ARG Guy.jpg


T/Th 12:00-1:20

Location: Logan 501

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (, Office Hours Thursdays 3-5pm or by appointment (Walker 504)

Instructor: Heidi Coleman (, Office Hours Monday 10AM-4PM, Thursday 1:30-5PM

TA: Ben Nicholson (


This experimental course explores the emerging genre of “alternate reality” or “transmedia” gaming. Throughout the quarter, we will approach new media theory through the history, aesthetics, and design of alternate reality games (ARGs). As we will see, ARGs encourage a permeability of the spatial, temporal, and social boundaries. They communicate their narratives through a range of media, including video, radio, letters, texting, social media, theatrical sets, puzzles, games, and nearly constant live-action performances from actors and designers. For all of their novelty, these games build on the narrative strategies of novels, the performative role-playing of theater, the branching techniques of electronic literature, the procedural qualities of videogames, and the team dynamics of sports.

Beyond the subject matter, this course is a springboard for transforming the 2017 orientation for the incoming class of approximately 1,600 first-year students into an alternate reality game. Students in this course, thus, will not only be learning how to design a game but also contributing directly to the research and construction of this large-scale project. Building on this interdisciplinary research, we intend to design the University of Chicago orientation as a game that might help undergraduate students acclimate to the University setting and develop capacities linked to collaboration, leadership, and twenty-first century literacies. In particular, we are interested in discovering how interactive and participatory learning methods might help University students discuss and better understand complicated issues of inclusivity, diversity, and safety.

This course will rely on individual preparation as well as an energetically collaborative mindset. While we understand not everyone will share the same fascination with “rabbit holes,” the ability to generate ideas through group work is highly valued. An approach that begins “yes and” is far more generative than “that won’t work because.” We work to discover and experiment, learning as much from what doesn’t work as what does.

In addition to regular preparation, class discussion, presentations, and blog participation, the course includes a substantial collaborative final project in which each group creates an Alternate Reality Game module related to the 2017 Orientation game. Along with two weekly meetings, there will be a special gameplay session outside of class and a final project play-through during finals week.


– We only meet a handful of times so make the most of each seminar/workshop session. Arrive on time!

– Do the reading and take the activities seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and artworks. All readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

– Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. Just because we’re discussing digital works, in many cases, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your midterm papers and projects.

– Screenings and participation are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the events, you must pre-approve this absence and play the game prior to our class discussion.

– Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours


  • Attendance, Preparation, Discussion, and Participation in Exercises: 20%
  • Two short presentations on Alternate Reality Game topics (in groups): 15%
  • Blog Posts (Individual 5 and short weekly responses): 25%
  • Final Group Project: Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Class Presentation/Performance (with Rabbit Hole), Group Project, and Individual Reflection (2-3 pages): 40%

Note about Grading: Attendance is crucial to the collaborative and group nature of this course. We are engaged in a collective project and need all 10 weeks to develop a shared vocabulary and methods. As such, any unexcused absence will impact your final grade.

COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)

Note: All readings that do not include links appear as PDFs on our course Chalk site.

Pre-Quarter: Precursors to Alternate Reality Games

Week 1: Critical Play and Serious Games

Tuesday, September 27

  • Course Introduction (Heidi and Patrick)
  • Discussion of pre-quarter texts

Thursday, September 29

  • Discussion of assigned texts
  • “Games: the Extensions of Man” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 254-66)
  • “Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play” (Guy Debord)
  • “Introduction to Critical Play” (Mary Flanagan, Critical Play, p. 1-16)
  • Reality is Broken (Jane McGonigal, p. 119-45, 296-344)

Week 2: Alternate Reality Games — Overview and Case Studies

*note: groups for this week’s Thursday presentation are posted in the announcements on Chalk!

Tuesday, October 4

Thursday, October 6

  • Lecture: “ARG Case Studies: The Chicago School” (Patrick)
  • Discuss the Speculation Archive and “Speculation: Financial Games and Derivative Worlding in a Transmedia Era” (N. Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux, p. 220-236)
  • “Worlding through Play Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source” (Patrick Jagoda, Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russell, p. 478-504)
  • S.E.E.D. Game Documentary (30 minutes)
  • Short Presentation on ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study (in Small Groups). Choose a Case Study from Pervasive Games, such as Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, I Love Bees, Year Zero, etc.

Week 3: Alternate Realities in Serious and Educational Games

Tuesday, October 11

Thursday, October 13

  • Discussion: “Lessons down a Rabbit Hole: Alternate Reality Gaming in the Classroom” (Shira Chess and Paul Booth)
  • “Informal STEM Learning Through Alternate Reality Games” (Kari Kraus)
  • Short Presentation on Transmedia “Serious” Game Case Study (in Small Groups). Choose one of the following “serious” ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST,  ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of BabelArcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG)Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.

