This past Fall I taught one of the first ever, if not the very first, 100% online class as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). As a pilot, the course ended a solid success and I am revising it for the summer session. Secrets: A Cyberculture Mystery Game is an upper level Humanities course that focuses on the rise of cyberculture and its impact on changing ideas of personal identity. The game was designed by my trusted colleague, Lee Sheldon, an expert game designer and Professor – at the time from nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and now somewhat further away at Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The game/course illustrates the principles outlined in Lee’s path-breaking book The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game (Cengage, 2012). Secrets is not gamification. It is a game.
The heart of the game is a science fiction mystery story about the Internet that starts with Professor Grey (that’s me or whomever teaches the course) being contacted from the future (the rabbit hole of an ARG) by an organization called The Collective. As the story unfolds, The Collective promotes a new belief in “primal empathy,” a utopian form of bioengineering. They are opposed by a freedom fighting resistance group or counter force called Fortress Nine. As the course progresses a humanitarian group, The CareHart Foundation, comes into play and later a more nefarious corporate entity called Chromogen. The unfolding layers of mystery keep the students engaged and motivated in striving to solve the mystery. They also identify with the characters and the ideas these characters represent. Videos convey the story to the players/students. The characters are played by amateur actors just as I play the role of Professor Grey. I created a fictional bio and Facebook page for the professor. Each episode’s class forum or discussion board requires players/students to respond to the story’s events.
The course makes use of an ARG’s key elements beginning with the rabbit hole mentioned above. Each organization has their own fictional website (requires a domain purchase and IT help) and email contacts so that players/students can contact the organization directly and those emails get routed to my game center email. When I respond to the player/student, I respond as if from that organization maintaining the illusion of the 4th wall. Drama includes the course (a Blackboard site) being hacked (when players/students log in that day their grades have disappeared and assignments are scrambled), a riddle solved by the class, and a final arrest! …….
Read the rest at: Center for Simulation & Game Based Learning