Seminar Talk 2014-05-14

“Alternate Reality Games: Network Aesthetics, Ludic Contingencies, and Practices of Failure”

Patrick Jagoda, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
Affiliate of Cinema and Media Studies
University of Chicago

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 – 5:00pm
Donald Bren Hall, Room 6011 (Bldg. 314)

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are a rapidly growing form of experimental games that originated in the early twenty-first century. Most games in this fledgling category, including Microsoft’s The Beast and 42 Entertainment’s I Love Bees, function as collaborative experiences that use the real world as a platform, blurring the lines between games and reality. To accomplish this fusion, these games incorporate a wide breadth of everyday media types including text, video, audio, print, phone calls, websites, email, social networks, and locative technologies. In ARGs, players interact directly with characters, solve plot-based puzzles to advance the narrative, and build a collaborative community to coordinate real-life and online activities.

This presentation uses ARG form to animate some of the complex negotiations that are taking place about and through computer networks. Rather than producing an imagination of networks that invariably exceed human perception, these games generate an experience of interconnected structures through what I call “network aesthetics.” Here, I use a practice-based research method that focuses on an ARG that I directed in April 2013 in a Chicago-based collaboration with Sha Xin Wei, the Montreal-based Topological Media Lab, and students at the University of Chicago. This experimental and pervasive experience, entitled The Project, combined transmedia storytelling, performative role-playing, responsive media environments, and a series of live games. Over the course of the game’s three and a half weeks, players explored three conspiracy groups that were involved in a shared enterprise. Through this case study, I posit critical making as a method for interrogating contemporary networks. Furthermore, I consider contingency and failure as analytical concepts that might offer greater access to networks than connection and control.

About the Speaker:
Patrick Jagoda is Assistant Professor of English and an affiliate of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, where he is also Co-editor of Critical Inquiry and Co-founder of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab. Jagoda specializes in new media studies, twentieth and twenty-first century American literature, and digital game theory and design. Jagoda has also worked on several projects related to digital storytelling, transmedia game design, and new media learning. At the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab he has led the design of projects, including card games, interactive narratives, and alternate reality games related to various social justice topics.