ARG’s & LARP games to create accelerated collaboration

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 7 minutes

ARG’s & LARP games to create accelerated collaboration

One of the hardest aspects of bringing people together in any situation is how well or to what extent will they will interact with each other.

If you’ve ever been to a conference, a training program, the first day of class either on your own or with a group that splits up, then you know the awkward moments at the start of how you will interact and communicate with others, and with who.

Some of us are better in these social situations than others, though regardless of your disposition, that initial moment remains awkward, of strangers eyeing each other up and measuring an unknown and unquantifiable interaction.

One way to break those awkward moments is with the tried and true ice-breaker exercises. As useful and as well-intentioned as these are at “breaking the ice” between strangers, I’ve always found them to be more awkward than the original silence between strangers. Generally, because they are a momentary distraction that doesn’t really bring people together. What they do highlight very well is that everyone is feeling the same and that we should move beyond that. But we’re still left with a room full of people who (probably) know nothing about each other.

As regular visitor’s of aestranger.com, many of you may know that I’ve written several pieces on the use of ARG’s, live-action role-playing games and narrative adventure experiences, and the usefulness they have in various walks of life. But the one thing I wanted to specifically highlight in this piece is the ability that ARG’s and LARP games have in accelerating a collaborative environment between people, specifically strangers.

As a shameless plug for those that are interested in using ARG’s that last within more manageable time frames, such as a day or a multi-day workshop, then please check in regularly on aestranger.com for various narrative adventure offerings that I have been working on for the last year. These offerings will hopefully be finalized soon and can be used in a variety of educational and training situations for schools, companies and hopefully elsewhere. The hope is that they are ARG’s in a box that can be tailored to the players or used as one-shots with a variety of groups.

One of the reasons that I wanted to create these is because of their ability to bring people together, where they can learn and interact with each other and together.

Singular goals for collectives

As I mentioned, the issue with new groups or classes (for lack of a better descriptor), is that not everyone knows each other. And to get them to the point of working together to actually start learning and achieving things is often unwieldy. You need to break the ice so that they can get on with things.

ARG’s and LARP games are not necessarily the answer straight out of the box, but rather methodology’s and frameworks that can be used to facilitate more organic collaborative environments. In essence, they give attendees, students, participants a reason for having a purpose to collaborate and by working together they have a collaborative purpose. Your goal, as a designer, is to facilitate them working together by giving them a goal, to achieve that given goal, they need to work together, thereby achieving your goal.

ARG’s? Alternate Reality Games

Though for those that jumped ahead and maybe didn’t read some of the other pieces I’ve done, may not know what an ARG is.

In a quick summary an ARG or Alternate Reality Game is:

A fictional story-world that takes place within or is layered on top of the real world. It incorporates an adventure storyline that includes puzzles, mysteries, and challenges. Sometimes, but not always, this includes a role-playing element, hence the inclusion of LARP games. But generally, the role-playing element is the buying into and suspension of disbelief when entering “the game”. Usually, the setup for the ARG is that people “stumble” into the game, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Intentionally is when you as the designer create an event that signifies the start of the game, it may not be obvious that it is a game, but people are engaged. Unintentionally is the more historic version of ARG’s where people literally stumble across a strange clue and then fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.

In either case, the ARG should blur the lines between the real world and the fictional world it has created.

Everyone is different

What makes ARG’s so unique an interesting is the fact that they use a multitude of mediums. This is generally referred to as transmedia and ARG’s are very much transmedia experiences. Using online, offline, visual, audio, written, etc. mediums to relay the story to the players. The story is replicated in every medium, but parts of the story are revealed on each medium, requiring the players to interact with each one.

On top of the transmedia experience is also layered the variations of challenges that the participants must go through. These can be encryptions, specialized knowledge, physical challenges, logic, arithmetic, literary and so on. The beauty then of using an ARG with a group of total strangers is that each person can bring something to the experience.

As the designer and facilitator, you can improve the experience by tailoring it to your players if you are able to do research on them ahead of time. But even if you use a standard version of an ARG experience as a one-shot, it can still be effective if it has a broad enough selection of challenges that will engage people, and where they can learn from each other.

Using these kinds of experiences promotes a level of self-organization within a group. If the players are thrown into it from the start, you will see that they very quickly start to organically pick, choose and promote themselves for the aspects that they are best suited towards. Through this they start to organically collaborate as well, naturally breaking the ice and learning about each other, through what they are good at. This provides each player with a sense of empowerment, self-worth, and respect for each other.  What you’ve thus facilitated is an opportunity for a group of strangers to give a good first impression, which we all know is both hard and long-lasting.

Challenges & Rewards & Consequences

 

One element that every game-based solution or experience needs, of course, is some sort of reward for the effort that the players invest in the experience. Now with that, I don’t mean they need a trophy at the end or a prize. But something (meaningful) that they can take away from the experience. Something that they earned and that fits the level of effort that the challenges required.

Rewards like these can be fully embedded aspects such as having learned a skill, knowledge, even the fact that the players networked with each and have valuable relationships can be a reward. With the networking aspect, the reward for the game can be the offer of a happy hour or open bar for everyone involved after they’ve finished/won.

On the other side of the coin, there are consequences. Naturally, any experience with a learning element will have consequences and effective feedback and debriefing session can be used to work through the consequences.

The unintentional consequences of an ARG that blurs reality and fiction are that certain actions and event have a real lasting effect. As a designer, you will need to be careful of this, as many activities can become so real and immersive for players that they truly start believing in them. And if they don’t go the way they expect, players can become frustrated, irritated, even angry. Always maintain a vigilant and moderating eye on interactions to minimize and real-world lasting effects. And naturally, bring these moments up in the debrief so that can be discussed rationally.

With such intense and immersive experiences, you are always left balancing the question between a guided voluntary immersion and manipulation of a sense voluntariness.

 

What to keep in mind

 

Some final thoughts of what you need to keep in mind if you want to design or even just use out-of-the-box one-shot ARG’s are:

  • Narrative cohesion & thematic consistency

If you’re creating or tailoring, remember that everything in the game needs to make sense and be consistent with the theme you’ve chosen. It’s fine to mash up Norse mythology with a designer virus outbreak, but it needs to make sense. Separately they are at odd’s and people stop suspending their disbelief.

 

  • Avoid plot holes

Links to the first point, but if in a cohesive and consistent world there can be plot holes. If they exist, they will remove the immersion of the player. If you’ve altered a standard game or created one, then go through the game in your head, maybe even play it out. Have others go through it as well. So that you can remove as many plot holes as you can.

 

  • Specific goals

This is important for both you the designer/facilitator and for the players. You must have a goal for running the experience – in the case of the piece its to facilitate a collaborative experience so that people get to know each other better in a short space of time. For the players to be able to do that they need a specific goal that they can work together towards facilitator: collaboration/players: defeat end boss.

 

  • Be prepared

Goes without saying hopefully but be prepared for what you want to deliver. Having everything makes it smoother, less stressful and more effective for the goal you wish to achieve.

But also be prepared to put in a lot of work and long hours, either designing, facilitating or both – for it to be immersive it and for the players to really work together, you will need to be flexible and responsive.

If you are interested in what else ARG’s and LARP games can offer then please have a look at the other articles on aestranger.com/blogs/ and at future offerings for ARG experiences in aestranger.com/products/.

 

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.

 

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