Patrick Jagoda and Kristen Schilt, Transforming Orientation Through Alternate Reality Gaming

– To jump right into it, the project that we’re going to talk about is
called an alternate reality game, that we co-created with
a group of graduate students and under graduate students as
well as professional artists in Chicago, and it was a
game that was scaled for all the incoming students at
the University of Chicago. It wasn’t mandatory, so not
all of the students played it, but we’ll tell you more about
why we did it, what it looked like and what the next steps might be. So just very briefly,
has anybody here played an alternate reality game? (laughing) I know at least one hand
of someone who played this alternate reality game but
how many people have heard of this genre before? Okay, higher. Yeah. So just like very briefly,
another name for this kind of game is transmedia game,
so it’s a game that unfolds in physical space with actors
but also unfolds online via social media, emails,
websites and other forms. It might incorporate text,
video, audio, phone calls, scavenger hunts, code
breaking puzzles and so forth. The story is told by these
games and they are very narrative heavy are broken into
discrete pieces that players have to rediscover and reconfigure. So the narrative isn’t linear,
it’s not like reading a novel you’re finding pieces and
you’re putting it all together. The third thing about these
games is they’re participatory and collective, you play
them with large groups. It’s not like a video game, a
single player video game that you’re playing by yourself,
you’re playing with as large of a group people as
you can bring together. And finally and this is
maybe the most important part of an alternate reality game
is it has a, this is not a game aesthetic, you don’t
tell people explicitly that they’re playing a game, you
give them hints that they’re playing a game, you give
them signs and symbols. And they figure it out, but
the status of the event is constantly being renegotiated
during the status of the game. And we’ll say more about that. Just very briefly, I’ve been
working on this kind of game since about 2011 in a much
smaller scale, have worked on a number of different games,
Speculation was a game about finance for instance. The Source and SEED were games
about stem education that were intended for high school students. And The Parasite is a
game that Kristen and I, well were talking about now,
that we created for the first year of orientation along with
Heidi Coleman and a number of different students. So why turn to a game at all
for something like orientation? Part of this has to do with
the fact that 97 percent of teens now play video games
or mobile games in one form or another, about 2 billion
people worldwide play video games. You know when Grand Theft Auto
five first came out it sold one billion dollars worth
of units in three days, out selling any previous
movie or music product. So games are just culturally,
I mean arguably a cultural dominance, and games mean many
things, right it could mean stuff that you’re playing on
your screen, your big screen, your mobile screen, things
that you’re playing out in the world. So as we were working on this
game we thought about learning objectives right, so what
can we imbed into this game? We didn’t want to make an
education game and hit people over the head with things that
we were trying to teach them but how can you take useful
soft skills and incorporate them into a multi month adventure? And I’m not going to go through
all these but these are just some of the skills from time
management, to communicating clearly that we were very
mindful of, with every module, every challenge that we,
that we designed across this. And this just gives you a
sense that there’s a literature out there that suggests that
games can be an effective form of education, so they depend
on a visceral or emotional logic rather than just
a cerebral cognitive way of delivering information. They garner curiosity,
motivation, effort, they activate multiple learning styles,
right if you’re listening to a lecture you’re getting
information one very specific way, if you’re playing a game
you’re hearing, you’re seeing, you’re interacting with animation. People can come to a game
in many different ways. Also and this is really important
for me, games enable safe failure, you can make
mistakes, keep making mistakes, move through trial and
error and get better. And that so me is like
kind of learning 101. So for the remaining time
we’ll give you an overview of the game, we’ll talk about
some of the project outcomes and qualitative data that
we’ve gathered about the game. And then we’ll talk just a
little bit about kind of some theoretical implications. – Great so, we’ll start with
talking about The Parasite in detail, so as Patrick
mentioned The Parasite was an alternate reality game that
was designed by Patrick, Heidi Coleman who’s in theater
and performing studies here, and myself along with a great
group of students, staff, professional artists, we
couldn’t have actually done this without all of the University
of Chicago kind of working with us, so it was really great. It was funded by the Neubauer
Collegium, we also got help from College Programming who
run orientation, the arts, the Provost’s Office. And we started, so this was
our target was first year orientation 2017 which starts
in mid September and so we actually rolled out the
beginnings of the game online in early May, and people
played from May until September online then there was site
specific play here during the week of orientation, so
September 17th through 23rd. And I’m gonna go into a little
bit of detail about what these different kinds of games
were, but this just gives you a timeline, and I would
say if we, because our target date was to roll out the
online in May 2017, we started working on this about a year before. Right so it took about a year
I think to get everything in place to make sure that
this was going to happen. So we had a great team of full
time designers and performers so this is just a list
of all of the students, and the professional
artists that worked with us. Who were working pretty much,
you know eight hours a day, if not more to get this all
going in time for the May roll out. And the reason that we
focused on orientation, we had certain goals about orientation
that you know the university has this long orientation for
first year students because it’s imagined to be a moment
of key habit formation. Right that you’re getting
people who are coming from very different places and saying,
okay you’re not all at the University of Chicago,
this is what is means to be a University of Chicago
student, here’s some habits. You know here’s some like, you
know ideas that we want you to have and so we wanted
to think about how we might help develop those goals, in
particular looking at ideas about collaboration, thinking
about diversity and inclusion. And really thinking about
like digital media and 21st century literacies. We also really wanted to
work with under represented students to give them a
greater sense of belonging at the university, and this was
in response to a climate survey that the university had
done that showed that first generation students, students
