Saturday, April 4, 2009

Learning and ARGs (not just the sound a pirate makes)

I've been stalled on posting my notes on GDC because it was SO much. Honestly, I think I might learn more in that one week than in all the other conferences I attend combined, and trying to summarize it in a blog post is difficult at best. So let me start with one topic that has me excited, in that I can definitely see the possibilities for experiential and constructivist learning.

ARGs (which is confusingly the abbreviation for both Alternate Reality Games and Augmented Reality Games) was a topic discussed across tracks at GDC (serious games, worlds in motion, mobile technology). I love the idea that technology can be used to drive a storyline that participants play out in the real world. There are a range of ways of designing and developing ARGs and to be honest, I think we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Up to this point, most ARGs have been developed for entertainment purposes. Here are a list of some ARGs that you can check out:

-i love bees (Halo 2)--also in Wikipedia
-Lost Experience (Lost, ABC)--also in Wikipedia
-Year Zero (Nine Inch Nails)--also in Wikipedia
-Chain Factor (Numb3rs, CBS)
-Sharkrunners (Discovery Channel)

One interesting development in ARGs is the use of mobile devices to play these games. Although camera phones for the most part do not yet have the fidelity to truly realize the potential, its just a matter of time and some devices are already making great strides for use in these types of games. I was interested to hear about Nokia and Tim Kring (creator/exec producer of "Heroes") partnering to develop a new project, code named TEVA, that they are coining a "Mobile Immersive Experience."

So how does this relate to learning? Here's where I see the potential. First, technological advances are making long development times and "heavy" platforms unnecessary. The ability to use real world as your learning environment and technology as your guide opens up tremendous opportunities for teaching collaboration, process improvement, effective communication, and leadership.

Second, learners are motivated by competition and challenges. People like puzzles. Making someone a character in the story line immediately engages them in the learning and motivates them to participate in determining the outcome. Oh, and its probably not a bad thing that ARGs can be fun.

Third, we're always striving to design experiences that mirror real-world experiences. With ARGs, the learning experience is in the real world. I've gotta believe that this would improve retention and application.

So, what would this mean to instructional designers? If you've been reading my blog, its no mystery that I think ID as a practice has in some ways lost its way. What I began to think about at GDC was whether being an instructional designer is enough of a skill set in isolation. How much more powerful is instructional design when paired with a skill like game design?

In order for ARGs to be useful for learning, they have to be designed with equal parts instructional design and game design. The real challenge for this type of experience is truly in the design--as technology becomes less of a limitation, the limitation then becomes the bounds of our own talent, skill, and creativity.

1 comment:

  1. Here is a good place to find out what ARGs are being played currently.

    One of the best examples of ARGs I think was the one that warmed players up for the release of The Dark Knight:

    Just explore the puzzles there, incredible. If I am not mistaken, that ARG was developed by 42Entertainment (the same agency that created the Nine Inch Nails one.

    ARGs are a very interesting resource for instruction, since you can mix the content with the storyline. Deliver puzzles that reveal messages that involve content, for instance...

    They can be fairly cheap to do since all technologies needed for the game are right here, for free with Web 2.0:

    - Farcebook, Ning, for discussions;
    - blogs for characters' updates and direct contact with players,
    - wikis for players to interact and exchange clues, etc.
    - Youtube for video feeds and trailers,

    Even the planning can be done collaboratively (e.g. flowcharting the gameplay via Gliffy with other designers, if geographically disperse)...

    Even VW can be used in the plot or even as the main meet up hub...

    ARGs are very engaging since they mix reality (clues and puzzles with characters that feel real, and player-player interaction)...

    A problem on educational ARGs: ARGs tend to rely on having a VERY broad potential audience, say the whole world, and a portion of that population will enter the rabbit hole... well, how can you get 30 players (say you're creating an ARG for a group of people at a conference) to "buy" the first clue and engage in the game? Maybe 2 of the 70 will actually find the first clue and engage... well, you can manipulate them, sending other clues, clarification, direct messages from game characters until they buy in.. but, the players must have a certain interest to stay in game... and not everyone is a "gamer"...

    Just a few thoughts... I love ARGs and think they have potential... we just need a few more publications with success stories, failures, things to avoid, etc. in EDUCATIONAL situations..., I think...

    Take a look at the concept of mARGs (mini ARGs), shorter, with a specific, small audience. People at LAMP have been doing a great job on that:

    Great post! :)