World Without Oil is taking home the Activism award at this years SXSW Interactive Festival!

Congrats to the team, and most especially to the players, without whom the game would have been a mere shadow of activism and awareness against the backdrop of reality.

Thanks again to Ken Eklund, creator and driving force behind the design and aesthetic of the project. I am very proud to have worked with you, and I am excited to see what you come up with next!

Thanks to Jane and Ken for alerting me to the news that the World Without Oil ARG is one of the top five finalists in the Activism category for the SXSW Web Awards this year!


imbri posted this link in an IRC channel, and now I know why I kept thinking, all day Friday, why I should maybe try to remember why February 8th felt like a day I should remember why it felt important and significant and stuff. It bugged me, but I was also way tired and eventually gave up. I can’t even remember simple words and names, lately, so.

But, anyway. Happy 6th birthday, Lockjaw.

Alternate Reality Games, I think, were bolstered by that little grassroots project helping to fill the quiet that followed the end of the Beast. I am still very proud of being part of that amazing little team. What’s even more amazing to me personally is how every single person on that team was dealing with a significant amount of life crap during the campaign, stuff that would normally smush your average modern human, but somehow we all soldiered on and completed the game. A few of us have kept on with the genre in the years since, creating cross-media narrative projects as our actual day (and night and weekend) jobs.

Thank you, Lockjaw players, for giving me a reason to look forward to the next day. It was hard work, but I love that collaboration we shared very much. It meant the world to me, and that’s no lie.

The 42nd ARG Netcast was posted yesterday!

It sounds great – it was really quite a group of people gathered together at the 42 offices, sitting on the floor and on comfy couches, chatting about games and trust and the importance of a good narrative. I am honored, once again, to be a guest on the ‘cast, the first time being back in the sunny days of June of this year for World Without Oil. I feel quite grateful to be a part of something that is developing and growing more substantial by the day — the process of such things fascinates me, even when I am not always eloquent nor knowledgeable about how such things come about. Sometimes I really enjoy hearing people talk about this stuff.

I feel like there were some great things said about trust, and about puppetmasters not trying to be more clever than their players (especially in the sense of causing a feeling of competition between the PMs and the player community). In a slightly doofy way, I also enjoy that this group of people with a fairly complex set of histories was able to come together and speak so passionately and intricately about what is truly a burgeoning art form.

I especially liked that I was coming into the ‘cast a few seconds after actually working on some things. Those tasks were then resumed once we finished recording. Making the ARG is really the most important thing, for me. There’s a time for meta, naturally, but the sheer pleasure of game theory, to me, has always been a visceral one. Digging in the dirt. First-hand eyewitness reporting.

Ain’t no time like the present, after all.

The PM team behind World Without Oil was graciously asked to appear in Episode 27 of ARGNet’s Netcast, and it’s up now!

Find the netcast here!

If you’re hip to the ARG community, there’s a buncha familiar voices, including my own. :) I even come up with a new band name in this episode!

It was surprisingly fun to do the ‘cast, and it was nice to get the gang together again to talk about the project. We met up on our sekrit PM conferencing line later to have drinky things and sort of put the whole project to rest (the team is still working on the archive, of course), which I think brought a satisfying sense of closure to things, at least for me.

It was a great experience, and I am still so utterly impressed with the player base. Our hopes and dreams can be so dazzling and rosy-colored, but as Jane discussed here, it was fascinating and heartening to see the darker side, too. It might even be because we were all playing inside an alternate reality that the players had the freedom to really play with unhappy circumstances, or the boundaries of their comfort zones. Good stuff. Could talk about it for hours.

But hey, at least you can go listen to an hour of it.

I was just explaining to my friend Ali what Neofuturism was, and I was cribbing notes from the Neofuturist’s mission statement to do so. So I scrolled down and caught the link to Greg’s rules, and thought again just how often and how intensely the theatrical stage and the art involved in putting on a play is so very close to the process and art of making an ARG.

Greg’s Rules that I especially liked:

Rule #1: Don’t create good theater. You must intend to create GREAT theater. We don’t need any more perfectly good productions of perfectly good scripts. You are setting out to do something great or it’s not worth doing.

I would say that the pitfall of this rule is in how you approach it, primarily because it’s easy to consider that everything you create is gonna be “great.” That’s why there are other rules to help supplement this one, and to help define what can be defined as more than “perfectly good.”

Rule #12: Do not suspend your audience’s disbelief. Involve the audience. Make sure you remind them that they are watching live theater. Q: Why do people go to the theater? A: To have a visceral connection with live performers. Take that ball and run with it. If you want to suspend the audience’s disbelief, make a movie. Movies accomplish this much more successfully.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I love TINAG, so why on earth would I select this rule as a highlight? I think that while it’s very important for an ARG to never acknowledge to itself that it’s a game, it’s also important for the Puppetmasters to be very aware of the boundaries and emotional structure of the narrative. There should be a sense of motion or movement in terms of the ‘audience’ (players) interacting with the ‘actors/script’ (characters/game), a vitality that indicates awareness of the chemistry, the give-and-take – even if there’s no e-mail/chat element to the ARG! The ride may be on rails, but the Puppetmaster should strive for honesty in the dynamic so that it can feed the idea of there being an unexpected result, of the characters inside the game having a recognizable human quality that the audience can immediately relate to.

If you’re letting go of the pretense of enforcing an alternate reality, of forcing the immersion, you make it that much easier for your players to fall down that rabbithole.

Rule #17: Change the material world. A small part of the world should be somehow altered by each performance. Something should be destroyed, consumed, built, adorned, or the space itself should be newly endowed by the end of each night of the show. Leave the stage a mess.

