Vanished: An Alternate Reality Game for Middle Schoolers

An environmental disaster has taken place on Planet Earth and we need your help.

The Smithsonian Institution and the MIT Education Arcade invite all scientists-in-training ages 10½ to 14 to log onto VANISHED and help decipher clues that unravel one of the world’s biggest mysteries.  An online/offline interactive event, VANISHED is an eight-week episodic quest that will transform you into principal scientific investigators who must collaborate to find the answers.  You will race against time as you solve games, puzzles, and other online challenges; visit real museums; collect samples from in and around your homes; and even partner with some of the Smithsonian’s world renowned scientists and investigators, to help unlock the  true secrets of this catastrophe–before it’s too late.

The rabbithole introduction to MIT’s alternate reality game “Vanished.”

A couple of weeks back I wrote about “citizen scientist projects” that get kids and families having fun while acting like scientists. For those who might like their science with a side of gaming, however, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Education Arcade has recently created a new science-fiction-themed alternate reality game for middle schoolers aged 10.5-14 that is free and set to go live on April 4.

Alternate reality games bring people together both online and in the real world in order to play together while collaboratively solving puzzles. The ARG “Vanished” will take place over eight weeks and will involve:

  • Weekly video conferences with scientists from the Smithsonian,
  • Online games that will help unlock clues and hidden messages,
  • Journal entries from in-game characters,
  • Opportunities for additional clue-gathering at Smithsonian-affiliated museums around the country (note: you can play the game even if you do not live near one of the participating museums),
  • Real-world exploration where players get out in their own neighborhoods answering questions like what’s blooming? and what animals do you see? in order to generate scientific data, and
  • Forum discussions moderated by MIT students.

Vanished is entirely funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and was created at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in tandem with scientists from the Smithsonian. Read more about the project by going to to ARGnet, a website devoted to discussing alternate reality gaming. Sign up to play the game by heading over to the Vanished website. Parents will be sent a contractual email when their children sign up and are allowed to create “watcher” accounts–however, the game is designed to put kids, not adults, in the decision-making driver seat.

The game begins on April 4, so head on over and sign up!

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