Dolus is essentially what is known as an “alternate reality game” (ARG). An alternate reality game is a game that blends everyday digital mediums with the everyday physical environment around the player. These digital mediums include emails, websites (often “fake” ones created specifically for the game), social media, phone calls, physical or digital documents, and more. Essentially, if you can communicate with it, it can be used as part of an ARG! The primary game element is attempting to solve difficult puzzles using information presented through these mediums and in the real world. ARGs use a core narrative that ties the puzzles together and usually places the player in the explicit or implicit role of an investigator that uncovers the narrative and subsequent content as they solve puzzles to bring the game to its conclusion. In addition, the narrative is often “archaeological” in nature: the story develops through “found documents” and media that the player discovers either directly or indirectly as they solve the game’s puzzles. As a result, a dominant ethos of this particular type of game is “this is not a game” – the game is constructed and delivered in ways to suggest that the narrative and content are “real”, and the fictional nature of the game is usually never explicitly acknowledged by the creators. Similar to the “found footage” film genre, a large part of the fun is pretending the fiction is real. The fact that the game exists in the world around the player – in their email, on social media, and even in the physical spaces around them – makes ARGs feel all the more immersive.
ARGs are a natural type of game to use in a classroom. ARGs do not require a pre-existing graphical engine, like a video game, nor do they require a static physical space and equipment, like a tabletop game. ARGs can be the best of both the digital and physical worlds. Even better for the classroom: they can be designed by you to fit nearly any lesson, unit, curriculum, or student need. It is an educational reality that sometimes commercial off-the-shelf games can be very exciting square pegs for the round holes of classroom limitations or curricular demands. The custom and modular nature of ARGs, combined with their relative ease of content creation, allows educators to design fun, engaging games that can directly support their unique curricular goals and learning outcomes. ARGs also use pre-existing media, so they require little to no expert design experience. If you are comfortable using Youtube, Facebook, or iMovie, then you can make an ARG! In addition, they are inexpensive; the plethora of free and low cost tools means that making an ARG is primarily a consideration of time, not cost.
ARGs are also great for the classroom because the game’s challenge is not only the explicit intellectual hurdle of the particular puzzles but the greater “macro-puzzle” of problem solving in the modern world. In today’s information age, virtually any piece of data is accessible in a few keystrokes; the real challenge is knowing what data or tools you need and when you need it. Half the challenge of alternate reality games is figuring out what tools you require for the immediate task and then teaching yourself how to use them to solve that problem. In that regard, ARGs dynamically combine an ancient element of puzzle solving with the modern demand of finding the right resources among the nearly unlimited choices available and then using them to problem solve. However, ARGs’ modular nature also uniquely positions them as an accessible game platform specifically for classroom teachers.
In the next post, How Do I Make an ARG? I’ll explore some of the basic elements of how an ARG works and how I made mine.