of color and LGBTQ students, reported feeling alienated
during orientation. That was the first moment at
which they started to feel not a part of the university
and so we wanted to see if we could intervene upon that. And we also wanted it to be
sort of unique and fun for everybody who was participating. So the way that it got started
is called a rabbit hole, from Alice and Wonderland, so
the dean of students who runs orientation sent out the typical
letter to students saying we’re really glad you’re
coming, like here’s some information about orientation
and this was on May 8th, 2017. And the dean allowed us to
include this little post script at the bottom that had a little
rebus puzzle as you can see. – Yeah, yeah I mean so the
rebus puzzle had a picture of a pair of the letter a, and a
pair of eyes, and so if you typed in that URL at it would take you to an actual
website that had narrative information on it, where you
could click on links and get additional information that
gave you the back story of the world that we had created. – And so we had, if you clicked
on these links there was a series of redacted documents
that we had created, these were all things that we
created, that were you know the documents of a supposed
disciplinary hearing between a student and a college dean. And we had created this
whole, all these documents to, to tell the narrative of the
story that we were creating. And you know just to illustrate
that not everyone, I mean I would say a small percentage
of people saw the rebus puzzle and then figured it
out, so it really just took one person to do it online because
they all were part of this class of 2020 Facebook group. And so one person was like,
hey what is this, and then it kind of started people going
to try and learn more about it. And so in the focus groups the
people who played were really excited about like this
entrance into the game, so one of them said, you know whenever
I used to read mysteries or any kind of story, I’d always
be like it’d be so cool if that kind of thing happened to me. And then that kind of thing
started happening to me and I was like I guess
I’ve got to do this now. So there was a sense among
them that there was this kind of mystery that they wanted to follow. That they’re being invited into something. – Yeah and the experience
was very much like, suddenly finding yourself in the
middle of a novel and finding yourself to be the protagonist of that. The story that we gave them
had to do with a secret society called P.S. that had existed
at the University of Chicago since 1896, we created fact
documents suggesting that the secret society actually
had existed since 1896. Put those in the library,
and various other places. And we basically said that
P.S. was motivated by solving large scale social problems,
so rather than hazing and doing the kinds of things that frats
or sororities sometimes do, this was an organization that
was committed to a different kind of social change. The one kind of science fiction
part of the story was that we said that there was a
mysterious room that appeared only once every 11 years at the
University of Chicago which I will neither confirm or deny. (laughing) And that this was the year,
this was in fact 121 years after 1896 so it was 11
times 11, right the kind of, the year that this was going to happen. So this was a very special
moment of the appearance of the room, in the midst of
this we had many characters. We had these kind of red
monk characters called the Reticulites, we had
students including Zoe who’s now a graduate student playing characters. We had slightly more creepy
characters, that we can talk more about later in you know,
sensory deprivation suits. And then the basics of the
games itself, right so we had there was narrative but then
what the players were actually doing was finding 121 objects
that were hidden all around Hyde Park in Chicago and it
was said that in the last time that the room had appeared
in 2006 the red monks had removed the 121 objects for some reason. And that the players had to
find then reconstitute them, bring them to the room
in order to activate it. So it became this kind of
scavenger hunt and all of the incoming players came
to be known as Seekers. So what were gonna show you,
easier to show than tell, we’ll show you a brief trailer,
that’s about two minutes long that we cut after the game was done. So it’s a post mortem trailer
and it’ll give you a sense of like what this all
felt like to some degree. – [Narrator] Welcome, Seekers. (mumbling) In 1896 the founding members
of P.S. discovered a room. This room… (mysterious music) Appears only once every 11 years. (mysterious music) P.S. wanted to protect and study… (background noise covers talking) (static noises) (mysterious music) (mumbling) – Thus we are here to
invite you to process… (mumbling) Join in the assemblage of
potentiality synthesizers, to test and experiment. (dramatic music) We implore you to connect
with the other Seekers, find these 121 objects and
return them to the room, the future of the parasite is at stack. – [Man] We’re investigating,
what were trying to find out about on this show and
in general is things around the P.S. or parasite
mystery or the red monks. And I wanted to ask if you’d
seen a red monk on campus? – [Student] I have seen red
monks on campus I think on two different occasions, once must
have been a few years ago, maybe 2014 I was just walking
down the main quad and saw one out of the corner of the main quad. (guitar playing) ♪ Let me tell you a story ♪ ♪ Of some secret society ♪ ♪ Or so they tell us ♪ ♪ It all pretty size ♪ ♪ But like us to show ♪ ♪ So here is what we know ♪ ♪ P.S. is founded in 1896 ♪ – [Narrator] We implore you
to connect with the other seekers, find these 121 objects
and return them to the room, the future of the parasite is at stack. (acoustic music) (piano playing) – [Narrator] Now go, there
isn’t much time, game on. – Okay so we’ll break some
of that down, so the central question that the students
were faced with is what is the parasite, they had
these 121 objects to find. And the way that they
access this game was again, the transmedia experience right
so it wasn’t coming at you with one screen, there were
paper fliers that they found with phone numbers and if
you called one of those phone numbers, a character would
actually pick up on the other end and talk to you. There were Facebook pages,
Twitter feeds that were kind of leading them into the game,
again the game was not being used anywhere early on in the process. We created a card game
and sent it out to all of the incoming students, some of
them played it, some of them didn’t, but we had a kind of
in game session of game play. And just to give you a sense
of how deep this went, we found out that some of the
students were interested in Dungeons and Dragons, and
so we created, I mean really the graduate and under graduate
students created a 35 page D and D campaign that looked
like a real D and D campaign that was in the allegory of
The Parasite, the very game that they were playing so it
was this kind of meta, meta, meta process and some of the
students actually played this game of D and D on Google
Hangouts before they came to campus for the first time. So this is like you know, nerd
times three, which I love. I mean this is, you know
