ARGs: In-situ design and situated action

Figure 1

Figure 1 from the book chapter “Alternate Reality Games”. A “masterplan” showing part of a small fictitious ARG. Each node is a planned activity.

by Camilla Simonsen
A new design method for the so-called Alternate Reality Games is described by DHT researcher Erik Kristiansen in a currently-in-press book chapter of the same name (Alternate Reality Games).

The method includes directions for idea generation, site exploration, how to write an ARG narrative, design of the player experience, design of challenges and how to run and monitor ARGs. E.g. urban games are highly situated games as they are dependent on contextualized play. Hence the design method benefits from both in-situ design and situated action.

Not much research done on this before
The book chapter concludes that ARGs design methods have previously been subject to very little research, but that they “have several unusual properties that make them interesting for research”.

In the chapter, Erik Kristiansen mentions three aspects of ARG design methods of particular theoretical interest: As games ARGs are unusual as they don’t expose themselves as games; their use of many media and communication channels to tell a story; and that they are unusual in their use of a particular form of user-centered design.

Not to be completed by designers
Though the book chapter provides a method to design ARGs, an important point is that the design is not meant to be completed by the designers, but should at least partially rely on the players’ engagement to evolve them. And that this “happens not only by forcing a rescheduling of the parts of the design artifact, but also by a continuous redesign process.”

The production of an ARG therefore relies on monitoring the success or failure of the usage and later on on-the-fly rearranging or partly redesign. Therefore the chapter states, “to make monitoring smooth most parts of an ARG have to be designed with monitoring in mind”.

The complete chapter can be seen as Chapter 9 in “Situated Design Methods”, which is published by MIT Press and estimated to be in stores in the summer of 2014.
See also “Situated Design Methods’ – a success going to print” and “Book reception: Celebrating finished manuscript”.

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