SIMAGES 2015.1 – The Gamer Society: An ARG

The Gamer Society:  An Alternate Reality Game
Anastasia Salter

Note: As the organizer of NASAGA’s Baltimore conference in 2014, Anastasia Salter took on many responsibilities to insure the multi-day event was both informative and playful.  Here she describes an alternate reality game she developed for the final day. – Editor

Background At NASAGA 2013, I was delighted to teach a workshop on one of my favorite genres, alternate reality games. Alternate reality games incorporate digital and physical elements to draw players into a story that unfolds alongside “real life,” and can be a great way to get a group of people talking and collaborating. For this year’s NASAGA, I wanted to create a game that could run simply in the background and encourage conversations between newcomers and those who have been a part of NASAGA for some time. What follows is a description of the design process and how it went.

Idea: The game continues a tradition I started at the first THATCamp Games unconference, where I ran an alternate reality game about invading game characters with Amanda Visconti. Lee Zickel continued the tradition at THATCamp Games II with an elaborate historical game, and Amanda and I ran another quest game at THATCamp CHNM. For the THATCamp Games: NASAGA Edition unconference in October, I wanted to build a game that served as a way to start conversations between NASAGA attendees and the local educators and students joining for THATCamp Games.

The Game: The North American Simulation and  Gaming Association (NASAGA) has been around for over fifty years and traditionally has been a space with a focus on physical and experiential simulations and training facilitated by educators. Digital simulations have started to show up in the community,  but the conference is far less oriented towards technology than most educational games conferences. THATCamp Games, on the other hand, has “technology” in its name for a reason. In bringing the two communities together, I wanted to encourage discussion and consideration of all the ideas that transcend platforms and give us common ground for conversations on educational gaming.

I decided to build a satirical alternate reality game based on two organizations recruiting at the conference: the Board of Gamers and the Digerati. Each team had a pin (twenty-sided die for the Board of Gamers, and a power symbol for the Digerati) to designate members once they were recruited. Recruitment was handled through an infection model, as I distributed several packets with extra pins, recruitment cards, and rules for recruitment. The rules included in each packet were a variant on this:

Rules for Digerati Recruiters

Welcome to the Digerati! As you know, we are in a battle for the future of games, and every voice counts in ensuring the sanctity of our digital future. Your actions today are crucial in identifying strong new members of our team. Please remember to follow our standards to ensure that your recruitments are officially recognized:

  1. In your kit, you’ll find badges of membership and recruitment cards. Each card has a method of persuasion and a location for recruitment. You must use the method and location on the card to proceed with a valid recruitment.
  2. Identify a target who is not wearing a badge of membership of either the Digerati or the Board of Gamers. Approach the target in a friendly, non-confrontational way in the designated location and ask if they are interested in joining. Use the persuasive method identified on the reverse side of the location card to recruit them. Remind them that the future of games is at stake!
  3. If they accept, they will be the new recruiter: hand them their personal badge to wear for identification and the full kit of recruitment. Make sure you keep the card you used to recruit the new member: once a particular recruitment card is used, it cannot be used again.
  4. Keep an eye out for other members of the Digerati as our recruitment process proceeds! Make sure to be present for the show of support at 5:00 PM Saturday in the Liberty Ballroom!

The Recruitment Cards


(Illustrated using Creative Commons versions of AIGA icons)

What Went Right: I posted recruitment posters and made the usual cryptic announcements to indicate a game was in progress before the conference started. The unconference was a one-day event, so I created two recruitment packets per side to ensure that if one recruiter halted there would still be hope of movement and conversation continuing throughout the day. My goal was for players to subvert the game, and they did: a splinter faction formed and acquired the recruitment kits for both sides, displaying both badges of affiliation and breaking the digital/physical binary. The members who started this splinter group were acknowledged as the “winners” of the ARG.

What Went Wrong: Once recruitment moved beyond the individuals I passed the packets to, the game suffered a bit from being essentially telephone–several members were brought into organizations by being handed pins rather than persuaded using the argument cards, as built into the packets and rules. This was inevitable given the structure of the ARG, as the rules were never formally presented to anyone (the  challenges of emergent gaming!) and thus could be easily ignored.

What I Learned: I’ve been implementing small-scale games of this kind at workshops, classes, and events for years now, and I always love seeing what comes out of it even if there’s so much I can’t control. I think this model could work with other false binaries, perhaps as an icebreaker prior to discussion.

First Published  October 29, 2014 by

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