my bread and butter. You know, Twine Narratives,
so like interactive narratives came into this online, we did
some very minimal augmented reality work at the Smart
Museum, so we really used site specific play. You heard in the trailer a
podcast that came out regularly about Hyde Park conspiracies
that included information about the red monks, there were
posters, so there was a pre-orientation course that
I think 25 or 30 students took for a week that was an
actual course about new media and games and this was all online. But hidden within that course
were puzzles that led back into the game, so there was
a course that lasted for like four hours a day and then
there were puzzles that lasted for another four hours if
people wanted to do those. And they were all kind of
like hidden into the website of the course, there were
Puzzle Chatbots that people had to like play with and crack. – And you know the Puzzle
Chatbots were one of things that participants in the focus groups
loved, ’cause this was all before they came to college,
right this is the summer before college and so you know they
would say like oh I’d like wake up and the first thing I’d do
is be like what are the bots doing, like what’s everyone
doing online while I was asleep? And because University of
Chicago has many international students too, so there’s
always someone playing online. And so people would wake up
at different times to be like did someone solve something
for us like overnight. Like let me see how I can like go right. And so they were really
into these Puzzle Chatbots as something to do in the summer. – Which we did not guess
ahead of time, this was… We had them apply the different
sects of the secret society playing on the kind of
like Harry Potter theme, somebody in the language
office created a language for the secret society, it started
circulating at the language fair for instance, we had a
fake booth with this language. We circulated like over 100
pages of textual narrative documents that were kind
of novelistic in nature. A reading list, there were
online chats among players between players and characters. To our surprise the players,
and there were a lot of unexpected things that we can
talk about during Q and A, but the players created this
like 50, 70, I don’t remember page Google Doc, that documented
everything about the game with like links and solutions. – [Kristen] Like frequently
asked questions for people who were just joining right, it was amazing. – It was astonishing. The song that you heard in
the second part of the trailer was written by Justine, one
of the incoming students, other students wrote songs
and posted them on YouTube. Created original art that was
related to the secret society, basically like contributed to this world. There were also a lot
of site specific games, I mean the name of the
game was The Parasite so we parasited our way onto
a lot of other events. We had a huge scavenger hunt
at the Logan Center right here, there were actually
events in this very room. In the Black Box Theater on
the first floor we created, over the course of three months
these 11 huge sculptures, that were anywhere between
12 and 15 feet high. Made up of books with media
embedded in them, each of the units had a speaker system
so you could play different audio and remix audio
across the 11 sculptures. This was created by Dave Carlson
and people in the theater and performing studies department here. And then finally, I won’t go
into detail about this but we had 11 clusters of 11 challenges
each, and each of them took place in a different location
around campus so we were really trying to give the
students a first impression of key sites including the
Logan Center and also try to enchant those so when they
came back they would not take those sites for granted. – And so you know part of what
we were doing in this game like we wanted to figure out
you know we had a lot of goals, we had a of things we hoped
would happen, but first we just had to find out would people
actually play this game right? Was it feasible, was it something
that was like attractive to players and so were
accessing that the whole time that we were going, and we
created this, you know we built these crazy sculptures, we
created all this stuff but we didn’t really know if it was
going to work until we did the launch. And so in order to prepare for
this we did do an ethnography of the 2016 orientation so
I’d trained a team of under graduate students who went
and participated in the events that the university organizes. And part of what we were
looking at was what were people doing during orientation, like
what was working really well in terms of getting people
to feel sort of like part of a collective and where did
we see some space where we might be able to create, you
know game events on top of it. Because we wanted to be very
careful not to you know, mess up the formula that the
University of Chicago had, and there’s certain things
that they have to do during orientation, so we were looking
for down spots you know? Like where is there time,
where are the students sort of like getting bored that
we might be able to do some gaming of and then we did focus
groups after, like two weeks after the game ended in October of 2017. And we just recruited first year students, they filled out an online
survey, a screener and we, we advertised that we were
looking for students to talk about what they remembered,
you know their experiences with the orientation. And so we managed to get a
group of people who had played the game and who hadn’t played
the game which is what we were looking for in the focus
groups, to figure out you, you know for those who were
really motivated by it, you know what was the driving factor. And for those who didn’t you
know what was it about that? And so we were able to also,
you know we had our design documents and we were able to
look at you know the content that the players were generating
as a form of you know, assessment of what people
were finding engaging about the game. So we did have some kind of
basic idea of how many people were playing so before
they even got to school, we had about 611 people who
had engaged like with the game, right and that again was
out of 1700 students. I would say by the time we
finished we were probably closer to 8 to 900 so we go about
half of the students. But that’s not, that’s just
sort of in terms of online engagement, we also, most of
the live events that we did had between 35 and 300 people
so like we did an event to Rockefeller Chapel, that was
a silent film, which I think we didn’t expect would be
that popular but it was hugely popular, the people were really into it. And so we, you know we got
some people who had never participated online but who
kind of found it once they got to campus. – And just a really quick
note on engagement, that’s 611 isn’t people coming to websites,
that 611 people who did some substantial thing, like
contributed content to the game in some small way right, I mean
we weren’t, I mean the page clicks is much higher, yeah. – And so you know we can also
sort of see what students were posting right so this was you
know one student at the very beginning saying I was trying
not to get heavily invested into this, but now I’m heavily
