultimately find out about the mysterious Chesia. The library’s definition focused on the interactive story element and the promotion of technology literacy. Lynn Wheeler, Director of Carroll County Public Library, expressed pride in the project and the volunteers and staff who ‘have worked tirelessly to create delightful opportunities for teens to learn about and in turn use Web 2.0 technologies to create fun learning activities.’” (School Library Journal)
  • Blood on the Stacks (Trinity University, 2006-2007) “Blood on the Stacks began in the spring of 2006, with a charge from Library Director Diane Graves to invent an orientation to follow in the footsteps of the hugely successful Harry Potter-themed orientations created by science librarian Barbara MacAlpine. Librarians Jeremy Donald, Clint Chamberlain and Jason Hardin created a mixed-media, digital/analog experience that treated the library as both a cyberspace and a bricks-and-mortar campus hotspot. Communication professor Aaron Delwiche supplied the idea of making the library orientation an ‘alternate reality game,’ where a fictional online narrative combines with real-world people, places, and events to create a game that blurs the boundary between the real and the imagine d, the online environment and physical reality.” (

Universities, Colleges and K-12


  • ARGOSI (Manchester Metropolitan University/University of Bolton, 2008-2009) “Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI) was a JISC-funded project that ran from April 2008 to March 2009. It designed and piloted an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) to support the student induction process. This small-scale pilot project was . . . aimed to provide an engaging and purposeful alternative to traditional methods of introducing students to university life.”
  • Skeleton Chase (Indiana University, 2008) “In late May [of 2008], Indiana University announced that it received a $185,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore how interactive digital games can be designed to improve players’ health. . . The [alternate reality game produced with this grant] was a collaboration between professors Anne Massey (Kelley School of Business), Jeanne Johnston (Kinesiology Department), and Lee Sheldon (Telecommunications Department).” (ARGNet)

Articles and Discussions


  • Federal multi-agency Alternative Reality Game “The general idea of a multi-agency ARG would be to use game play as a way of engaging citizens in an exploration of democratic ideals. It would also be a way to discover new connections between Federal agencies, and new ways of connecting citizens to their government.” (Smithsonian 2.0)

Designers, observers, and policy-makers

  • ARGLE Angela Colvert’s research into the potential of alternate reality gaming in education.
  • Center for the Future of Museums “Musings on the future of museums and society from Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, an initiative of the american association of museums”
  • Georgina Goodlander Manager of the Luce Foundation Center (visible storage) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  • John Maccabbee Game designer/producer/writer; involved in Ghosts of a Chance and PHEON.
  • MOERG “Alex Moseley is an Educational Designer at the University of Leicester. He is a learning and teaching practitioner, and conducts research into skills and subject teaching and support using paradigms from online games and social networks.”
  • Museum Mobile Nancy Proctor’s MuseumMobile “is a forum for conversations about mobile interpretation – media & technology – for museums and cultural sites.”
  • Nicola Whitton “I feel that the combination of gaming characteristics and lo-fi environment in ARGs are ideally suited to learning.”
  • Nina Simon “[works] with museums to design exhibitions, programs, and online experiences that engage visitors as co-creators and community members, not just consumers.” Her design consultancy, Museum 2.0 is “focused on creating participatory, dynamic, audience-centered museum spaces.”
  • NITLE “The National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) is a community-based, non-profit initiative that helps liberal arts colleges and universities explore and implement digital technologies.”
  • Playtime Anti-Boredom Society Creators of SF0 and many other exciting projects; involved in production of Ghosts of a Chance.

See also: ARGs in Education & Training, IGDA ARG SIG Whitepaper 2006, IGDA ARG SIG wiki: Educators and ARGs, Google keyword search [1] [2] [3]

Testing “The Tea Fairy” SMS Photo Game

February 17, 2010
A MEML mini-game featuring Veronica Paredes and Kristy Kang.

Hand from Above

February 15, 2010

Chris O’Shea:

Hand From Above encourages us to question our normal routine when we often find ourselves rushing from one destination to another. Inspired by Land of the Giants and Goliath, we are reminded of mythical stories by mischievously unleashing a giant hand from the BBC Big Screen. Passers by will be playfully transformed. What if humans weren’t on top of the food chain?

Unsuspecting pedestrians will be tickled, stretched, flicked or removed entirely in real-time by a giant deity.

