One of my main concerns in thinking about an ARG for the incoming freshman is how to approach the same sort of sensitive topics that would be addressed in traditional orientation. In traditional orientation, the material is very easily controlled, and a student is informed by way of schedule what topics are going to be discussed so if they would be triggering to interact with, they can get permission to be excused from these events. Despite the oh-so controversial letter on the topic of safe spaces and academic freedom, trigger warnings play a crucial role for students for whom certain issues might trigger panic attacks. They can prepare themselves. However, when the shift is made from traditional orientation to an ARG, this safety net disappears.
While simulated experiences in real life probably are more effective in teaching students about complicated matters than dry lectures or presentations, they present a multitude of complications. First off, trigger warnings directly conflict with the TING aspect of most ARGs—the TING aspect could be sacrificed, but that only resolves part of the problem. The other problems are that ARGs, as a medium, are a bit chaotic, as a result of the improvisational nature, and so the way that the students interact with the material would not be easily controlled, the way it would be with, for example, the performances about sexual violence performed in the traditional orientation. Furthermore, while a simulated experience relating to a sensitive topic might be a bit more effective of a way to teach it, it could be a million times more triggering to someone because of the way that ARGs blur the lines between reality and game.
It was with this lens in mind that I looked at the Kaufman and Flanagan’s article on obscuring and embedding. Their concern in mind is more on the effectiveness level. However, it provides an interesting solution, or at least an idea of one, for the issues of dealing with sensitive topics. While something that was out in the open about dealing with sexual violence or domestic violence or eating disorders or depression might be too overwhelming for someone for whom those might be triggering, if it was presented in a more embedded manner, that could prove to be a more sensitive way to deal with things. Of course, the article presented this method with card games, not ARGs, but the idea of embedding the prosocial agenda is translatable. For example, as part of the narrative, it could be presented in an allegorical format, which would be easier to digest.
However, while this idea provides a potential solution, it raises two further problems. First off, if these ideas are to be obscured or embedded, whether through allegory or not, they must still be clear enough to get the message across. Adding this layer of padding, so to speak, might create too much padding, so much that the message gets lost. Secondly, the embedding of the message must be done carefully. If one does not think carefully about the way that it’s embedded, it might cause more damage than it solves. For example, the article talks about how creating a game about the zombie plague was meant to promote positive attitudes towards vaccination and empathy towards those living with disease. The article doesn’t go into specifics about how they went about it—and it says that there were positive outcomes, that it caused higher levels of empathy for those with diseases. However, if they hadn’t been careful with their use of the zombie plague as an allegory for real life diseases, it could have very easily increased the stigma felt towards people with infectious diseases. Thus embedding must be done with delicacy and with mindfulness towards the narrative one is creating. ARGs can be a powerful tool for change, but they must be treated as such and, if they are to send a message or for an instrument of social change, that should not be taken lightly.
Kaufman, Geoff, Flanagan, Mary, A psychologically “embedded” approach to designing games for prosocial causes, Retrieved from http://cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2015091601