invested into this, right. There was a lot of discussion
at the beginning of like, is this something that the
university is creating, or did the university’s page get
hacked, like there was a lot of concern about that. And so then there was sort
of a sense of like okay fine, if the university did create
this like it’s genius, right it’s working, like I’m
making all these friends. And that was really, like the
people who really played it by the time they got here
were like I’ve just made some of the closest friends I’ve
ever had, right that they had like made all these friends
online and you know one of the like best parts I think
of the live play was like we got to see tons of examples
of people seeing each other for the first time in person. And really being like oh my gosh it’s you! Which was you know, really wonderful. And you know, so I feel like
there was just a palpable excitement particularly in the
summer before they got here, about waiting to see what
was going to happen next. So in the focus groups, this
did come out that people who had played said, you know
this was a really effective way of getting to know
other people, right. So like they would say it
started off working together on puzzles but then it was
also a social group where we talked about things and we
got to know each other too. And so that was really I
think the big draw for a lot of people, but you know I
think the narrative, this is always going to be an issue
with ARG’s, some people like the narrative and some people don’t. Right so someone’s like
I love secret societies and the other person was
like uh I don’t know, like I thought it was probably too
much to join up for a secret society, right so it’s going
to be difficult I think to create a narrative that
has appeal for everybody. There was also sort of trouble
with timing so you know, someone could try to participate
like we had alums in some cities like do things for us,
where they would drop off like a thumb drive in a Starbucks
and someone would have to go find it like a CIA
document drop or something. And you know, so this first
person had gone to look for it and didn’t find it and then was
kind of like well I give up, right there was a sense from
some people, the ones that hadn’t noticed it before they
got here that maybe it was too late to join once the got to
campus and so there was a sense like other people have
been doing this for so long and maybe I missed out. And then you know some people
were really drawn by the story like I dedicated my life to
The Parasite and other people were like uh I don’t know,
like it just didn’t really draw my attention right, and I think that’s the sort of risk I think of
going with something like a sci-fi narrative right,
it’s going to be, or even a mystery like for some people
that’s gonna be a driver and for other people its just
not a genre that they find particularly interesting. – And the second participant
makes a useful distinction I think right, where as we
found some of this where the game sometimes grabbed
people attention but didn’t keep it, right so there were
ways of using like viral marketing techniques to grab
their attention in the first place but because of the amount
of effort required to keep going with the game, and
maybe not always a clear understanding that it even
was a game, which I know has benefits too, right there
was this kind of split. So really briefly were just
gonna do one more thing and then open it up to Q and A. You know part of our thinking
around the design part of the game was that you know
we have a lot of gamification these days, so the
gamification is the use of game mechanics and competitive
procedures in traditionally non-game activities, it’s a
concept that comes at least in part out of behavioral economics. You see a lot of examples of
this right, I mean like your Fit Bit is probably the
best example, it’s basically quantifying, self quantification
is one way of putting it. But it’s using game avatars,
points, leader boards, badges, in order to get you interested
in exercise or doing chores. Or getting better habits,
things that you might not otherwise do, you know and
for me in my own research and game studies you know I
think, I make the argument that there are a lot of
problems with gamification, they rely very heavily on extrinsic motivation. So they may get people to do
something in the short term, but they might not stick with
it and it’s also not always the most ethical way of going
about the kind of behavior change. And in fact this media
critic, Evgeny Morozov I think captures this way of thinking
of using games in order to solve problems with
this concept of solutionism that he has, so essentially
he says that like when we design and engineer, when
designing and engineering is overused you don’t get
the results that you want. So recasting all complex
social situations either is a neatly defined problem with
definite computable solutions or as transparent and
self-evident processes that can be easily optimized, if only
the right algorithms are in place, this guest is liking to
have unexpected consequences that could eventually cause
more damage than the problems they seek to address. So basically he says this is
how Silicone Valley thinks about things, that there’s
like any problem has an engineering solution, that’s
absolutely not what we wanted to do with this game, we are
not trying to solve problems. We were trying to include
the players in co-creating a world, not just a
fictional world but the world of the University of Chicago
that they would be apart of for the next four years. So even you know as Kristen
was saying before, one of our thoughts was about diversity
and inclusion at the university and even with that it’s not
like we said, we know what diversity and inclusion is,
were going to engineer a bunch of puzzles and that’s going
to solve that problem. We used the game to ask what is diversity, what is inclusion, what
does it mean to students, what does it mean to the
faculty, what does it mean to members of the university community? And so in a way the game was
more about problem finding, than it was about problem solving. So anyway, that’s just to
give you a sense of what our orientation is, we can say
more about that in the Q and A. At this point if you can
shut off the camera just for a second, that would be great. So we have plenty of time
for Q and A, feel free to ask questions about any part of this process. – [Audience Member] So you
mentioned funding, how did you get the funding? And what, how much were we
talking about getting ready, okay if I want to do this
in my school, can I go about doing it? – Yeah. – I mean it was hard, like I think that we got you know a chunk of money
from the Neubauer Collegium which funds interdisciplinary
faculty projects. But that was a one time
source, so like it wasn’t ever going to be sustainable
that we could do that again. I mean I think once the
college, you know John Boer, Dean Boer, was a big advocate
of this and so he was willing to put in some resources,
I mean he was very helpful. In fact I would say, you know
for those of you who know Dean Boer, he’s a very creative
person so we pitched it to him and he was like, great let’s do it. And the rest of the staff
were like, wait what? What is this, and he’s like it’ll be fine. We were sort of like, well it
