One of the most enjoyable games I’ve been a part of in recent times has been an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) being run by an innovative teacher from Australia. We usually think of ARGs as large scale, requiring lots of resources and being part of a marketing campaign for a new movie – or as some funky, alternative techy game that the cool kids play. But it doesn’t have to be.
Jess McCulloch teaches Mandarin in Australian schools and she sent me a tweet asking if my boys (aged 7 and 9 years) might be interested in a game that teaches them about how languages are structured. Of course I said yes. All she needed to begin was our home address and the boys’ names.
The next thing that happened… we received a letter in the mail addressed to my kids. They didn’t recognize the handwriting and they curiously opened it. What they found was an A4 sheet of paper with a Chinese Character on it, and a URL. They were puzzled. My eldest suggested we type the URL into the computer and when we did we were opened up to a world of secret agents, lessons on language and mission after mission that would help them solve the mystery of the character on their piece of paper.
Jess has created an an ARG targeting younger school children called “The Blackline Mystery.” Through email and live Skype sessions with her “virtual agents” she sets missions that they must complete online. She uses video and letters in the mail to give the game a stronger sense of reality and in doing so has my children hooked. They have set up their own agent email and are spending time working their way through missions to gain the next clues about the mysterious character they received in the post. This beats homework hands down – and I’m happy for them to work on this rather than homework because they are engaged and willing participants in a game, developing their digital media literacy skills, their problem solving skills and improving their literacy, their numeracy and understanding things about how languages develop. What Jess demonstrates is that an ARG doesn’t need a huge budget. With a good plot, some free web-based tools and the willingness to invest some time, teachers and parents can create playful and immersive environments for their children to learn in.
I’ve wanted to be part of an ARG since I went to an event on transmedia in Melbourne and heard Steve Peters, a Senior Designer at Fourth Wall Studios talking about an ARG he played that involved going out to a local park and looking for something which was buried. It was the afternoon and raining and he invited his teenage daughter to go with him to look for something in the park. They drove there, wandered around getting wet in the rain and eventually – after a few tries – dug up a canister. In the car, drying themselves off, Steve’s daughter opened the canister to find a digital camera with photos on it (the next clue in the ARG). She said to her Dad, “I feel like I’m in a movie.”
I want that feeling. I want my kids to have, even for a moment, the feeling that they are in the story and part of a narrative that they don’t fully understand but feel amazed by.
For those who haven’t heard, an ARG is a game that isn’t real, but engages with the real world in a way that draws players in because it feels real. ARGs have been run by large production studios around films like The Dark Knight and by emerging organizations of loveliness like Coney whose ARG (which they call an adventure-in-learning) “A Cat Escapes” is a fantastic example of what can be done in a school environment. But, there is no reason why with a bit of planning you could not create your own ARG for your kids based around a book or a poem or even a landmark by your home. And, with the technology we have at our fingertips it can be so much fun.
If you wanted to run your own ARG for your kids you could. What could you do? Well, you just need a good storyline. You could use books, films or your child’s favorite toy for inspiration. Then…
- Create a map and leave it in a place where you child can find it or mail it to them… the map could lead to a park nearby where you have buried a digital camera in a plastic tube. When they dig it up it has photos that lead them on a much larger mystery…
- You could have a friend that lives overseas create videos of their home country and use them to create a geography-based game about that country.
- You could leave notes under your child’s pillow each morning that are written from their favorite soft toy and ask them to complete specific tasks, for which they get rewards (that also appear under the pillow)
- Basically, use your imagination – there are no limits
I have found my children’s engagement in an ARG to be so much fun. We all love secrets and we love to play. This is such a great way to engage with children in playful ways that can help them to learn so many things.
I’d love to hear other people’s experience of ARGs with kids. Let us know how you get on.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
LIKE! Alternate Reality Gaming for Kids | Original Post by GeekDad | Wired.com
Posted by siobhan at 7:15 PM