Six years ago the games I designed were called ARGs, then the name morphed to transmedia, which seemed more palatable than the esoteric-sounding Alternate Reality Games. But now what I design exists somewhere in and among ARGs, transmedia and mission-based games. These are game narratives with beginnings, middles and ends, and live components, which make the games inherently theatrical. The mix of real time and virtual changes storytelling and stories can exist anywhere, at any time. This talk right here right now can have a clue embedded in it that drives a larger game. Does it? Or is my talk just a talk? That line between what is real and what is imagined is what draws people into the story. Okay, let’s look at story telling and character development.
In gamespeak, this is called a rabbit hole, one of several ways into the narrative. Players surged forward, snapping pictures, a Flickr stream appeared and a blog, and these images lead to …
Called a Lover’s Eye. Players surged forward, snapping pictures, a Flickr stream appeared, and these images lead to …
An iconic image from the Smithsonian’s collection. It took players several hours to arrive at this page.And this particular rabbit hole leads you directly to the crux of the plot. The Smithsonian has become haunted. In the haunting, the ghosts have Inverted the text, and clicking on it leads you to the first game site.
And our first request for players to actually make something for the game – our players leave an incantation [we capture their cell numbers], and they post their own lovers’ eyes [we capture their email addresses]. At this point the audience can’t really be called the audience. They have become participants.
Hundreds of them, and eventually thousands. They work for the game. And that is what propels the narrative forward, and every time the players make something for the game, more of the ghosts’ stories is revealed. The object of the game is to reveal these stories, to honor them in some way, and to free them from having to haunt, and to free the museum from being haunted. We designers can have a dialogue with them. In-game characters can call specific players and one of the rules of the game is that whatever interaction a player has with the game has to be shared with other players.
Remember our bodybuilder? He is the recent incarnation of one of our in-game characters, a terrible ham of an actor from 1855. He calls select players. One of the rules of the game is that whatever interaction you have with the game must be posted for everyone to see. Some of our in-game characters have facebook pages, they record ghost sightings.
So, what we have designed is a story that blends media, and in that way it is like a Google search, the player stitches the game and the narrative together.
And the basic building blocksof these games are missions. Missions that take you into the real world. Missions that must be completed by having you upload evidence of your completion into the game.
This game lasted six weeks. We used lots of mediums – Flickr, snail mail, blogs, cell phones, live events.
This game was designed to play for one and a half hours. Mixing generations – families and friends.
Pheon is a game built around a graphic novel that depicts a war raging in a mythical world that exists at the heart of our world. It has missions and submission. Pheon is also a proof of concept. Like the early days of TV, most games are single-sponsored. Pheon broke that mold. We have at least five sponsors. But instead of the story being sponsored, mission-based games suggest that the missions themselves, what participants actually do for the game, is sponsorable. By sponsoring missions, a brand tells its own story while providing the point of engagement for the player.
Interestingly enough, with all this new media landscape, the business model is as old as radio and TV. Sponsorship. Sample mission: Get yourself invited to someone’s house for dinner, then sing for your supper, having your host videotape your performance as proof of completion. Who are likely sponsors? How about something you would bring your hosts to thank them? A bottle of wine? A six-pack of beer? A box of candy?
Missions tie the brand message with an action. Narrate your way to work as if you are a sportscaster. Advance in the game if you use any sports for Dummies product, and the game itself offers a point of sale.