might not be fine, like you know we don’t really know if
it’s gonna work and he was like, well try it, like
that’s what we do here. – And in fact we originally
pitched it for doing a small subset of the incoming class,
like maybe 200 or 300 students so we could have like a full
control and he immediately, we didn’t even know if he
was gonna let us do that, and he’s just, you know
he’s very quiet, asked a lot of questions for like 45
minutes, and then we basically asked can we have 200
students to try this on? And he looked at us and said,
no you can have the entire class. – And so we were like, oh
that’s like, no we thought was gonna happen yeah
so I mean I think that, you know with ARG’s you can
scale them to adjust the price, but I mean at least $200,000 right. I mean I think because we
needed like, I mean building the book sculptures, hiring
artist like, you know the puzzle designs and things like
that, paying students. And so I mean I think it’s,
this is like the downside is, is like it is hard to fund,
right I mean there’s not a lot outside like places that
are like, this sounds like a great intervention fund,
and so right now we have our hopes hanging on the National
Endowment of Humanities but… – It just depends on your
topic right, I mean so like the first three games that
I worked on, super cheap but like also meant that like
two people were working full time to make those work,
those were largely online. This got funded through an
arts thing the Gray Center, The Source and SEED both got
funded through, one of them was the NSF, one of them was
the MacArthur Foundation, The Parasite got this Neubauer
funding, now were going for the NEH, so we’re going
all over the map in terms of like the disciplines
and trying to get money, for this kind of thing and
Kristen’s right, it doesn’t quite fit into any single
discipline or even two or three disciplines, which is what
excites so much about this. Right it seems to be like
another model for thinking through education but it also
means that the pitch no matter how tight is going to seem
more diffused than something that is a kind of N plus one intervention. But this can be done in many
different scales of funding, I mean we just we went all
out in terms of like the team that we had working on
this, we had musicians, we had like computer scientists,
we had, I mean it was practically also like an
experiment in like what can the University of Chicago
do with transdisiplinarity but like I said The Source,
SEED, all of these other projects were cheaper. – I mean I think we’ll look
back on The Parasite you know, five years from now and be
like wow we really just like threw everything at the wall
and we were like what happens if we do all this stuff. But I think it was useful
that you know one of things we learned was, we could’ve
probably done more online stuff. Because that was really in the
summer and the focus groups the students were all I
did in the summer was work and think what’s college
gonna be like, you know. So like that was a time in
which they really liked having something to do, once they
got to campus there was a lot of things competing with
their attention, you know. So I think could have
done more online stuff, which would have been cheaper, than building book sculptures
but that was cool so, yes? – [Man] So then this was a
one time program in 2017 or? – Yeah, we did not repeat it this year. We’re hoping to repeat
it next year, yeah and so you know we did wonder if
because we didn’t do it this year if everyone was looking
for it, so that, it became and ARG on it’s own, where
everyone was like, is that a rabbit hole, is that a rabbit hole? (laughing) So it could have like generated
something like that for the first year’s already,
but yeah we definitely needed a year to kind of step back
and be like, well what did we do and to figure out the money. I mean it really is just, I
mean this is something that Patrick and I are doing
as a research project and the University has been
gracious at letting us do this here but it’s not like
their project to fund. So that’s really on us. – [Woman] To piggy back on
that, when you do it again would you do the same, or you’re
gonna have to tweak it, or rewrite it completely? – It’ll be a totally different narrative. – Yeah these are, I mean these
were some of the mood boards for the costumes and the things,
you know totally different color scheme. – Yeah so no secret society. – No masks, 100 percent different. – [Woman] So how do you access
whether it was successful or not? – I mean I think that you know,
success in terms of getting people to engage and you
know make friends before they got here, I would say it
was definitely successful. If we look at who played
and who didn’t play, you know students who were less
likely to play were athletes and I think a lot of that
is that they come a month in advance and so they are
already have their community so they’re not necessarily
like looking for other parts. And people who were really
drawn to being in fraternities and sororities which again
is another kind of um community where you can kind
of get in there and have friends sort of automatically right? Also in focus groups we had
someone who described himself as an econ snake, who was like
I came here to make money, so like I don’t care about
what the orientation was. So I mean it’s not going
to get everybody you know and so I think it’s more
that we wanted the people who felt the most alienated in the
climate survey to feel like they had a world, because
other people were like already having these worlds for themselves. – An assessment is an interesting
thing right, if you’re assessing the effectiveness
of a pill, it’s very easy to have like a perfect
control for that right? And kind of a sense of how
effective it is among a certain population, for something like
this it’s like less a single intervention than like 150
interventions, like that are part of a platform and so these
kinds of focus groups, interviews, surveys, I mean
these are things that we can keep doing to get a sense
of the effectiveness of all of this. But beyond a certain point
right, I mean it’s like you’re not writing a book or
creating a film or something, you’re producing this world
and everybody who went through it had a very, very different
experience of it, and that’s partially the point, right? I mean that I think is the
strength over this kind of intervention over a
traditional lecture format or something, which is
very common in orientation, and in fact in teaching nationwide. – [Woman] And I would wonder
about say for instance with retention rates, and things
like that to get students who were involved already in the
summer, you know you’re more likely maybe to have… – Right and so we thought about
doing, part of why we wanted a control group was that we
would be able to like look at the people who played
and more of an assessment and so right now, all we
could basically do is compare 2017 against 2016 but it’s
not a really like a great comparison, particularly
because 2016 was the year that the college sent out
the safe spaces letter, which was like the worst control
year because it wasn’t like just a typical year, so it was
a year that had a lot of buzz around it in a way. But you know retention is a