Hand from Above is a joint co-commission between FACT: Foundation for Art & Creative Technology and Liverpool City Council for BBC Big Screen Liverpool and the Live Sites Network. It premiered during the inaugural Abandon Normal Devices Festival. (Chris O’Shea: Hand from Above)

Via Urban Prankster

Building a vast world with an indie board game: an interview with James Taylor

February 11, 2010

James Taylor describes his board game, The Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands, as “a strange little logic puzzle with an archaic feel.” It’s a highly engaging game, with a simple set of core mechanics that give rise to some very complex and nuanced strategic gameplay. But the game is just as interesting in terms of the way it incorporates narrative, both inside the game — as an emergent property of the game’s rules and the fictional frame — and outside the game — as a variety of transmedia artifacts. In this brief interview, I ask Jim a few questions about how his game engages play ers in consuming and producing story both within and beyond the boundaries of the magic circle.

Hey, how’s it going?

Heya Jeff. It’s going well, I s’pose.

Cool. So I wanted to talk to you the role of narrative in and around your board game, The Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands. One thing that really stood out to me when I played the is the way the game provokes storytelling among the players. I know you’ve playtested this thing a lot — what kinds of storytelling behaviors have you noticed during your playtest sessions?

Yeah – I did pay attention to the emergent storytelling in the gameplay. Different pieces will wind up together on islands, and players will sometimes come up with little micro-narratives for these scenarios. For instance, if the two gentlemen characters wind up together, players tend to come up with some biting (British) trash talk between them. In one of the versions of the game, I had a lot of quotes from the characters in the character booklet [that comes with the game]. I spent a lot of time getting those quotes just right, but then I ditched a lot of the quotes because I felt like they were actually getting in the way of players imagining scenarios. I’ve had to stop myself from overdetermining the experience. It’s certainly the difference between designing a game and writing a short story. With a game, people have to meet you halfway with their own creativity.

Which came first, the game mechanics, or the storytelling? What were your original design intentions?

There was a story first. But it wasn’t the story of the Sandwiche Islands. It was a dream about a warped city intersection – and trying to cross crosswalks in order to strategically reorganize a group. The game was dark and it was called The Intersection. (I think I was watching a lot of The Wire at the time.) But it was just a little too dark so I set the game in another time period and I lightened up the narrative.

As for my design intentions: I can’t say I really had any. I didn’t set out saying: “I want to make a novelistic game or a literary game, or an old courtship or an educational game”….or anything like that. I just had a dream about this thing. I got out of bed and stared at a piece of construction paper for a while, then I decided to put down a couple of blocks…or spaces. Somehow, the game managed to hold my attention for an entire year.

For part of that time, you have to understand that I was going through a break up and somehow it was comforting — and a pleasant distraction — to just play out different scenarios in the game. There are hundreds of thousands of possibilities on the game board, and somehow it was soothing to play through these while my head was all disjointed from the breakup. It was a pleasant distraction.

At what point did you decide to start building a world of story around your game instead of just inside of it?

It started with one little detail that I wanted to include. But I couldn’t fit it into the character booklet. The South Sandwiche Islands are located just south of Galapagos and the story takes place about a half century before Darwin. One of the characters, Puff, has a hobby of collecting insects and he’s always mumbling on about stuff that sounds strikingly similar to the theory of evolution. But no one ever listens to him. Again, I couldn’t fit this into the character booklet, so I expanded it into a letter, and then I realized that I had a very detailed and coherent world (and history) in my head that I could include by way of these different letters.

Of course there’s also another story level of the game’s making and creation.

When I saw you the other day, you were working on writing customized “letters” to include with in each game box. You said the idea was that everyone who buys the game is going to get a unique letter written by one of the characters in the story world. You also said that this was turning out to be a lot of work. Could you talk about this a bit for people unfamiliar with this aspect of the project?

Sheesh – I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes too high. Realistically there will probably be 3 different versions of the game that each contain different sets of letters. The idea is that the different sets of letters are all different fragments of the grander historical puzzle. But, yes, even the 3 different sets of letters are becoming time consuming. I just wrote one in the voice of an 18th century weathered British ship captain and it’s hard to get the accent right – I just read a lot Moby Dick and hoped for a spillover…

Perhaps the most fun aspect of the letters is that all (or most) of them will mention someone holding another letter, or writing a letter, within it. For instance, when the ship captain sees Jules, Jules is holding two letters in his hand – and the reader might wonder if those letters will become important, or appear in someone else’s game box. This literary conceit of referring to the actual object of the letters (which later work themselves into the text) is something that you can find a bit of in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, which was published in 1740.

