This past weekend, a few dozen gamers converged on Bloomington, Indiana for the 10th ARGfest-o-con, an annual conference for alternate reality game producers and players. While most of the discussion centered around the business and value proposition of transmedia storytelling, a few specific games were demo-ed at the event which could have some family appeal.
The Wisconsin Hustle
The three-day conference kicked off with a card game that simultaneously lowered inhibitions of the attendees and gave them a reason to meet new people. Game designer Jim Babb passed out decks of cards depicting several dance moves —The Spin, The Jack, The Carlton, The Egyptian, The Ladder, The Running Man, and The Travolta — to be used as fodder for a dance-your-pants-off throw down.
The Wisconsin Hustle requires two players and one judge. Each player takes turns pulling a card from their own deck and challenging their opponent to perform that move, preferably with flair. With each successive card, a new move is added to all of the previous steps, allowing a dance routine to build into a longer and longer sequence. The players have to remember the steps in order and perform them correctly to continue playing. The judge collects the cards and determines when the first mistake is made, handing the stack of dance moves to the winner of the challenge.
Now, imagine those geeky adult transmedia folks replaced with a bunch of pre-tweens and their parents. Memory is a great equalizer, card collection is a great motivation, and nobody can do the Travolta without eliciting a bunch of smiles.
The game — which will launch as an Android application, replacing dancing with touchscreen gestures — was developed by Awkward Hug, the New York gaming company who may be best known for Must Love Robots (a game about finding a date for a robot roommate).
Another game by Awkward Hug is Socks, Inc., the largest employer of sock puppets in the world. This ARG provokes countless displays of creativity through sock puppet characters, as players earn badges by completing missions.
As Kris Nordgren (ARGNet) described it:
Socks Inc. allows players to experience real-world play without the fear of embarrassment or the limits of social conformity. Younger children can play with their parents’ help and playfully develop media and technology literacy alongside creativity and storytelling skills. Tweens and teens will find it easy to explore this alternate reality as a lot of their lives are already played out in the virtual world.
Socks, Inc. held a “new employee orientation” workshop at last year’s ARGfest, as a way to help players build some sock puppets. The project was initially funded through Kickstarter and credits the fictionally-aware Martin Aggett as an executive producer.
Robot <3 Stories
Joining the conference via Skype for his presentation, story architect Lance Weiler talked about the Workbook Project — an initiative to open up the generation and production of creative ideas. Weiler is considered an innovator of the traditional moviemaking process, stretching how stories are told and distributed. He co-wrote and co-directed The Last Broadcast, the first film to be distributed digitally to theaters.
One of Weiler’s projects is “Robot Heart Stories,” co-created storytelling that mixes several learning areas (creative writing, math, science, geography, and history) to connect two first grade classes, one in Montreal and the other in Los Angeles:
A robot has crash landed in Montreal and now must make her way to LA in order to find her space craft and return home. … By using collaborative problem solving and creative writing the students help the Robot make her way across North America.
Forty children and two teachers will work together this fall to produce stories and artwork about the robot. These artifacts will board a commercial rocket and, through an actual space launch, make their way to the International Space Station.
“I wanted them to have a moment where they will look in the sky, remember those stories … and realize they’re part of a larger community,” explained Weiler.
Team Ninja Battle & No Talent Required
In addition to the speakers, ARGfest featured other events, like Bloomington Independent Game Night. Organized by Studio Cypher, BIG Night is a quarterly gathering of students and professionals interested in creating and sharing new games. Its fourth installment was held at the conclusion of ARGfest.
One of the games available to test was Mike Trotzke’s Team Ninja Battle, a simple card game that is a bit like War and poker, but for young kids. Trotzke, one of the co-founders of the Sproutbox startup incubator, is a game aficionado who grew tired of playing the same board games with nieces, nephews, and the small kids of coworkers. Using Artscow to print the cards, he created a card game that, while still simple, had more strategy than simply rolling a die and advancing toward Gum Drop Mountain.
Team Ninja Battle features three groups of ninjas, indicated by color and named for the kids Mike knows. The ninjas each have one of four moves, valued 0 to 3, that they can use during fights. Every player gets five cards and can either exchange one with the remaining deck or challenge another player to a battle. The dueling players then decide how many cards to risk, with the highest total score capturing the opponents cards. This continues until someone has captured 10 cards. The winner is the player with the greatest total value of their captured cards.
Another game at BIG was a tabletop game called No Talent Required. Studio Cypher created the experimental game as a way to promote a sponsoring company at restaurants. Any parent will appreciate the need to keep kids occupied while waiting for the food to come, so the idea that some simple game is already at the table is appealing.
No Talent Required is a drawing game that has solitaire and multi-player modes. In the drawstring bag are paper, pencils, and about a dozen oddly shaped painted pieces of thin wood. The pencil is used to trace some or all of the shapes to create a picture. The player-versus-player version of the game has someone declare a target subject to draw (e.g., a tiger). The players then take turns drafting and tracing pieces until no more of the wooden parts remain. An impartial judge is recruited to determine which picture is better. Individually, the challenge is to draw a single picture using all of the available pieces. Either way, the game lasts about as long as it takes for a pizza to cook.