Collaboration and Construction

First off, I’d like to congratulate everyone on Monday’s presentations; every group did an amazing job!

Second, now that I’ve gotten my fawning out of the way, I wanted to talk about collaboration’s effect on the development process of an ARG. I’ve been thinking a lot about how Monday’s experience was so heavily a product of the way we were broken up into our final groups. The composition of the individuals in each group dictated our final products; had the groups been different, we would have played six entirely different modules.

While this may be obvious, it’s still an important concept to think about, especially in game design. Multiple viewpoints are imperative to designing an effective game; when working with creative media that heavily relies on the actions of the consumer, capacity to anticipate the broad spectrum of actions likely to be taken by the player is essential. This is especially important when trying to avoid having players break a sequence of events meant to be accomplished in a specific order.

Sequence breaking isn’t really a problem with television and movies. While it’s possible to consume them in a different order than they were intended to be, that generally requires effort on the part of the viewer (episodes are numbered for a reason!). In video games and ARGs, however, it is theoretically very easy to break from an intended sequence of events. The structural nature of video games usually allows for mechanisms that can keep a player from straying from the game’s track – Snorlax isn’t going to move until you get the Pokeflute, doors are locked until you trigger an event, or maybe there’s just an inexplicable invisible wall blocking the way to the next area. With ARGs…these aren’t really viable options. Other than the obvious problem of the difficulty in acquiring a Snorlax or setting up an invisible wall, the issue is the detriment to the “This Is Not a Game” mentality present in most ARGs.

One potential fix to this is to design the game/puzzle in such a way that creates an intuitive path for players to follow, one clear enough to avoid a point where players don’t know what to do next (which is often when people try an alternative approach), but one subtle enough that players don’t feel like they’re on one of those child backpack-leashes. This is where team composition and variety in viewpoints comes back into play (no pun intended). The group as a unit designs the module, but the individuals in the group bring unique insight to various components, allowing more ideas and approaches to be explored than would be if an individual was tasked with doing the designing on their own.
I think it’s important to clarify that player experimentation and exploration is not at all a negative thing in ARGs – it’s a huge part of world building and enhancing player experience. It’s a delicate balance between allowing explorative interaction while still (stealthily) keeping that exploration on the intended game path.

In other words, yay teamwork!

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