So, in summary – yes the letters are a lot of work; but I think it’s manageable; and I’m willing to do that work because letters somehow perfectly lend themselves to fragmented narratives.

Are there any particular outcomes you’re looking for here — for example, are you hoping that players will begin to communicate with one another in order to share the content of their letters?

(Totally loaded question!) Sure, breaking up the history of the game into these letters is a way, I think, to create a strong fan community. People talk about stories (like movies and books) anyway, because they create a shared cultural experience, so why not let people talk about the content and in talking about it find out more about the story itself? It’s including the socializing process of media into the content. Or the content into the process of socialization.

I was taking Henry Jenkins’ transmedia entertainment class and remember reading something about building vast worlds that are so deep that no one person could possibly collect all of the diegetic information, so fans have to exchange story information with others in order to get a better sense of the story and world.

I think that was what I was aiming for in breaking up the letters into different boxes.

What’s next for you?

I recently turned down a game deal from a small/mid level publisher. They wanted exclusive publishing rights. I wasn’t ready to make that commitment. Instead, I’ve decided that I’d like to see this game sold in bookstores. I think it has literary roots. I’m set on seeing it in bookstores.

For more info, see this post from Henry Jenkins, which includes Jim’s notes on the role of transmedia storytelling in the project. You can find out how to buy your own copy of the game here.

Map of my social web presence

February 10, 2010

Map of (most of) my web presence, including Google Buzz. Crfeated w/ Cmap Tools.


February 10, 2010

…actually not so bad. Except for the crazy long wait to get into the parking lot. And the $300 in parking tickets.

Content management and delivery tools for indie ARG producers

February 10, 2010

Alternate reality games and other kinds of distributed story/play projects place heavy demands on their creators’ abilities to manage and deploy content. To meet these demands, many commercial ARG developers have built proprietary software packages that streamline and automate the process of managing and delivering content (see Christy Dena’s post, “Cross-Media Management Technologies” for more on this).

A few years ago, these kinds of systems would be out of the reach of indie and DIY designers and artists — but that’s not the case any longer. By using and mashing-up freely-available social media, mobile technology, and web publishing tools, ARG producers with shoestring budgets can roll their own custom ARG management and delivery systems.

About this resource

For the purposes of this post, I’ve chosen to focus on providing examples of free technologies and services that can assist designers in managing/deploying content, architecting participation, and articulating game mechanics. To this end, I’ve organized things according to six key logistical requirements designers might encounter when running an ARG; these requirements are:

  • The need to organize game assets and personnel
  • The need to create and manage player profiles and communities
  • The need to manage multiple web presences and social media profiles
  • The need to deploy content on mobile devices
  • The need to analyze participation and buzz
  • The need to create and distribute physical artifacts

Obviously, not all ARGs are going to have every one of these needs, and some will have others that aren’t listed here. If you can think of a significant category of content-oriented requirements that should be here, please let me know in the comments and I will expand this resource accordingly.

Organize game assets and personnel

Keeping track of game assets such as websites, physical installations, performers, events, story flows, and the rest of it can quickly turn into a full-time job. For a really big ARG, production management presents challenges on the same order as the logistical operations seen in feature films — and often well beyond. Here are a few tips for how indie ARG designers can keep their games organized:

  • Master the whiteboard Whiteboards are perfect for organizing the sprawl of media assets that characterize story- and interaction-heavy game designs like ARGs. If you don’t have a whiteboard, you can just paint one onto any wall. Don’t forget to take a photo backup of the board after you update it in case someone stumbles in and erases your game.
  • Map game assets and story elements Mind-mapping software is an indispensible companion to the whiteboard, and can be the perfect tool for planning and tracking nonlinear distributed story-game activities like ARGs. My favorite instance of this kind of software is IHMC Cmap Tools, a free program (created with US tax dollars by the good folks at DARPA) that enables you to create semantic network maps like those described by Douglas Hofstadter in his book, Godel, Escher, Bach. Cmap Tools goes a long way toward automating making such mind maps, and it enables a bunch of other neat features, too, like embedded media, linked maps, parametric layouts, and more. These charts can reveal a lot about the interconnectivity of your story-world’s various components, and are great for visualizing the different ways that players will flow through the experience you are creating.
  • Production management and collaboration tools Take your pick: Zoho, Google Wave, Campfire, and Ning are all great free online collaboration apps. For media-specific pre-production and production tools, try Celtx, “the world’s first all-in-one media pre-production system. It replaces ‘paper & binder’ pre-production with a digital approach that’s more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share.&# 8221;

Create and manage player profiles and communities

Customizing individual player experiences in an ARG requires being able link profile information to game states and story elements. Even a simple profile system can unlock powerful game mechanics and storytelling options such as progress-dependent content and in-game ability unlocks.

