Hi All -

I've spent the last few weeks diving into the world of Alternate Reality Games, and I'm in the process of designing a new game for kids and families.

Does anyone out there have any experience designing or leading ARGs? Any good links or resources you can suggest? Any and all help is appreciated!

Chris : )

Tags: arg, design, game

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My co-worker and I have been working on one for a while to do with our social studies classes. We should finish it within the next few weeks, but probably won't run it until second semester. For now, here's what I can tell you...

Story: The story is vital to making it seem real, so do not skimp on it. It is easiest to insert story in the media components (see below). Our story is that an agent within the top secret U.S. Department of Timeline Security has gone rogue. Students must discover who he/she is and what he/she is trying to do by changing historical events (This is where we put in our content).
It is also important that the ARG gets kicked off in a dramatic way with something very engaging and realistic (ARG people call this the rabbit hole). We are going to use a video of a shadowy figure with a garbled voice. He's going to break into the middle of a powerpoint slideshow (notes) and ask if our sudents are ready. The video will have built-in pauses for our responses and we will act as if he can see us. This will lead to a wiki that will give students direction and serve as a hub for them to share/discuss all subsequent findings.

Structure: Our underlying structure is alot like the board game clue... or maybe more like a big logic puzzle... We have five suspects, each patrols a specific era, and each has a unique pysical feature. I made this BIG puzzle into a series of premises (e.g. Agent Jones patrols the Middle Ages, The agent with a limp patrols Feudal Japan, etc.).

Media Component: Each of these premises, however, is disguised in some form of media... To show that a female patrols the middle ages we might have a recorded snippet from her field notes posted on a website. To show that Agent Nesmith has blonde hair, we might have a photo posted on flickr, etc. Once students have all of these premises they will be able to solve who the rouge agent is.
Other media: you-tube, fake blog, phone-number, fake gmail or yahoo accounts with automated responses, flickr, poster in a teacher's class, password-activated file given out by someone in your school's office, audio recording, fake letter hidden in a book in your school's library, etc.

Puzzle Component: So media's half of the structure; the other part is making puzzles that lead to puzzles that lead to the media-disguised-premises. These are tricky because they have to lead somewhere. We used a word typed in wingdings they would have to figure out, the word library with a dewey decimal code mixed between the letters, a jumbled rubik's cube (stuck behind glass in the school library) which if it could be spacially solved would reveal a room number, etc. Puzzles are difficult to come up with since they require a specific destination. Often times our puzzles lead to the email address of an agent who then sends them to the next premise.

Also of note, the complexity of your puzzles should depend on the expected number of players. We have 300 students who could potentially be involved (about 120 are honors students), but we expect less than 50 to be really active. Our puzzles can't be nearly as deep as the ones used by Nine Inch Nails' ARG (even if you don't like thier music, you should read what they did... google for it).

I hope this helps.
The students are probably more likely to get into this and more likely to work hard at it (choose it over other hobbys, use free time on it) if they are in competition - a sense of urgency will develop, and also a sense of accomplishment that may even be able to be the reward. Will you create teams, compete against another school, or even use a format that lets students team up or work on their own as they see fit?
We think that the reward is simply the experience... now I know that sounds simplistic and idealistic, but according to the group who puts on the prototype161 ARGs (at penny arcade and other gaming expos) this is reward enough. I think a solid story (if it seems real) with proper twists and turns combined with exclusivity (don't tell other students about this) make it very appealing. I guess I'll let you know once we've done it. I know that Jay D'Ambrosio's the Hexagon Challenge was very successful. Look at the "for teachers" link and read the parent's comment.

We're handling the grouping issue by the creation of a wiki where they'll report all their findings. I'm sure they'll also discuss it at school, but I don't think grouping will be an issue.

VOIP, radio stations, and local businesses are all great ideas, thanks for the ideas.

Also, here's a link to Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero ARG

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