Interactive media has proven itself to be one of the most powerful forces in today’s world. A group of artists, designers and technicians at the University of Chicago is pushing the boundaries of how this new media can be used to build community and shape our interactions.
This spring, a team of scholars affiliated with the Weston Game Lab and the College developed and presented A Labyrinth, an alternate reality game that utilized the UChicago campus as the playspace for a series of interactive quests. Responding to the need for community as Spring Quarter classes and activities moved online in response to COVID-19, this initiative asks big questions about the future of the arts and media.
How do we relate to each other in this new world? How do we spend time together? How can we help fill the gap left by in-person interaction—and what new ways of interaction can we devise?
Assembling a transmedia story played and built by multi-generational teams, the group behind A Labyrinth is harnessing new media’s capacity as a potent social facilitator. This innovative approach to alternate reality games (ARGs) combines online engagement with personal relationships and offers crucial opportunities to connect in a moment of social distance.
Video by Ben Kolak/Scrappers Film Group
Alternate reality games tell a story through multiple artistic and media forms, including—but not limited to—websites, video recording, live theater performance, email, social media, cryptic posters and phone calls. ARG designers integrate a puzzle into the real world and assert it as reality. Players progress through the game as themselves, and by doing so, assert the fictional world as in some sense real.
“I think it’s the most exemplary art form for a moment of ‘post-truth’ politics and transmedia network culture,” said Prof. Patrick Jagoda, co-founder of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab and co-director of A Labyrinth. “Alternate reality games are absorptive in the sense that they combine any other art form that you can imagine.
“There are visual components, audio dimensions, interactive elements. There’s live performance and video game mechanics. You can incorporate anything from email to TikTok in terms of puzzles or participatory opportunities. ARGs have a Frankensteinian hybrid structure that offers experimental ways of exploring and intervening in our contemporary moment.”
Through this transmedia experience, players interact with the game and directly impact the course of the story through their actions and ideas. They are encouraged to solve puzzles, investigate mysteries and communicate with other players to progress through the game.