New game to help UChicago community connect during Autumn Quarter

Through puzzles and play, ECHO challenges participants to explore ideas of health

On Tuesday night, following a cryptic email transmission, students and other University of Chicago community members delved into a series of puzzles that uncovered a new challenge—and a means for connection in a socially-distant start to Autumn Quarter.

Decoded from a series of Spotify playlists, the clues revealed ECHO, a new game launching this month to tackle ideas about physical and mental health—both at the individual and community level—in the time of COVID-19.

Experimenting with remote learning techniques, the game will center on a series of mysterious events at Regenstein Library that involve apparitions—or “echoes”—that appear to be from another world. Players will form teams to participate in a series of challenges in preparation for a culminating event at the end of October. No matter where they are around the world, participants will have a chance to compete, create art, solve puzzles and come together in a collaborative experience all the more crucial in this unusual year.

ECHO is the latest challenge from Fourcast Lab, a group of interdisciplinary University researchers and designers that has sparked curiosity across campus with events spanning multiple worlds and alternate realities, including last spring’s A Labyrinth and last autumn’s Terrarium. These games span a range of virtual media, including livestreams, websites, emails, and videos to create an immersive experience that provokes thought across many disciplines.

“We’ve created a series of quests for the University of Chicago community to engage in together during October 2020,” said Kristen Schilt, associate professor of sociology and a member of Fourcast Lab. “As we return to campus this fall, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize the importance of remaining healthy, taking care of each other, and creating new ways to grow as a community.”

“It’s important to find ways to play together, too,” said Ashlyn Sparrow, assistant director of the Weston Game Lab and a member of Fourcast Lab. “We’ve created a game, which includes puzzles, media creation challenges, social interactions, and much more. But the game is also a prelude to something more: an unprecedented opening into another world. We’ll need everyone’s help in October to make this work.”

With the teaser puzzle solved, the full game was revealed and registration is open for all undergraduates, graduate students, staff, faculty and alumni. Teams of up to eight can sign up at through Oct. 8 at 11:59 p.m. CDT. New challenges will be released on Oct. 9, and the challenge will culminate Oct. 30 at 9 p.m. CDT.