Speculation: An Alternate Reality Game

Abstract (in English): 

Speculation is a science fiction game directed by Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux that explores the greed-driven culture of Wall Street investment banks and the 2008 global economic collapse. Speculation belongs to the genre of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). ARGs are not bound by any single medium or hardware system. Instead, these games use the real world as their primary platform. ARGs incorporate a range of media, including text, video, audio, phone calls, email, social networks, original software, and even live performance. Their stories tend to be broken into discrete pieces that players actively rediscover, reconfigure, and influence through their actions. Player networks created around ARGs are inherently social and tend to include collective problem-solving and participatory storytelling.

Two rounds of the Speculation ARG took place in 2012: one beginning on April 1 and a second on October 11. Both versions of the game yielded thousands of site visits and player posts. This transmedia game featured 8 narrative sci-fi episodes and 64 ludic challenges. These mini-games included stock trading simulations; live “brain training” sessions based on EEG interfaces; interactive meditations on microtemporal trading algorithms; matchmaking games about the naturalization of credit; text-based adventure games set in investment bank offices; an interactive mini-narrative distributed across Craigslist posts; swarms of cryptographic puzzles from Caesar shifts to Vigenère ciphers; double-encoded slow-scan television transmissions; a GPS hunt for dead-dropped USB drives in three different cities; a co-written epic poem fragment; a Facebook image challenge; an extended brainstorm about alternatives to Wall Street “brain drain”; collaborative speculations about the future of finance; encoded narrative documents; a two hour climactic chat with the game’s protagonist; and more.

This panel introduces and explores the Speculation experience through a variety of creative and analytic techniques, including transmedia performance, literary criticism, digital game theory, and social network analysis. Our contention is that the form of the large-scale ARG can only be understood (as well as designed and played) through techniques that are both collaborative and transdisciplinary in nature. Speculation presents a storyworld in which literary criticism is built into the the process of playing and producing the game. Interpretation is an integral element of the gameplay. The panel will offer multiple perspectives with panelists speaking to their roles as designers, players, teachers, and and media theorists.

Instead of three discrete traditional papers, the presenters will model multiple approaches and styles in order to stage the new form of storytelling represented by the Speculation experience. The panel will begin with a collaborative video performance re-enacting the opening moments of the game followed by a brief walk through the first few levels of Speculation. This exercise will be followed by a description of how Speculation was used as a pedagogical instrument that brought together classrooms in Chicago, Durham, and Poughkeepsie to collaborate on asemester-long playthrough of the game. Finally, we will conclude with a critical review of some of the theoretical and philosophical implications of the game before opening up the panel to a roundtable discussion.

(Source: Authors' abstract for HASTAC 2013)

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Record posted by: 
Scott Rettberg