ARGFest #3 : Friday & Saturday Decom

Friday July 16 Sessions Overview:

I probably drank too much Thursday night, but it was fun being on top of Atlanta, and even though the cool kids did not invite us out to bar hop with them, the lack of sleep pressed me into an evening repose.

Keeping It Casual – Jim Babb, Simeon Poulin – there was a third panelist on this which I cannot remember as well. The premise behind this was taken in several interesting different directions. Poulin suggested that the games need to be self guided and picked up and dropped as necessary. His solution (his MFA thesis) was to create a flash based (?) and mobile game that let people explore at their own pace. His attitude was really that of a designer with a deadline and I have to say that I was put off by his comments about “trying community.” I have definite opinions about community, but my experience is that it is not something you can just plug into a system. Communities are fickle and ravenous, unpredictable and emergent. You can design with community in mind, or in as in the case of so many MMOs community will develop at a certain critical mass. However it doesn’t seem as though Poulin could create the mass with his iterative design, and he did not include it as a functional piece of the puzzle. Anyhow, I appreciated his process and thought it was good to see a designer approach ARG from a casual and possibly art angle. Socks Inc on the other hand brought in the idea of using an avatar to facilitate the ARG. The side effect of this is that it exploded as a family oriented event. Their theme is that of creating a sock puppet (a task within the game) and applying for employment at Socks Inc. The game is relatively new, but the playtest went exceedingly well (aside from the technical difficulties). They used video prompts and solicited tasked video evidence. An obvious difficulty here is that with kids playing all video responses will have to be screened, though I expect this is something that can be turned into a task for trusted players in the future. I am not sure what the payoff is or if this game ends, but the casual nature of it and the family orientation are as fresh to me as the non-marketed spin.

Follow the Rabbit Hole – Patrick Moller -Patrick is a smart guy with a great sense of PR and digital asset creation. He has been maintaining a list in Germany as a way for people to enroll in ARG’s and to follow them as spectators or to jump in late. His system is currently closed, and of course the marketers were all about “how do we use this?” It bordered on hostile at one point where the excellent too an community was seen as not exploitable.

TransGenre: City Gaming & Public Art – Peggy Weil, Ann Dennington, Carl DiSalvo, Sara Thacher, Jeff Watson – All right, this was the shining star of presentations, and not only because I know Peggy but from the sense of perspective and alternatives that it built up. Peggy gave us a history of the art world looking at experience and sold me on the fact that I actually know a bit about this from my studies in the fine arts. She mentioned Happenings, Situationists, Derive, Brody Condon, and others I cannot recall at the moment. Her coverage was broad but all too brief, and I wish we had had a full on presentation on the historical antecedents of the ARG in art.

After that the panel talked about projects, funding, engaging government and creating art in the space. One of the participants ustreamed much of it and it is worth looking at TransGenre: City Gaming & Public Art.

Transmedia Production – Behnam Karbassi (via Skype) – Benham is a total douchebag and a marketing tool without a bit of soul or real creativity in him. In other words he is a Hollywood producer. He constantly reminded us that what he does is “hard” and that he wants money, and made me totally sick of the phrase “transmedia storytelling.” I think he know that Jenkins coined the term but beyond that and the fact that he “loves him and his work” I don’t think he knows anything about what Jenkins has done or did. He certainly doesn’t understand convergence. So I get it, he is working on hundred thousand dollar or even million dollar ARGs that are professionally produced and paid for by big companies. But he dodged every question and could have covered his presentation in 5 minutes. Everyone in the room totally kissed his ass and he took pains to remind us that even the inquisitor was in his pocket.

It was pointed out to me that he is a character, and that he should be recorded as such. Though he left me emotionally exhausted, this perspective totally turned me around.

Small Group Block – ooh a game jam?!? We managed to pull another person into the mix. Greg Gomez jumped in and we ended up doing some good research into historic Atlanta.


Dotmocracy Wrap-Up – got skipped! All right, if you set a schedule and find it borked don’t skip a presentation. We were counting on the timing and missed out on the first half of Blair Witch.

Beyond Blair Witch – Mike Monello & Brian Clark – All right this was worth the price of admission. Mike told stories, and related experience as well as lessons learned. He spoke in specifics and encouraged entrepreneurialism. It was nice to see thought leaders who are successful after the mire of douche-bags.

Saturday July 17 – Games

No talent required – Studio Cypher – the prepared bags, notecards and simple rules made this interesting. It had the feel of a party game, and I am not sure of the ARG connection. Basically each player has a set of simple shapes, a challenge is issued “in a dramatic fashion” and the players agree on a subject to draw. Players use the same shapes (trading?) after use and then judge the winner. The winner gets to keep one of the losers pieces. The last round is a robot drawing challenge.

Socks, Inc New Employee Orientation – Socks, Inc – there was a sock puppet building workshop followed by a visual scavenger hunt. The system is pretty concise, and the public showing ended up being delayed due to unforseen technical issues.

FestJam Workshop Games – Various & TBA – as far as I can tell, this was us.

ARG Museum – Just off the registration area the organizers had set up a collection of swag and props from several different games. This was wonderful and inspiring.