The Ultimate Alternate Reality Gamified Transmedia Classroom Toolkit

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If you’d like to read about the implementation of the video game Gone Home in a high school English class, start here. Want to know how to turn your class into an alternate reality game, start here for an overview, or keep reading for the resource toolkit.

Welcome to the Toolkit

In the last post we introduced you to ARGs and reviewed some examples of how teachers are using them. Now you’re ready to turn your class into an immersive game, and everything you need is right here. With the help of these resources, you can develop your own gameful class, cook up a transmedia project, design a pervasive game or create your very own ARG. Games aside, these links are useful for all types of creative learning projects. In most cases, what is on offer is free and/or web based, so only your imagination will be taxed.

Please write or comment with suggestions for additional resources or to report dead links, as this will be a living document which will hopefully grow and support any educator who wants to transform a class, a unit or the entire school year into an engaging, immersive and memorable experience.

Basic Terms

Before you journey too deeply into the ARG universe, you may want to learn some of the lingo. There aren’t too many ARG specific terms, but a quick look at glossaries offered byUnfiction and Wikipedia will bring you up to par. Ready to test your newfound knowledge? Try a round of ARG Buzzword Bingo to reinforce your new vocabulary.

Initial Design and Structure

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Wikipedia’s ARG page is probably your best first stop to get a bird’s eye view of the genre, and have a look at the Pervasive Game page to compare and contrast.

Anastasia Salter sketches a concise 5-step overview that will ground you in the basics, while Jane McGonigal outlines a basic 10-step process to designing an ARG in a slideshow format. Christy Dena, an experienced pervasive game designer, highlights some examplesof flowcharts and mind maps used in the preliminary design process. You might also want to read Rui Corado’s blog post, where he details the back end of an ARG where you play a forensic investigator.

You can organize your ideas Google Drive’s office suite, and try CMap for mind maps and flow charts.

A Few Words on Story & Narrative

Story is the broth that hold an ARG or pervasive game together. It creates conflict, context, opportunities for emotional connections and can lead to a satisfying resolution. Players often persist as they are curious to know how the narrative unfolds. Don’t worry – stories don’t have to be complex. A history class can send students back in time to find a lost document, or a chemistry class scrambles to devise a formula to save the world from a pandemic. Some teachers use medieval settings, but it’s also interesting to create a plausible story that fuses the reality of your setting with the game story. For example, a teachers is an alien impostor and players have to identify it before it kidnaps a victim for nefarious purposes. Stories can be lifted from existing sources, such as books, TV shows, games or films, or you can make up your own. Once you establish the basic premise, the story can grow and change while the game progresses.

The Rabbit Hole

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The rabbit hole is the hook that draws your student-players into the magic circle of the game, the gateway that ushers them from the mundane reality of daily classroom life to the unpredictable possibilities of the game. John Fallon offers excellent guidelines and examples for creating a rabbit hole. A good example is from the Nine Inch Nail’s Year ZeroARG, where the highlighted letters on a concert T-shirt spelled out the phrase “I am trying to believe”, which led players to a website that launched the game. The Beast started with an unusual “sentient machine therapist” credit on the poster for Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence which also led to a phony website. In most cases, the rabbit hole is usually hidden in plain site, but in an educational context it should be easier to discover, as a teachers are works with more constraints than their commercial counterparts.

Gamified Classroom Management Platforms

These three platforms aren’t free, but they can help manage many aspect of your game, including score tracking, levels, badges, character classes, quests, etc. They are essentially learning management systems that operate with game-like elements. Each is worth considering if you want to run your class as a game.

  • 3DGameLab – From their site: “GameLab is a gamified content creation and student tracking platform where teachers can design and share quests and badges to create personalized learning for their students. Students “level up” through the curriculum, choose quests they want to play, and earn experience points, badges, and awards.”
  • Classcraft: From their site: “Classcraft’s mission is to transform the learning experience by using game mechanics to engage students and provide teachers with well-designed tools to do so.”
  • Gradecraft: From their site: “GradeCraft is a learning management system dedicated to supporting the gameful classroom. We are actively researching and developing tools to encourage student engagement, and aid instructor workflow.”

