A Guest Lecture on “Alternate Reality Game” by Ian Forrester

Mediamatic‘s announcement of a gaming event “Ignite” reminded me of blogging about Ian Forrester‘s guest lecture on introducing “Alternate Reality Games” on 9 December.

According to Wikipedia, an alternate reality game (ARG) is “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.”

Alternate reality games (ARGs) is a type of “transmedia”, whose key concepts and fundamentals are best explained by Henry Jenkins (Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program and Professor of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.

Sean Stewart, a prominent figure in transmedia storytelling remarks that “The key thing about an ARG is the way it jumps off all those platforms. It’s a game that’s social and comes at you across all the different ways that you connect to the world around you.

Put bluntly, transmedia denotes that the whole world is our platform and all media artefacts can be circulated on it, ranging from signs, movies, graffiti, words of mouth, phones, answering machines, events, postcards, instant messages, books, magazines, comics, emails, toys, theatre plays, hoaxes, tv programmes, radio shows, letters, software, commercials, music, games, art exhibitions. And ARGs are being played in this world, across a wealth of platforms.

The interactivity and participatory features inscribed in ARGs also highlight the “free software” spirit behind the transmedia / cross-media phenomenon, where media content (plots, characters, material, game play mechanisms) are shared, distributed, re-used, modified, re-purposed and re-distributed across multiple mediums.

Apart from Ian’s slides, I also found Jeff Watson‘s slides useful. The comparison he makes between single-platform (such as books, movies, TV programmes, packaged games) and multiple-platforms is quite luminous; he summarises the characters of multiple-platform media into four points: 1) fuzzy boundaries separating story from non-story 2) story told across many media artefacts 3) progressions through narratives negotiated among multiple authors and players-participants, 4) story as layer.

Starting from 2011/12, I’ll be coordinating and teaching a whole new module about transmedia and cross-media at our new campus at the MediaCity UK. The preparation is undergoing speedily and smoothly. Ian’s guest lecture on ARGs also nicely warmed up the transformation of SMMP’s curriculum. Thanks for coming over to speak to us, Ian (especially when you were unwell). Much appreciated and get well soon.


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