Alternate Reality: A Pervasive Play Project

The Project

Over the course of 2012-13, Sha Xin Wei (Director of the Topological Media Lab, Canada Research Chair in Media Arts and Sciences, and Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Computer Science at Concordia University, Montreal) will be collaborating with Patrick Jagoda (Assistant Professor of English and Co-editor of Critical Inquiry) on an alternate reality gaming project. The fellowship will begin with a seminar that Sha and Jagoda are co-teaching in fall 2012, in which graduate and undergraduate students from a host of disciplines will collaborate on game design. During the winter of 2013, Sha, Jagoda and a team of collaborators will conclude game design and post-production. In the early spring of ’13, the transmedia game is slated to take place, to be followed by an international practicum on Play as a Mode of Inquiry Nov 1 – 3, ’13.

The interactive production created by Jagoda and Sha belongs to the emerging artistic form of ?Alternate Reality Games? or ?transmedia games.? Unlike conventional digital games, these creative productions use the real world as their platform and tell a single story across numerous media and technologies. Such transmedia games are distinctive for their tightly networked collaborative communities, player-driven narratives, performance-oriented events, and interpenetration of real and virtual spaces. This project is intended to explore the relations between digital media and space, the affordances of collective storytelling, the generation of new media theory through design, and the development of methodologies for studying the emergent art form of Alternate Reality Games.



The Course

Course Description: This course offered in Fall 2012 explores the emerging game genre of ?transmedia,? ?pervasive,? or ?alternate reality? gaming. Transmedia games are not bound by any single medium or hardware system. Conventionally, they use the real world as their primary platform while incorporating text, video, audio, live performance, phone calls, email, websites, and locative technologies. The stories that organize most of these games are nonlinear and broken into discrete pieces that audiences must discover and actively reassemble. The participants who play these games must generally collaborate to solve puzzles. Throughout the quarter, we will approach new media theory through the history, aesthetics, and design of transmedia games. For all of their novelty, these games build on the narrative strategies of novels, the performative role-playing of theater, the branching narratives of electronic literature, the procedural qualities of videogames, and the team dynamics of sports contests. Moreover, their genealogical roots stretch back to a diverse series of gaming practices such as nineteenth-century English ?letterboxing,? the Polish tradition of ?podchody,? scavenger hunts, assassination games, and pervasive Live Action Role-Playing games. An understanding of these related forms will be critical to our analytical and creative work.

Course requirements include weekly blog entry responses to theoretical readings; an analytical midterm paper; avid engagement in discussion and design; and collaborative participation in a single narrative-based transmedia game project created by the class that will run on campus, in the city of Chicago, and/or online. No preexisting technical expertise is required. Since transmedia games draw on numerous skill sets, students will be able to contribute with a background in any of the following areas: creative writing, literary or media theory, web design, visual art, computer programming, music, and game design.

Project Inventory

a team-taught course (Fall 2012) entitled Transmedia Games: Theory and Design, for graduate and undergraduate students, run through the Department of English and cross-listed in Creative Writing, Cinema & Media Studies, Theater & Performance Studies, and the Department of Visual Arts;
co-presentation on fellowship project in tandem with student performance event (choreographed by Sha’s frequent collaborator Michael Montanaro) at the opening of the Logan Center for the Arts, October 12, 2012;
introductory and recruitng event on December 6, 2012;
residency visits in winter 2013 by Sha and colleagues from the Topological Media Lab to collaborate on game design and post-production with Jagoda and a team of students;
residency visits in spring 2013 by Sha and colleagues from the Topological Media Lab for the collaborative and transmedia game experience with university and non-university participants;
culminating event for The Project on April 25, 2013; and
an international practicum on Play as Mode of Inquiry, Nov 1 – 3, 2013.