  • Leverage existing profiles ARG designers can lower the bar to entry to their games — and take advantage of the affordances of mature social networking platforms — by making use of players’ existing accounts instead of asking them to sign up for yet another social service. APIs like Facebook Connect can bridge the gap between your game and your players’ everyday media flows — and provide you with a ready-made means for tracking game progress and delivering content. If you have a coder on your team, creating a dedicated app will be relatively easy; if not, Facebook’s developer documentat ion will help you to get started.
  • Create dedicated social networking sites For designers who feel they absolutely must create a standalone player profile system, open-source software packages like Elgg, or free web services like Ning (for which many players will already have an ID) can be used to set up community hubs from scratch (as seen in this top-secret ARG and this fitness game).

Manage multiple web presences and social media profiles

Maintaining social media identities across a range of services is essential for running an ARG with a heavy online component. Here are some DIY content management and delivery tips for streamlining this process:

  • Post status updates to multiple profiles Most readers are probably familiar with apps such as Seesmic Desktop, HootSuite or Tweetdeck, all of which enable easy management of multiple social media profiles via a single interface. These apps also make it easy to track responses to your updates, post images to a variety of hosting sites, monitor keyword searches, and, in the case of HootSuite, schedule timed updates. There are dozens of similar apps, both offline and on; depending on the range of services you need to update, finding a handy desktop client or cloud app (not to mention one for your mobile devices) shouldn’t be too hard.
  • Enable collaborators to easily post to blogs and other social media services Posterous is a powerful email-to-post blogging service that has a lot of potential applications in the DIY ARG space. Running a group blog with Posterous is ridiculously simple and fits into any workflow since the system uses ordinary email to make blog posts. Posterous will convert any images, audio files, or videos into web-friendly formats and lay them out nicely. But its most useful feature is the way it can “Autopost” content to a variety of other services, including WordPress-powered blogs, Facebook, flickr, and Twitter.
  • Aggregate posts from players and/or in-game characters Aggregate your content into one place using WordPress plugins like FeedWordPress and Lifestream. These plugins, alongside WordPress’ already-formidable content management features, can enable ARG producers to gather together not only the social media content that they produce, but also — and sometimes more importantly — the content that gets produced by their player communities. FeedWordPress is particularly impressive, as it will archive, categorize, and tag everything that it aggregates — providing you with another layer of co ntent to feed back to your players.

Deploy content on mobile devices

Engaging with players and storytellers via their mobile devices opens up exciting new realms of location-based gaming and participation.

  • Automate SMS interactions and/or make a location-based game As GPS and smart phones become increasingly ubiquitous, third party apps for developing and managing games that take place in the physical world are starting to emerge. SCVNGR is an interesting early arrival to this space. According to their website, SCVNGR is “the world’s first platform to enable anyone, anywhere to develop, manage and deploy sophisticated interactive location-based mobile games, tours and experiences.” I’ve used the system for a few projects, and it works quite well. Just a couple of years ago, setting up an SMS-driven interactive location-based game was a serious coding challenge that required serious money and time. Now it’s free and easy. Also, it should be noted that games designed with SCVNGR will work best on iPhone or Android, but are also fully playable via SMS (significant for designers who want to keep the bar to entry for their games as low as possible).
  • Make a custom phone app Objective C coding skills aren’t as easy to come by as plain old HTML and JavaScript know-how. Which is precisely why PhoneGap is so cool: “PhoneGap is an open source development tool for building fast, easy mobile apps with JavaScript. If you’re a web developer who wants to build mobile applications in HTML and JavaScript while still taking advantage of the core features in the iPhone, Android, Palm, Symbian and Blackberry SDKs, PhoneGap is for you.”
  • Piggy-back on an existing game or platform If it makes sense in your story, why not just use existing mobile media services to extend your game into physical space? Just as social media services like Twitter and Facebook have long been used by in-game characters and agencies, so too can web-connected mobile media services like Foursquare, Brightkite, and Gowalla function as vehicles for cross-media storytelling (for an example of this, click here). And since many of these services provide RSS feeds for user profiles, you can easily connect the mobile end of your game world back into your web presence.
  • See also: Locative media resources

Analyze participation and buzz

Committed participants are easy to track. They post in Unfiction forums, attend events, set up profiles, and communicate with in-game characters. Tracking lurkers and occasional participants is a different matter — but a significant one, since casual observers will often compose the bulk of a game’s audience.

