Pheon and Ghosts of a Chance (Alternate Reality Games and 21st Century Literacies)


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Panel Presentation on Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) and 21st Century Literacies at the 2010 Library Research Seminar - V, University of Maryland, October 8, 2010.

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  • Ghosts of a Chance In 2008, the game designers CityMystery approached us about using the Luce Center as the platform for an Alternate Reality Game. They developed a narrative inspired by our collections that would be guided by player activity. We had three broad goals in doing this: to create an interactive experience in an art museum, a place where interactivity is usually discouraged, to attract a new audience of gamers who would not typically consider visiting an art museum, and to promote the museum. For us, an ARG is an interactive story that demands players active participation – the story does not continue unless players do something. It takes place in real time and using real-world elements (phones, web, e-mail, physical spaces, in-person interaction), and is inspired by and integrated with our collection. We launched the game “Ghosts of a Chance” in July 2008.
  • We wanted to let players know about our upcoming game and the game designers told us that the best place to do this would be at the ARGFest-o-Con event in Boston. They also told us that we needed to do something unusual in order to catch the attention of the attendees. They hired national-level body Craig Torres and tattooed his chest and back with henna tattoos. Within the design was an artwork from our collection and the word’s “Luce’s Lover’s Eye.” When you googled that phrase, the first result that appeared was the object page on our web site. Within 4 hours, photos of Craig were on Flickr, and players had started a discussion thread on Unfiction. A clue hidden within the object page led players to the game Web site, which in turn asked them to e-mail an image of an eye and to call a phone number. The site also included a countdown, which told the players that the game would begin in September. (We received 150 images of eyes, and over 250 phonecalls) Early press also helped with the game, as we were able to conceal clues in an article and the Smithsonian Magazine. The Museum also issued a formal press release, which was almost entirely fictional.
  • The story of the game focused around two young curators, Daisy and Daniel, who were being haunted by restless spirits. They shared elements of the story on the game web site, as well as through videos and comments posted on YouTube, mySpace, and Facebook.
  • Daisy and Daniel announced that they needed to hold an exhibition in the museum in order to put the ghosts to rest and save the museum. So they invited players to create a series of artifacts. There were six challenges in total, with one being announced each week. The challenges related to objects in our collection as well as the story of the ghosts. Players had just a couple of days to answer the challenge, make the artifact, and mail it into the museum. (We received 33 artifacts from 14 players). The artifacts were temporarily catalogued into the collection. Participants wrote their own labels, which were also included on-line. That the museum would allow essentially fake artifacts to be included in the master database, even temporarily, really demonstrated their willingness to support the game’s narrative. This element really inspired players to participate.
  • Final Event On October 25, 2008, we held the final event in the museum. This included an exhibition of all the player-created artifacts and a five-hour multimedia scavenger hunt around the museum. The scavenger hunt involved 6 quests, each of which was tied to a character in the story. Game tasks included: Cake Looking out of a window and reading a protestor’s sign Looking for a jacket in the coat room and answering the phone in the pocket…
  • Text messaging the answer to questions in order to get the next clue Creating sculptures out of foil Using sculpture to decipher complex code and Following treasure maps Over 6,000 people played Ghosts of a Chance on-line, and 250 people participated in the final event.
  • Ongoing Game The final event was so successful and received such great feedback that we decided to create a module version that we could run on a recurring basis. This version has just 3 quests, can be run by just one or two staff members, and takes around 90 minutes to complete. After a few months, we had so many people demanding a sequel that we created one, Return of the Spirits. Almost 3,000 people have played these versions since we started them in October of 2008. The last one will be on October 31 st .
  • Evaluation In June 2009, we conducted a survey of players to try and evaluate the game’s value. We found that:- Every single player, no matter what age, remembered at least one artwork from the game and could describe it in detail. When asked if they would visit the museum again, 68% of players said that they definitely would, while an additional 22% said that they might. When asked to rate how “fun” the museum is out of seven, 85% of players gave us a rating of five or more, and 44% of players gave us the maximum rating of seven. The last question asked players how they would describe the game to a friend. We used all of the answers to create the word cloud that you see here. The larger the word, the more times it was used. The largest number of players fell in the 40-49 age range (14), closely followed by 10-19 (13), 0-9 (12), and 20-29. From observations, we see that it is very popular with families and young couples.
  • PHEON We’re now working with the game designers from Ghosts of a Chance to create a new alternate reality game, Pheon. Pheon is set in Terra Tectus, a virtual world in which two peoples, Staves and Knaves, struggle to restore balance after the intrusion of Seers from the real world.
  • Players must first determine whether they are Staves or Knaves by answering a questionnaire, and then will complete various missions focused on the museum’s art collections, exhibitions, and programs to earn points and propel the game. Missions exist on three levels - Neophyte, Acolyte and Lamplight Council - through which players must advance, reaching the final stage in which players may create missions for those at lower levels. The ultimate goal is to attain the pheon, which promises to restore balance to Terra Tectus.
  • Our goals are to:- Increase familiarity with our collections . Players should leave the game with new knowledge about the types of work we have in our collection. Inspire creativity . Players should physically do something that has a tangible and documented result in order to progress through the game. The missions will be open to many interpretations so that imaginations can run wild… Connect art with *real* life : Players will discover connections between the artworks and artists represented in our collection and their own lives. This might be a simple connection – such as finding out an artist came from the same town as you, or attended the same school. It might be illustrative – understanding the scene in a painting, or recognizing how an object is meant to be used. Or it might be more abstract – such as taking elements from existing artworks to create something personal to you. Raise awareness of the American Art Museum (and other partner institutions): As with “Ghosts of a Chance,” we hope that this game will attract new audiences, primarily on-line, but also in the real world. Players should discover our collections through the game and be inspired to visit our Web site or even our physical museum.
  • There are four general types of missions:  Discover, Make, Document and Perform. Discover Recreation Re-creation We talk of playing to prove your worth. Games have always been an indicator of advanced cultures. They entertain us as they teach us. They are ways to pass along the notion of rules and order and fun. We want you to find an old game or sport that's rarely played now. Research its rules and strategies, and then revive that lost game with your friends!
  • Make Bust a move Sometimes it pays to be in two places at the same time. In Terra Tectus it is a way of life. You can be in Terra Tectus, where time seems suspended, where you hardly age at all, and you can have another foot firmly planted in the real world, the here and now. Check out SAVOY. We want you to find an image of yourself dancing and digitally place it inside SAVOY. Show us how adept you are at side-stepping and high stepping. Be in two places at once, at your desk, with your laptop, and rockin’ out at the Savoy Ballroom, in 1939. Ordinary fantastic-ness One sure way to prove your worth is to showcase your ingenuity. It is a virtue we share with hobbyists, artists, engineers or scientists. The ability to see something wonderful in “nothing” or next to nothing. We want you to find the most ordinary of items in your house – an old utensil, a plastic container on its way to the recycling bin and turn it into something spectacular! Can you find something of not too much interest and turn it into something fantastic? Here’s a splendid example from a man named Pepon Osorio.
  • Perform Not Very Talky Type You may want to communicate with a Terra Tectan who does not want to talk with you. Why not perfect other communications skills. A thought occurred to us as we perused a picture at The Smithsonian American Art Museum. The subject was the patron saint of confessors. Above his head, written in stars is the Latin word, TACUI, which means, “I did not speak.” This got us thinking about the value of non-verbal communication. Try coming up with a new way of saying something (anything).
  • Launch The game launched on September 18 with an event in the Museum. Competing as either Knaves or Staves, teams followed clues around the museum to complete a series of quests.
  • The quests were designed to engage people with the artworks and take them around the museum in unconventional ways. Tasks included: -- making a reproduction of a sculpture out of aluminum foil -- searching for information on the computers -- locating objects -- singing your rendition of the sheet music depicted in a painting -- deciphering hidden messages in artworks -- hunting for clues in a plant
  • The second quest was performed incognito; Knaves disguised themselves as Staves, and Staves disguised themselves as Knaves.
  • Thank you!
  • Pheon and Ghosts of a Chance (Alternate Reality Games and 21st Century Literacies)