Keeping Score

The following tools can help you keep track of points, leaderboards or a monetary system. First, I have used our existing learning management system to track points and in-game currency – see what yours can do. You can also use and modify spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Here are a few other options:

  • XP Calculator and Leaderboard: Ignite Education offers a number of free classroom gamification tools and resources, including tutorials on how to create free XP and player tracking sheets. Check out the site and this video to get started.
  • ScorekeeperXL: A basic and straightforward score keeping app.
  • MyCred: From their site: “An adaptive points management system for WordPress powered websites, giving you full control on how points are gained, used, traded, managed, logged or presented.”

General ARG Community Sites

ARGology, Unfiction and ARGnet are the largest online ARG community sites. They’re filled with resources, news, events, forums, conference announcements and other helpful links. They’re not deliberately geared for education, but educators can glean a great deal from these sites and get a sense as to what ARGs are all about.

  • ARGology From their site: “a group effort by a bunch of great people from the IGDA ARG SIG. It is a site which hopes to aggregate much needed information about alternate reality games for developers, journalists, researchers and players.”
  • Unfiction – From their site: “Unfiction.com is a comprehensive resource for those interested in Alternate Reality Gaming, both from the players’ perspective and from that of the puppet masters. It is also intended as a gateway to be used in introducing neophytes to this unique genre of gaming.”
  • ARGnet – From their site: “The Alternate Reality Gaming Network is the largest and most complete news resource available for players of online collaborative Alternate Reality Games. For many years, this site was the central hub for an affiliate network of sites that were independently owned and operated by volunteers for the enjoyment of themselves and the ARG community.”

Puzzles, Codes, Encryptions and Ciphers

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Puzzles and encryptions are useful for gating information, setting up breadcrumb trails, and encouraging critical thinking. As you design your game, you’ll find endless uses for them. If you only read one thing about designing puzzles for ARGs, it should be Adam Foster’s post“Alternate Reality Game puzzle design”. It does an excellent job of succinctly explaining some crucial best practices. The links that follow these resources will help your puzzle crafting,

  • ARG Tools and Puzzle Sidekick: A free and useful iOS apps to both solve and create puzzles.
  • Online Tools: Provides resource ranging from morse code to worldwide payphone locations.
  • Useful Tools (Endgame ARG Wiki): A vast and well organized list of tools that help both solve and create puzzles.
  • Cryptstagram: A unique tool that allows you to hide messages in images.
  • Geocaching Toolbox: A well organized and updated warehouse of tools originally designed for geocaching, but entirely transferable to ARGs and pervasive games.

Image Manipulation, False Documents and Phony Artifacts

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Creating credible items, documents, images and artifacts help blur the lines between reality and fiction and contribute to a game’s sense of immersion. These resources are all easy to use tools that allow you and your students to create realistic looking items. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, a good tip is to try a Google search using the name of the item followed by “generator” or “creator” i.e. “fortune cookie generator”.

  • Creative Commons: The best site to find all types of royalty free images and media.
  • Photo editing software like Photoshop or Gimp are ideal to modify and create images.
  • Phony web pages can be built on Wix, Weebly, Google Sites or Word Press.
  • Say-It.Com: A plethora of generators to create everything from dog tags to highway signs.
  • Page Plug-Ins: Generate a variety of notes, including fortune cookie messages.
  • Simitator: Creates social media post facsimiles for Facebook, Twitter and more.
  • FakeConvos: Phony Facebook wall conversation generators.
  • RPG Sheets: Can create dozens of different types of RPG character sheets.
  • Top Alternate: Links to create false documents ranging from gift certificates to university diplomas.
  • Meme Generator: As the name implies, this site allows you to create your own memes.
  • Legal Fakes: Create false legal documents.
  • Funny Fake IDs: Choose from a variety of phony IDs.
  • Badge Maker: Another site to create phony IDs
  • Photofunia: Lets you combine your pictures and images with all types of templates and backgrounds from movie posters to tattoos.
  • PhotoFaceFun: Similar to Photofunia, but with additional options.
  • Logo Maker: A free and fairly sophisticated logo design tool.
  • Flaming Text: A free logo generator.
  • Mozilla WebMaker – The X-Ray Goggles tool lets you quickly edit a website with your own content – great for taking screenshots of phony articles or websites.
  • Apple Pages – an intuitive document maker that can be used to make anything from articles to flyers to invitations.

If you’re really ambitious, and have a budget, use Lulu.com to print real books and calendars, while CafePress allows you to create your own custom merchandise. You can also hire somebody at Fiverr to do just about any small design work for you for – you guessed it – 5$.