  • Monitor Twitter activity Web apps like Twitalyzer, Twitter Analyzer, and Twittersheep (to name just a few) can help you to track and understand your player community. Thanks to Twitter’s remarkably open and flexible API, new tools for analyzing buzz and influence on Twitter come out almost every day. Try a search like this one to see what’s current — or check out top-n lists like this, this or this.
  • Monitor link sharing Link shortening services like may present serious problems to future archivists, but for real-time web projects, they’re an easy way to track traffic flows and spreadable media. From’s FAQ: “ users receive a unique link that lets them track clicks and other data separately, while still seeing totals for all links pointing to the same long link.”

  • Monitor site traffic Google Analytics is a free service that enables you to monitor traffic sources and activity via a simple script that you can copy and paste into your site’s header. This is particularly useful for ARGs that have large lurker populations and/or are geographically dispersed. It’s also a good way to see which parts of a website are being read — and which are being skipped over.

Produce physical artifacts, merchandise, and e-commerce

Locative media isn’t the only way to bring your game into the physical experience of your players. Artifacts such as books, clothing, and other customized items have enormous potential as vehicles for real world storytelling and play.

  • Publish books and pamphlets Print on Demand continues to revolutionize indie publishing, which is good news for transmedia producers who want to incorporate novels, graphic novels, comic books, photo albums, or other printed materials into their projects. will print your books on demand using the same kinds of presses that are used to make the trade paperbacks published by the big “legitimate” presses — and they’ll help you to distribute them, too. Setting u p a storefront is almost as easy as creating a blog with Blogger — only the output is a real book, an item with heft and presence.
  • Make stuff — and retail it Merchandise can be a good way to generate money for charitable causes. It can also be a clever way to tell a story. Indie ARG Must Love Robots did both of these things with their in-game clothing brand, Inactiveware. Like, Cafe Press and other on demand services make it possible for transmedia producers to quickly create and retail a variety of physical media artifacts — from t-shirts and mugs to mousepads and posters — that can extend and enrich their story worlds.

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Futurity Now: Bruce Sterling on Atemporality

February 8, 2010

Bruce Sterling’s keynote from the Transmediale Festival (6 Feb 2010) delivers some brilliant and provocative ideas about the role of the creative artist in the context of an increasingly atemporal culture. In this wide-ranging speech, Sterling passionately articulates how changes in knowledge production practices and shifts in the way authority is conferred in the context of network culture have permanently altered the “organized narrative representations of history in a way that history cannot recover from.”

To set up his discussion, Sterling begins with a brief hypothetical confrontation between the “Old” Richard Feynman and his present-day counterpart, the “Atemporal” Richard Feynman. Drawing on a memorable speech by the real Mr. Feynman, Sterling outlines how “Old” Feynman viewed the process of generating knowledge as having three simple stages:

  • Write down the problem
  • Think really hard
  • Write down the solution

“Of course it’s a joke,” Sterling observes. “But it’s not merely a joke — [Feynman is] trying to just make it as simple as possible.” This simplicity is confounded by the Atemporal Feynman, for whom knowledge production is at best a much more circuitous and unstable process, and at worst, a kind of upside-down hyperbolic oxymoron:

  • Write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already.
  • Write problem in my blog. study the commentary cross-linked to other guys.
  • Write problem in Twitter in 140 characters. see if i can get it that small. see if it gets retweeted.
  • Open source the problem. supply some instructables that can get you as far as i was able to get. see if the community takes it any farther.
  • Start a Ning social network about my problem. name the network after my problem. see if anybody accumulates around my problem.
  • Make a video of my problem. YouTube my video. see if it spreads virally. see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem.
  • Create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. create some gadget that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it.
  • Exacerbate or intensify my problem with a work of interventionist tactical media.
  • Find some pretty illustrations from the Flickr looking into the past photo pool.

Sterling: “Old Feynman would naturally object, you know: ‘you have not solved the problem. You have not advanced scientific knowledge, there is no progress in this, you didn’t get to step three, solving the problem. Whereas the atemporal Feynman would respond, you know, it’s worse than that. I haven’t even done step 1 of defining the problem and writing it down. But I have done a lot of work about its meaning and its value and its social framing, combined with some database mining and some collaborative filtering, which is far beyond you and your pencil.”

More info: Futurity Now!