Week 4: Ludic Trails and Intermedia Performance

Tuesday, October 18

  • Exercise: In groups, create a fictive space or a “trail” out of an everyday environment (note: this trail need not necessarily include an overt narrative component)

Thursday, October 20

  • Discussion of assigned texts

Week 5: Game Design Fundamentals

Tuesday, October 25

Thursday, October 27

  • Exercise: Design an ARG puzzle that can take place in one or more spaces at the University of Chicago Logan Center

Week 6: Social Media Experiments

Tuesday, November 1

Thursday, November 3

  • Exercise: In groups, use an assigned social media platform (e.g., Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Yik Yak, YouTube, Twitter) to create a rabbit hole and short game-based experience

Week 7: Spatial Storytelling and Narrative Games

Tuesday, November 8

Wednesday, November 9

  • Special tabletop roleplaying game night: Play Dread (6-8pm) and eat Mediterranean food!

Thursday, November 10

  • Discuss tabletop roleplaying games
  • “Uncertainty in Analog Role-Playing Games” (Part 1 and Part 2, Evan Torner)
  • Exercise: Create a short trail-based narrative that incorporates evocative, enacted, embedded, and/or emergent modes of storytelling

Week 8: Improvisation and Affect 

Tuesday, November 15

  • “Theatre of the Oppressed” (Augusto Boal, “Preface to the 1974 edition” p. xxiii-xxiv and Chapter 4 “Poetics of the Oppressed” p. 95-135)
  • “‘Yes, and’: Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy (Earl Vickers, p. 1-19)
  • “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity” (R. Keith Sawyer, p. 149-161)
  • “Navigating Movements: A conversation with Brian Massumi” in Hope: new philosophies for change (Mary Zournazi and Brian Massumi, p. 210-242)

Thursday, November 17

  • Play Loneliness and Regret
  • “Designing Games to Foster Empathy” (Jonathan Belman and Mary Flanagan, p. 5-15)
  • Exercise: In groups, create a mini-game or puzzle within emotional and affective parameters. Design a short game that causes the players to experience anger, fear, regret, joy, melancholy, or laughter. Choose one medium per group and have participants come up with a quick game design that incorporates certain senses or elicits specific emotions. Have other groups play-test these designs.

Week 9: Final Project Walk-Through

Tuesday, November 22

  • In-class Vamonde Working session and Initial Walkthrough

Thursday, November 24


Week 10: Final Presentations

Tuesday, November 29

  • Course wrap-up
  • Tuesday Evening: Final Module Project In-class Presentation (with rabbit hole disruption) and Critique (3 hour block)



Blog Posts and Responses

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (located on this WordPress site) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 5 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s digital narratives or theoretical reading, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 5 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.

ARG Group Presentations

On two occasions, you will select a transmedia game from an approved list and give a 5-minute presentation of it in groups of four. These presentations include:

October 6: ARG or Pervasive Game Case Study. Choose from case studies in the text Pervasive Games, which include Killer, The Beast, Shelby Logan’s Run, BotFighters, Mystery on Fifth Avenue, Momentum, PacManhattan, etc.

October 13: “Serious” Transmedia Game Case Study. Choose one of the following “serious,” educational, or politically oriented ARGs: World Without Oil, Tomorrow Calling, Traces of Hope, DUST,  ARGuing for Multilingual Motivation in Web 2.0, Black Cloud, Evoke, Reality Ends Here, The Tower of BabelArcane Gallery of Gadgetry (AGOG)Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction (ARGOSI), Vanished, Blood on the Stacks (BOTS), or other approved game.

As you think about your selected work, be attentive to the media-specific techniques through which the game tells a story or establishes a playful situation. While a brief summary of the game will be necessary for your classmates, you should focus on the analysis. Your presentation style may be as poetic or innovative as you’d like, provided that it tells us something meaningful about the production, aesthetics, gameplay, and form of your selected games.

Final Group Project: Alternate Reality Game Module

Final Group Project Abstract (Approximately 1 page or 300-400 words)

As a group, write a brief abstract for your final project that is due approximately a month before the project deadline. In this abstract, introduce your module and comment upon the type of research and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? Finally, what are the narrative, formal, social, and artistic innovations of the project? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline.

Final Project In-class Presentation and Critique (30 minutes) 

During the final week of the class, the class will play through and briefly discuss your module, or some subset of it. After this hands-on session, you will turn in a Game Design Document for your proposed module.

Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)

Along with your actual group project, we’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 pages) individual reflection about your project that does three things. First, offer an artist’s statement on the formal significance of your project. This is your chance to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your ARG and to give a reader a frame for encountering your text. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? What did you contribute to the group? What was the balance of work like in your group? Third, and crucially, how would you revise and expand your project if you had more time?