Videos

Shoot and Edit

Videos are an ideal way to transmit information and add depth to the game world, whether they’re used to transmit messages from in-game characters, author video clues or simply deliver mysterious surveillance footage. Depending on comfort and technology available, video can be made using phones, video cameras, GoPros or embedded laptop cameras. Films can be edited on Apple’s iMovie or Final Cut Pro, Microsoft Movie Maker, or any ofthese 10 online editing tools. Also, if you want stock footage, check out this site that lists 19 free stock footage sites or the Creative Common licensed videos on Vimeo.

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There are a wide variety of clips, effects and animations that creative artists upload onto Youtube for general use. If you find a video, try MacX Youtube Downloader to download it onto your Mac and Keepvid will work with either platform. You can then drop it into iMovie (or another editing program) as you need. If you’re on a PC check out these options.

Posting Videos

You can post your videos on Vimeo, Youtube, or if you want to keep them anonymous, tryVidme or Sendvid. Vimeo also allows you to lock a video with a password.

Audio

Voice

Creative use of audio can enhance videos, relay messages or help create realistic voice mail messages, podcasts or radio broadcasts, to name a few. Audacity is the go-to free application for recording and editing audio. There are a plethora of Youtube tutorials that walk you through the process of applying various effects and modifications. Here are a few you may find useful that make your voice sound:

You get the idea – if there’s a voice effect from TV/movie/video game, chances are someone has broken down how to mimic the effect in Audacity. The simple act of hiding, masking or mutating your voice is a significant but simple element for maintaining an immersive narrative.

You can also have a look at the previously mentioned Fiverr. It’s not limited to sound effects, but teachers have produced videos with professional level voice acting hired through this site.

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Sound Effects

There are also quite a few free sound effects available in the Freesound library and Sound Bible. You can find many more at 10 Best Websites to Find Free Sound Effects.  For royalty free music, try Jamendo, CCmixter, Incompetech and Soundcloud. Also, Apple’s iMovie recently added a fairly deep library of generic sound effects.

Location-Based Tools and Platforms

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ARGs and pervasive games can break down the classroom walls and make learning an anywhere and anytime experience. The following resources will let you extend gameplay outside your classroom and turn the real world into your game world.

  • QR Codes will probably go the way of the fax machine, but for the time being they are an inexpensive (free!) way to  facilitate planting digital information in physical spaces. You can use them to create treasure hunts or as portals to websites, videos,  images, etc. Try this QR code generator to make them, and this is a good scanner for iOS, andthis one works for Android.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) tools and apps can help you layer digital information on the real world. Expect a dramatic increase in AR use in the next few years, but in the meantime there are some consumer level products that can help include AR in your game. Aurasma, Blippar, and Mybrana are all free and easy to use.
  • ARIS From their site: “ARIS is a user-friendly, open-source platform for creating and playing mobile games,tours and interactive stories. Using GPS and QR Codes, ARIS players experience a hybrid world of virtual interactive characters, items, and media placed in physical space.”
  • Taleblazer – From their site: “TaleBlazer is our latest augmented reality (AR) software platform. Developed by the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program (STEP) lab, TaleBlazer allows users to play and make their own location-based mobile games.”
  • Bluetooth Beacons are a more expensive and elaborate than QR codes. They transmit signals that can be detected by mobile devices. A variety of information can then be transmitted to the smart device. They could signal the presence of hidden material, or transmit data and media. You can also read this article that provides a good overview on beacons. Estimote and iBeacon seem to be the two most popular products on the market.
  • Geofencing uses GPS systems to create virtual perimeters. I’ve never used this technology, but it’s integrated in a number of apps, and you can research to see which one might suit your needs.
  • BreakoutEDU: Escape rooms are popping up everywhere. BreakoutEDU has created a package where you can purchase an escape room kit to use in your classroom or integrate in your game.
  • LyteShot: Allows players to essentially play a video game in real life. The combine hardware and peripherals ranging from guns to wands with tracking software and augmented reality interfaces.

Social Media

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Incorporating social media is an effective way to expand a game’s reach, but proceed with caution. Familiarize yourself with your institution’s social media policies, make sure it’s age appropriate and get to know the platform well enough that you can suitably manage it’s privacy settings.

Facebook has an option to create fictional characters pages, and you can start fictional characters and institutional accounts on Twitter. You can also create faux accounts on other social media sites – check their policies. Depending on the social media platform, you can post missions, videos, images, updates and clues publicly and privately that players can access anywhere and anytime.

