December 2005

I wrote a post on the Unforums yesterday that I’d like to preserve here. A member asked the community if a newbie could conceivably jump into a game during its middle, or whether it was more advisable to try and catch a game at its beginning.

Understanding and sympathizing with the natural anxiety that lead to that question is not difficult. I know that had I not been grabbed by some of the very shiny stuff I was seeing in the Beast, I would’ve never made it past the first day I joined Cloudmakers.

Oh, and the day I joined Cloudmakers? May 6th, 2001, the very night of the A.R.M. rallies taking place in three major cities in the U.S.: New York, Los Angeles, … and Chicago.

I wish I could tell you I’d just hopped up and gone to that little bar hosting the event in my own hometown, and even helped with the puzzle solves, got myself a legitimate anti-robot militia armband. But, no. I sat and watched those IRC logs flood in, transcripts of cellphone conversations – it was mind-blowing, honestly, the sheer amount of information and speculation flooding into my inbox every single minute.

I was nearly a month late to the game, if you’ll notice. Cloudmakers itself formed on April 11th, and the rabbit holes had been languishing for a while before that. Sure, I freaked out over the massive amount of story that had already ‘happened,’ and I felt sad for the puzzles that were all marked ‘SOLVED,’ but I also found myself instinctively finding things to re-read and absorb. The story was intensely good, and the material was solid, and did not crack when I poked at it. It would be there the next day when I came back, persistent and consistent. I could trust in the universe to remain – I could allow myself to become a citizen, because it was still inviting me.

Instead of getting cranky in the thread (which is sometimes my wont) and shaking my fist and spouting off about how there really are no rules (no really there aren’t so shut up man just can it already can’t you see that I am trying to write a blog post?), I said:

I’d say the #1 rule for newbies is: don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

People will tell how How Things Are and How Things Are Supposed to Go, but:

if ARGs are alternate realities

held together by the sinewy and sometimes ethereal-looking net of a ‘Game,’

… then you will find that much like Life, ARGs generally work a bit better when you’re not forcing them to fit your pre-conceived notions.

Basically, use common sense, retain your sense of wonder, and for goodness’ sake, respect the real-life laws of your own country and/or the country hosting the ARG.

All the rest is rabbit holes and narratives on crack. Mmmmmm!

I discuss ARGs a great deal in my spare time, and get into these lovely, meandering meta conversations not meant to save the world, save a newbie, or save the genre. And many times, someone newer to the world than I will tell me that they’ve looked at the Cloudmakers archive of the game, at the Trail, and they just can’t believe that we played through that without our heads exploding. The implication is that of course one could never hop onto that horse mid-stream: go from your normal, predictable life into the midst of a strong community that had ‘already solved everything.’ It simply must be better to wait for a new game to come along, so that you’re ‘ready’ for it.

Oh … really?

It constantly amazes me to enter some of these Meta discussions and find out how wrong I’ve been doing things, this whole time. Heh.

“Where are you off to?” [Momo] asked.

“To our play class,” Franco told her. “That’s where they teach us how to play.”

Momo looked puzzled. “Play what?”

“Today we’re playing data retrieval It’s a very useful game, but you have to concentrate like mad.”

“Is it fun?” Momo asked, looking rather doubtful.

“That’s not the point,” Maria replied uneasily. “Anyway, you shouldn’t talk like that.”

“The point is it’s useful for the future.”

This quote is taken from Michael Ende’s Momo, a book everyone really should read. It’s as old as I am, and easily my favorite book.

To those denizens of the Unforums who don’t truly understand why I have issues with someof the uses of “We” and “Us,” read the quote again. Actually, you should purchase the book and read the whole thing, cover to cover. Ach, you think I joke, but I am quite serious. It’s an amazing little book.

The children in the book are in a play class because their parents have opened accounts with the Men in Grey, who have promised them that the more they hurry, the more time they save into a time account at their bank — this is time that they’ll have later on. That time that they’ve been saving can definitely be cashed out later, like paper money, or candy bars from a vending machine. (Except the Grey Men were totally lying. Time saved is time lost, don’tcha know.) But, their instructions were fairly simple: Eschew those things that are time wasters. Bring others up to speed as quickly as possible, and tell them How Things Run, because that way, we’ll learn how to play better. Efficacy in day-to-day living would obviously mean that everyone gets along better and has a better quality of life, right?

Clearly, this would be the case! Instead of the slow, sexy burn of discovery, We’ve got rules to get us past that first hurdle of discomfort. No more discomfort! No more mystery! Data Retrieval ARGs would be so handy – clearly-delineated Rules of Engagement. Updates that the Old Skoolers can predict with ease. Forum threads moderated into oblivion, with at least 50 emoticons to choose from — y’know, when linguistic nuance just won’t do.

The point is, it’s useful for the future.

Math Champion and Professional Grilled Cheese Innovator Andrea Phillips recently wrote an article for Gamasutra about the representation of women in the gaming industry. Additionally, it’s been Slashdotted, which is just giddy-making.

What’s exciting and more than a little weird for me is getting a mention in the article, in the game developers section. I sent the link to my mom in e-mail yesterday, nearly adding a P.S. recommending that she print it out and stick it on the refrigerator door.

It’s been a couple of very stressful weeks for me, you see, capped this past Monday evening with being the victim of a hit and run on Belmont Ave. as I was coming home from the grocery store. When your car is totaled, there’s not much that can fix that except big piles of money, but this article sure put a dent (ha!) in the dark cloud that’s been hanging over my head recently.

The original team for the A.I. game was almost entirely male, but since then, the rolls of ARG development have grown to be studded with high-profile women: Brooke Thompson, Krystyn Wells, Jane McGonigal. At Mind Candy, our staff is roughly 30% women — and though the actual ARG production team varies in size, it’s been as much as twice that for some arcs.

I feel like I am in fine, fine company.