bad metric here because we have very low attrition among, yeah. And so it wouldn’t really be
that, it would be, we’re about to do another climate survey,
the university will be and I think that that’ll
be the sort of measure. Like are their people who
feel, you know do you see like, do the needles shift at all
in terms of like how people are feeling about you know,
feeling apart of the university. But it’s yeah, if we could
have had the control group, me as the social scientist
would have loved that, but you know we did what we could do. – [Woman] Knowing the theaters
so open, did you know if there was a window into
other groups outside of the orientation group? – There was a little bit, so
in this game that we’re working on were going to actively
encourage that, partially because we’re applying to a
granting organization that requires that, but it’s also a good idea. In this case yeah there were
people, you know there were graduate students here, there
was like an MIT professor who started playing it from
afar like the online part of it. Like we would get these emails
from people on the outside discovering elements of it,
partly because we were using social media so like months
before the game started we had this red monk sighting at
U Chicago Facebook page and every few days a photo
would go up of a red monk somewhere on campus and
people started joining this. I meant there’s a fairly
large community and eventually we would just let a red
monk go for like five or 10 minutes and make sure there
was an escape plan and people would get their own photos and
send it into the site right. So we kind of, at first it was
staged and then it was only partially staged. And when the game took off
people were able to go back and see that there was this
long history of Facebook posts. So like that created the
sense of like world-ness, even beyond the campus at
that particular moment. – We had a great one that John
Boer let us stage with him, where he looks like he’s
disciplining the red monks and that someone had secretly taken
the pictures, it was great. But yeah, in the new version
not only like students of other like cohorts but were also
going to actively be engaging people who aren’t students,
right so were trying to get like an online community as well,
because part of this will be about like thinking about you
know creative solutions to climate change and having
a pitch session at the end. And you know anyone could
be part of that right? So yeah, we’re excited about
sort of broadening it out. – Yeah back there. – [Audience Member] Could you
speak a little bit more about how you expect competitiveness
to help with a community building in the process,
because it seems like that would pit teams against each other
even though they fit tighter, smaller units. (mumbling) – No that’s a great question
um you know like I’d done a lot of game design both with
cooperation and competition and I find that in my past
experience like minimal healthy competition can go a long way
as long as it isn’t the core of the experience, so in the
coming experience there’s still going to be a lot of
cooperative game play, like all the online stuff, still going
to be 100% cooperative, where either everybody gets it or they don’t. But we do one to introduce one
small unit because there are students that we lost, not
necessarily the athletes or the people who went into frats
and sororities but there were other groups that I think
reported to us that they would have been more likely to play
if there had been a prize, if there had been competition. And of course I said like I
have massive problems with gamification, right I think
it’s like the worst form of kind of like operon conditioning
and behavior modification. I don’t want to do that, but
I find for instance like the quest challenge that students
engaged in the kind of like athletics challenge people. – There’s one thing during
orientation that’s like an athletics challenge, that
you know a surprising number of students participate in,
and a lot of it is about the rewards at the end. – Yeah and so there are prizes
for that, and so you know like we’re imagining one unit
out of three units to have some degree of competition but
again in a really playful way and we’ll access it, if it
doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But I think like for me I
feel like I’m too bias against competition and so I want to
try it experimentally, see if it works and if it doesn’t
like my preferences are confirmed and if does work,
maybe there’s something to it. – [Woman] Would you ever be
trying to do this like every year for every orientation? – So I mean I think the
problem is again that this is a research project that we’re doing, and you know I think that
there’s some, I think the university would be
interested if we could make like module forms that anyone could do. Right now what really like
relies on like the labor of like this small group of faculty
that are like, I wanna do this. And it’s a lot of work, you
know and I think, I don’t think either one of us would have
done this before tenure, you know it’s like a project
that would be the equivalent to writing a book but
doesn’t really have that kind of metric in the world, and
I think we both just happen to be like weird enough that
we’re like, this is awesome, that the university’s
letting us do this right? But it does take a lot of work
and I think that you know, I’m concerned about taking
the charisma out of it right, I think you make it something
that just sort of happens with orientation all the
time and it’s sort of out of the control of the
designers, I don’t that it would be successful right, like I
don’t, I think it’s something that could be done poorly like
very easily, so it’s hard. – I mean there’s a mechanism
in place now that would allow us to do it probably on an
annual basis, if the next one works that wouldn’t necessarily
involve the two of us every single time, just because
enough of a design community has been formed around this and
like media arts and design is a new minor at the university, there’s a new space opening soon. And if somebody who’s in charge
of a new game studio that we’re going to have there
who could potentially become a project manager for something
like this, but I agree with everything that Kristen
said I mean I think like from an artistic standpoint and from
a research stand point like, you know at a certain point
like you don’t want to do the same thing, you wanna do the
same thing like two or three times because you wanna see,
like generalizability is not the right word but you want
some degree of repetition just to be able to compare, and
beyond a certain point we want to do something that like
hopefully blows people minds in a different way you know. Like a different type of artistic
project, a different kind of educational intervention. – But we really do think that
orientation is a great time to try this out, you know like
I think it’s like a fun time to get to, like a nice
introduction to what I think is a really unique and interesting setting at the University of Chicago. Yep, did you have a question? – [Man] Um yeah, as different
types of polarization might keep the incoming students
off of social media, is there any intention to build platforms
where it’s like posting costs and like the upscale