Passwords Protect Documents

Password-Security-Shutterstock-124176472-480x360Password protecting documents, folders and images are an ideal way to gate information and add additional challenges to treasure hunts, document troves or clues. The following links all instruct you on how to password protect basic documents and folders. If you have any other type of file you’d like to hide behind a password, try searching it on Google. Here’s how to password protect a:

Anonymous Information Storage

Storing and uploading anonymous media and documents can come in useful if you don’t want students to know that you are behind a master scheme. Try these sites to quickly and easily upload anonymous content.

  • Infotomb: From their site: InfoTomb is a secure, anonymous, data repository. You can put your text files, documents, pictures, audio, etc. ‒ whatever kind of files you want ‒ on the InfoTomb servers, and we’ll keep them there for you.
  • Postimage: a quick, easy and anonymous way to upload images for sharing.
  • Mega: offers a secure, encrypted and anonymous file storage option. They also have a suite of secure communication services.
  • Try Vidme or Sendvid to upload videos anonymously.

Countdown Clocks

imagesIt’s amazing how motivated players and students become when there’s a timer ticking. Use these for treasure hunts, doomsday timers, task completions or anything else that would benefit from a good old fashion race against the clock.

  • Time and Date: A suite of free and flexible options for all matters related to time and date, including calendars, countdown timers, lunar calendars, etc.
  • It’s Almost: An elegant and simple countdown timer with a transferable link.
  • Online Stopwatch: A wealth of free clocks and timers.

Badge Creation

Looking to reward and recognize your players with rewards and achievements. Have a look at these sites to make your own custom badges and achievements. Some learning management systems, like Haiku, have built-in badging systems.

  • BadgeOS: From their site: “BadgeOS is a powerful free plugin to WordPress that lets you easily create achievements and issue sharable badges as your users succeed.”
  • Official Badge Generator: One of my favorite badge creation site. Good starting templates with a great deal of built in flexibility.
  • 3D Badge Maker: More granular than Official Badge Generator, but also more work.
  • ImageFu: Easily create basic badges with a variety of detail adjustment tools.
  • Achievement Generator: A tool that easily creates XBox and Steam style achievements to reward your players.
  • XBox Achievement Generator: A more flexible XBox achievement generator.

Books/Films/Podcasts

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Non-Fiction

Combined, the three books listed below will provide a solid foundation on most aspects of ARGs and gamifying your classrooms.

Fiction

Nothing is what it seems in the tales that follows. In every case, unwitting participants have been drawn into a reality fabricated by overseeing puppet masters.

Films

David Fincher’s The Game is a feature film about a wealthy banker (Michael Douglas) who is inducted into a game that is indistinguishable from reality. Moving from fictional feature to a real world documentary, Spencer McCall’s The Institute chronicles an elaborate ARG called “The Jejune Institute” played in San Francisco.

Podcasts

ARGNetcast – From their website: “The ARG Netcast is a monthly show covering all things Alternate Reality Gaming, cross-media storytelling and whatever else strikes our fancy. Each episode, we discuss recent events, current projects and interview special guests.”

Hunt the Truth – From their site: “An investigation into the origins of modern-day superhero Master Chief, this digital log serves as part docu-diary, part audio archive. Join me each week for a new episode as we question everything and assume nothing.”

Active Alternate Reality Games

If you want to find an active game, check out ARGNet’s “Now Playing” list of games currently being played. The ones listed below are some of the bigger ongoing ARGs you can join.

  • Ingress: From wikipedia: “The gameplay consists of capturing “portals” at places of cultural significance, such as public art, landmarks, monuments, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular “control fields” over geographical areas.”
  • The Secret World; From their site: Imagine if every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was true. Imagine a world where you can become anything you want to be, without restrictions such as classes or levels. This is the premise for The Secret World, Funcom’s massively multiplayer online game set in the modern-day real world.
  • The Black Watchmen: From Steam: “In the first ever Permanent Alternate Reality Game, you join the ranks of The Black Watchmen, a paramilitary group dedicated to protecting the public from dangerous phenomena beyond human understanding: ritualistic murder, occult secret societies, and the paranormal, to name but a few.”
  • Cloud Chamber: From their site: “Players collaborate with each other to explore, investigate and discuss the fragments of information they collect on their journey through the dataworld, writing the story themselves of a young scientist, Kathleen, who risks her sanity and betrays her father and everything she has believed to be true. Her decision will not only determine the Petersen Institute’s future, it will impact all of humanity itself.”

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