I have nothing to say to this rule but: YES.

Rule #23: Establish ritual through repetition. Give the audience a ritual or repetitive pattern with which to identify. Create a shared history for the audience. Once a ritual is established, you can speak volumes through tiny variations on a theme. The art is in the details. There’s nothing better to than feeling part of an inside joke.


Rule #25: Unify the audience. Give the audience shared experiences which create faith and trust in each other. Create an event that brings disparate people to identify with each other through their mutual, but individual, experience of the show.

People who have been through an ARG with a well-formed community are nodding their heads enthusiastically after reading Rules #23 and #25. Again, a Puppetmaster doesn’t really need to enforce a community’s identity: it’s best to let the players define that space for themselves. Lots of details, and things-that-have-a-pattern can really give the players somewhere to rest their brains in the social space of the game, and gives them an organic framework and vocabulary that they can use to communicate with each other.

I’d like to point you to a post that Jackie wrote in response to the recent publication of a Whitepaper on ARGs, created under the auspices of the Special Interest Group for ARGs at the IGDA.

It is cogent and well-expressed.

I’d like to point you to this, which is a definition that allows for worlds of possibilities.

Thank you, Brooke.

And that’s really the crux, isn’t it? What do you have, if you cannot inspire wonder? Your innovations and your grandiose promises mean nothing if your heart is not tethered tightly to the experience. Your products and your marketing fall flat if the memories you’re engendering grow flat and metallic with time.

Nostalgia is not weakness.

Love may be ephemeral, but it may also be the very thing that saves your game from being a shill-tastic collection of hyperlinks and hoopla.

A lot of video gaming for me over the past few years has been accompanied by a rather intense sense of discovery. Many of the small things I’ve realized usually connect directly to my own fears and insecurities about gaming in general. What if I am not smart enough to solve this level? What if my hand-eye coordination is not up to snuff? What if no one wants to play with me?

Becoming a braver gamer is a process that I am experiencing currently. Mostly, I try to shed my fear of failure. I often want so much for a narrative to remain unbroken in a game’s flow that I often give up if I can’t solve a puzzle or complete a level smoothly the first time through. For so many reasons, games just aren’t designed that way. Learning curves and the vocabulary of movement are things that are built in to nearly every game you encounter in your life. There’s an initial dialogue between you and the game, a sense of introduction and agreement. You make a pact with the game to play with the rules it proposes.

My biggest mistake is assuming that those rules are it. There is nothing else. In the past, I’ve worked hard to frighten myself into clinging to those rules with a death grip, forgetting the joy of exploration, forgetting to have dialogues with myself that use the rules to break outside of what is generally expected. I wanted to be a participant, but not at the expense of my ego, or my pride. What I was missing all along was that my pride could be the thing that I earn a bit more of upon completion. A sense of gaining, rather than chipping away.

The past couple of years I’ve been challenged by friends to spend a bit more time looking around me. To see how I approach gaming, and to find encouragement in the idea that there is still all the game’s value and reward available to me if I take fifty tries to get to the end, instead of just one.

Alternate Reality Games have a great deal to do with this, naturally: in an arena where sometimes you have only you as a game piece, you have to assess and act as seems befitting for your reality in that moment. Is it your time to be a hero? Can you really don a cape and go flying off to save the damsel in distress? The rules of your own reality say “Well, generally, no,” but the rules of your reality also do not restrict against singing to prove you’re a human, either. I find pathways to solutions now that were not so apparent to me back in my Atari Childhood Days. I explore more. I have run across Halo 2 rooftops in the Outskirts, not only looking for the hidden sword, but trying to see the whole place from a new perspective. I’ve run behind the Hotel Zanzibar sign and smacked it with the butt of my gun. I’ve spent meditative moments way up above the sniper alley, contemplating sunsets and complex polygons. I’m no crazy skull hunter, but I also am a lot more comfortable about making the game work to my own pace now, instead of letting it dictate to me. That distinction may not have been lost on the lot of you out there, but for me it’s been a pretty empowering revelation.

What originally prompted this train of thought was my recent purchase of a fancy-schmancy dance pad for the Dance Dance Revolution games I have for the Playstation 2 and XBox consoles. I loved the games when I first got them, but felt frustrated and inhibited by the cheaper dance mat sliding around a lot as I worked up to more difficult songs. I don’t anticipate ever being stupendously awesome at this game, mind you, but I did feel like maybe I was letting something simple get in the way of me reaching my potential – especially with something that was getting me off my couch and getting my heart rate up. Breaking my leg to “Hysteria” would receive an A for Effort, but an F in Common Sense.

Now the game feels like a game again – complete with the addictive (PS2 version) lure of earning points towards unlockable items, like songs and challenge modes. “Oh, 7 more points? 7 more songs! No problem!” Songs that felt prohibitively dangerous on the old slippery pad now feel more funky and fun on the Red Octane now.

Perhaps it seems a bit odd to equate exploration of a gaming universe with what essentially amounts to shelling out cash for a better controller, but to me that is still a part of gaming for me – the environment one finds themself in, and the mode of emotion and motivation they use to achieve particular goals.

Not sure where I am going to store this new toy, though. It’s frkn heavy, and huge.

Swiped from a Metafilter AskMetafilter post: Ordeal by Cheque, a short story told entirely in checks written out to various people in various amounts, over a certain amount of time.

Quite possibly one of the earliest and tiniest ARGs ever!

(I mean that tongue-in-cheek, though. It’s a nice mystery story, really, in a unique format)

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