time prohibitive… – So, so housing isn’t a
problem, we’ve done that before so for The Source game we
created our own platform, I don’t think it’s a particularly
effective, like having done this, that twice, I don’t think it
works as well unfortunately as like proprietary social
media, and I agree people will go off of certain social media
but will probably gravitate towards others, so I prefer
a kind of like proliferation strategy where you throw out
like 15 different entry points and then access in real time
which two of those 15 are getting used the most, lock
down the other 13 and just focus on the two that are working,
so it’s like a real time experiment. I mean your idea is a good
one, and it’s one like we tried twice and it just doesn’t,
it’s really hard to get people to commit to something that
they’re not already committed to when they’re doing 30
other things basically. So this is, this is also why
we called the game The Parasite right, we were being
parasitical, I mean we called it Parasite for like 30 other
reasons that I won’t go into, but like we were being
parasitical on existing platforms. – [Woman] Have you guys found
like self fearing the one off thought that just from the
work world, I’m in human resources I’m in the virtual
consulting firm because of the ability to work in every state
and they can live every state and it’s just something that
perhaps it would kind of neat to try and connect… (static drowns out talking) until we have a one year
event where they get together and say wow I work for a
real company, so it’s just a comment, just a thought on
you can extend some of this to other areas where you
could try to connect people. – Yeah, absolutely I think it
is really effective for that, versus like the typical
sort of trust exercises, sort of like if we can choose it… – [Woman] You just don’t
have that ability, and there, you know there’s some for folks and (static drowns out talking) – And I think you know solving
the puzzles was really fun because some of them, you know
you would need people with really different skills, so
like you would like, some of the puzzles it would be like
you’d have to understand like poetic measure to be like, oh
I think it’s this, you know? Or you could read like you
know Chinese characters or you could, you know understand
mathematic formulas and so, they would really like get to see
the different skills that their classmates had and be like wow
this is really cool that you have this, or someone else
would be able to figure out something that everyone else
was stuck on and so it was like really cool to see them having
to have like really different skills to work together. – [Woman] And say they can
move away from failure in the workplace and moving away
from focusing on where your weaknesses and how to get better
because you just never get better at it, so this is a
way to kind of pull up where your new employees are coming
in, where their strengths are and you know what I mean,
seeing some of that. – I mean this is a good design
thought too that we had right is like after having made a
bunch of these, you create like different episodes essentially
where like different people can stand up as leaders, right
so like, like rarely can one person dominate the entire process. I mean some people might try
but it, you know you like bring them in and out of attention
I guess and so it really does distribute things really
nicely, it’s a good way of designing for cooperation too
where it doesn’t like make cooperation optional, it
makes it utterly necessary if you want to complete the game. – [Audience Member] Did
you talk about hazing? You said something about it,
and then it was in the video and I was like why, why
is that in the video? And that’s kind of why I
got half thought related to a brighter thought of if I
set out to design something to make people feel less
isolated or less alienated in the Ivy Tower, I don’t know
if I would have went for secret societies and like the skulls… So like that seems like an
interesting not of things… – That’s exactly why we did
it, right so like when you’re making something like this
where you can’t tell them that it’s a game, you have to
play on their subconscious and non conscious
knowledge of genre, right? And part of genre that everybody
knows in one way or another is a secret society, or a
skulls and bones if you’re in the United States or things
like that, and that usually maps onto lead ism, hierarchy,
hazing and any of these groups that are secret societies
are basically engaging in the work of self reproduction
right like, I’m going to do something horrible to you
because it was done to me last year basically, this is the
insane logic of these groups. And so our design challenge in
the very beginning was like, well could you imagine a group
that is kind of like that but doesn’t engage in any of those
structures, instead of self- reproduction, can there be
a group that is committed to self-obsolescence, the idea
that I’m going to commit to a process that may make me as
a particular person with my identity, obsolete by the
end of it but would be better for the world in some way, and
that’s a very different way of thinking, that’s a very
different logic than what a lot of these often times
fraternities or secret societies engage in. So it’s a way of both capturing
genre knowledge and then flipping it on it’s head
because sometimes the best pedagogy right, is to make
someone experience something and then give the distance
from the thing they just experienced rather than
just saying x is bad, which is not very persuasive. – [Audience Member] Do you
ever have problem players that end up creating so much
content for the world? The communities that were
formed like would those Facebook pages of people make YouTube
videos and that like set communication document? Do you have a sense of whether
those communities have kind of like continued, like are
those pages still active, stuff like that? – I mean there are people in
the room who might know better about it than we do,
for that last question. Yeah, I mean um you know,
it was a kind of relational process like we had some
graduate students and under graduate students working on
the project who were really committed to the incoming
students and so a lot of it was just forming one on one
relationships with the incoming students and encouraging
that kind of production. But I also think it’s like when
people would create a really amazing thing, and as Kristen
was saying, share it on the Group Me, other people would
not only want to compliment them but add their own
pieces to that as well. I mean the kind of core group
of players has kept in touch, I mean I still see them hanging
out together sometimes when I’m walking out of the Reg
or something, but in terms of like, and you know I know
somebody else has been working on like a kind of extension,
small extension of this game because at the end we said,
look this secret society is now yours, basically. Like I mean we’re gonna do our
own next game, but the next game is not gonna be like
parasite 2.0, maybe it’ll connect to the world in some small
way but that’s about it. – And I think that um, you
know in terms of like I think the friendship persisted, I
think it also, when we think about, like I don’t really
