Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Beyond the game

Ah, the final blog exercise for the semester! Looking back, I can say I've quite enjoyed the blog exercises for this module, as well as the module as a whole. :-)

The first question for this last exercise is whether meaningful play can emerge from an Alternative Reality Game such as the The Beast.

Well, I followed the progress of that game quite avidly while it was running and I will say that for me and the good folk who comprised the group called Cloudmakers, it was highly meaningful indeed. As a matter of fact, I've never seen another game bring out the kind of large-scale community interaction and near-obsessive dedication on the part of players that the Beast did. While the game was running, it truly felt like the Cloudmakers group was a kind of cyber-sleuth, drawing on the power of many, many minds in order to solve a deeply puzzling mystery. While I do consider the members of the group who thought that 9/11 could be "solved" to be somewhat deluded, I can understand how they could have come to think that way after having been deeply involved in The Beast. The game is far from traditional and by some definitions of the term may not even be a game, but it was extremely exciting for those who "played" it.

What made the game feel meaningful to the players? Well, if we define meaningful play as occurring when the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game, then indeed the Cloudmakers did experience meaningful play- ironic considering how The Beast was never revealed to be a game. Every action players took within the game- gathering clues, solving puzzles online, meeting up in real-life to take part in a game-related event- took the community one step closer towards solving the mystery of the game. As of today, the "mystery" genre seems to be the predominant form of ARG- it will be interesting to see if and how designers can make ARGs that work differently.

As for the second question- yes, I do think that ARGs challenge existing notions of what a game is. An ARG is very interesting in terms of design- designers are no longer dealing with one player or multiple players who are competing with each other- instead, they have a community of players who are all collaborating to achieve the same objective. This is perhaps similar to Massively-Multiplayer Online games, but even those do not involve the same level of collaborative play as ARGs. ARGs also break down the magic boundary between the game space and the "real world." A world where games like that posited in the Michael Douglas movie "The Game" are played by people indeed might not be inconceivable in the near future- except instead of rich individuals, entire communities might be taken along for the ride! At which point, I wonder if we could still call such activities games, or would they be something else entirely?


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