    1. 1. Two ARGs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Georgina Goodlander
    2. 2. An ARG is “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.” -- Wikipedia
    3. 5. <ul><li>Necklace of the Subaltern Betrayer </li></ul><ul><li>Predictor of Imminent Doom </li></ul><ul><li>Con Artists’ Replica </li></ul><ul><li>Diorama of a Travesty </li></ul><ul><li>Memory Vessel </li></ul><ul><li>Escape Quilt </li></ul>
    4. 11. 1. You’re having a dream about fishing, are you? a) Wading in a stream. (Stave) b) On a boat in the middle of the ocean (Knave) 2. Which would you rather untie? a) A knot (Stave) b) A bow (Knave) 3. If you played professional football, which squad would you be on? a) Defense (Stave) b) Offense (Knave)
    5. 12. <ul><li>Goals </li></ul><ul><li>Increase familiarity with our collections </li></ul><ul><li>Inspire creativity </li></ul><ul><li>Connect art with *real* life </li></ul><ul><li>Raise awareness of the American Art Museum </li></ul>
    6. 13. Recreation Re-creation Type: Discover, Level: Difficult George Catlin, Ball-play of the Women, Prairie du Chien ,1835-36, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1985.66.430
    7. 14. Bust a Move Type: Make, Level: Difficult Richard Yarde, Savoy , 1988, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1989.59.2 Pepón Osorio, El Chandelier, 1988, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1995.40 Ordinary Fantastic-ness Type: Make, Level: Medium,
    8. 15. Not Very Talky Type Type: Perform, Level: Difficult José Campeche y Jordán, San Juan Nepomuceno , ca. 1798, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1996.91.5
    9. 19. Ghosts of a Chance Archive: Full Evaluation of Ghosts of a Chance: Pheon: Georgina Goodlander Facebook/Twitter/Flickr: bathlander