think about success. I think about impact and I
do think that it, so I’ve had several of the students in
my classes now, and I know Patrick has, the grad
students who were part of it, like one who I knew, you know
like the students felt really excited to see her on
campus, like in fact in the focus groups one of them
said, you know if I had trouble on campus I think I would
like contact her first. Because I think she would help me, right? And I mean one thing that we
learned that I think we thought we were going to have to
lure students into like some of the events, like they had
to go talk to a faculty person so like there was one where
you had to deliver a pizza to a professor who was
waiting in your office, waiting in their office, and
you had to eat with them. So it was like demystifying
faculty, and it turned out that that was really popular, like
we were like, oh no one’s gonna want to do this, and so
like what we learned was like it really did create this kind
of inter-generational contact too in sense of like there’s
like people on campus who’ve been here longer than I have. Some grads, you know under
grads, grad students, faculty, and like I could go to them
if something happened and I think it was kind of, you
know it was nice for people. And I think even the grad
students who were teaching classes you know they got these
students who were taking classes with them and I think you know,
my guess, my memory is that the core group of students
contained a lot of people who were probably were going
to be more in the sciences, but that this brought them into
the humanities a little bit, right that then it created
this idea of like, oh this is what you can also do
with like a liberal arts. – And this process, I mean
the things working on, not working on different moments,
like we really, like I can’t over, like we showed you a
series of things that we did, that was a drop in the bucket,
I mean we were on a daily basis, you know I mean we
were working for like eight, 16 hours a day, I mean it
was like you were throwing everything at the wall, knowing
that 50% of it wasn’t going to work, that was the method right? Like over produce, move through
every possible medium, see what attracts people, see what
doesn’t, and know that you’re gonna do this again, and you’re
gonna do it in a tighter, more streamline fashion. But it’s like, this was like
an Er experiment in terms of like media and learning
outcomes and stuff like that, I mean also it meant that
like many of us again came out of this super exhausted but
also had all of this data, not just like focus group
data which is really, really valuable but also just the
experiential design data of having made this thing. – Yep. – [Audience Member] Is the
green letters there a rabbit hole? (laughing) – Yes it’s a… (mumbling) (laughing) – [Audience Member] It’s
actually your game right, your putting you game to see? – I mean there’s a typo
too so I don’t know. (laughing) – You never know what’s a rabbit hole. – It’s like early on a
Saturday morning you know. Yeah. – [Audience Member] So
speaking of the game, what she brought up about students
being engaged with each other, it must be a really moving
carpet because students change so if you said you threw
everything and you saw what stuck but they didn’t send them
back to the imagination to imagine what might stick,
through what the media is being used as. – Yeah like when I did this
three years, or five years ago we weren’t using Snapchat
right and we were totally using Snapchat for one of the
puzzles in this last thing. I mean that’s just like a
technology example, but then also you know we had a dance party
in Logan as one of our 11 events in here, and I
remember we liked crowd surfed the question of like, what
song is going to bring the most people here given the age
of the students, and just basically did an informal
survey and totally got it right. – Yeah it was kind of hilarious,
where it was like a song that like would’ve been
popular when they were all in junior high right or something
and it like really like mobilized everyone, but I
also think that this is why we work with under graduates
and graduate students as designers as well right? And so I think that you know
we’re working with people who aren’t that many years ahead,
right and can kind of help us tap into what’s going
on, and what’s gonna work, and what doesn’t work. – Yeah. – [Audience Member] I have
grandchildren who are going to be looking at colleges before
too long, I can see telling, going and telling them about
this presentation I saw and how exciting this was that
that could be a lure to this college, you know to
this university to say, oh wouldn’t that be cool if you
were apart of that experience. Do you see that as an incentive
to University of Chicago? – Well so we hope you tell
Dean Robertson and Dean Boer that first of all, you know
like not just us but thank you. Yeah, you know we absolutely
do and both Kristen and I have had experiences being at
other places, either for our sabbaticals or just giving
talks in other places you know among them Vanderbilt,
Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and hearing, you know telling
people small pieces of this and them getting really excited
and being like, oh we wish we had something like
this, but they don’t. – Right, and I think that like
you know I feel really proud of the university, you know I
love the University of Chicago and I love it’s sort of like
quirkiness and I love our students and I think like it
really is something that works well here because you know the students are kind of fearless. I mean this is a place like,
in the focus groups when I asked people were you deciding
between other schools and how did you pick here? You know for everybody it
was this is one of the last places that really emphasizes
the liberal arts, right? And so even though I think
I’m gonna be a chemist I wanna be sure that I’m taking like
humanities classes and I think it gives us a, like I think
that students who would be attracted to it would be happy
here, you know because it really is something that we
felt like kind of tapped into the sort of ethos of the
University of Chicago. With like the scavenger hunt
culture and like just a lot of different things about
the University of Chicago, and so you know I do
think it could be a lure. I mean I think, my understanding
is that Dean Boer saw that right away and that other
people in the upper echelons were like, I don’t know what this is. But then once it was done,
you know like a big story came out about it in Wired and I
think you know the university was really proud of it, I think. And then you know we kept the
book exhibits up, the installs which were really cool, during
parent weekend and so that also did a lot of it, that the
parents came and they wanted to see it because their kids
had been posting pictures on social media of this weird
room full of book sculptures and so then they were like this
is so cool, I can’t believe you built this like for our kids. And you know so I think that
that really like did a lot too that the parents felt really
excited that like my kid got this cool experience that was
really just made for them. Alright well thank you all! (clapping)

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