If you've been following along, you've probably heard that Tandem Learning is running an alternate reality game (ARG) at DevLearn 10. Dr. Strangelearn is our sophomore ARG at DevLearn, and we're excited to get everyone involved and playing. (If you're going to DevLearn, you really should sign up now. Really. Do it now. I'll wait...)
As I've been writing about ARGs for learning, I hoped to make some correlations between our conference ARGs and the ARGs that we've designed as learning experiences. But there are distinct design differences between the two types of ARGs because of the different play contexts, and for people investigating the use of ARGs for learning, its important to understand these differences.
In no particular order:
- At conference ARGs, the ARG is not the main attraction. Unless the event is designed around the ARG, the game is likely to be a supplement to the conference. In these cases, people are there for some other reason...and typically, the reason is to interact with the other people at the event. Because of this, its important to design conference ARGs to supplement, not take away from, the main event. If you don't, people will abandon the game play to focus on the main attraction.
- When designing ARGs for learning, presenting complex problems to be solved is part of the learning. For conference ARGs, complex problems seem like work. Designing for simplicity of play at events is critical...if the game is too complicated or the puzzles/challenges are too difficult, players at an conference are more likely to give up or stop playing.
- Learning-focused ARGs can challenge the players to follow a path, or to find hidden information. For conference ARGs, give players LOTS of opportunities to play and join in on the fun. If the path to play or win is too linear, players are less likely to join an conference ARG if they feel they joined too late or can't keep up.
- For conference ARGs, keep the content light, with opportunities to take-away content from the game to review after the event. Although there may be learning opportunities during the event embedded in the game, sparking a learner's interest and providing great content that can be explored after the conference is a more successful strategy than trying to actually train people at the event. For learning ARGs, the training is an important part of the design and the expectation is that players will have much more time and attention to focus on the content as they play through the game experience.
There are lots of other subtle design considerations that make conference ARGs different from ARGs for learning. The main focus of ANY serious ARG design should be the basic question: what do you want people to learn by engaging in the experience? After that, understanding your audience, the context of the game play, and the resources you and the players have available are the parameters within which you design.