October 21, 2014

Jagoda talks alternate reality game

Patrick Jagoda spoke about the effects of new forms of networking through the lens of alternate reality games (ARGs) at a talk entitled “What are Artworks for in a Networked Time?” yesterday.

Jagoda, an assistant professor of English at the University, co-founded the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, which creates games and projects to study social issues. ARGs, one type of game that the Lab designs, use the real world as their settings but involve narrative elements and outside methods of communication, like Humans vs. Zombies. The lecture was part of a project through the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society called Art and Public Life.

“When I talk about networks, I’m not just talking about the Internet or other communications technologies,” Jagoda said. “I want to suggest that network form has numerous meanings and contradictory functions.”

Some of the forms of art in networking that Jagoda addressed are webisodes, vlogs, and crowdsourced video games, but he focused on ARGs and how new forms of networking can influence their play.

Jagoda observed this networking firsthand with an experimental ARG called The Project which ran from April 1–25 last year on campus.

Created by Jagoda, Sha Xin Wei, the Topological Media Lab, and a group of UChicago students, The Project involved sorting participants into three groups and leading them to clues, or “rabbit holes,” that helped them complete the story in the game.

The Project involved a variety of types of art and communication methods. One student dressed up as a “live marionette” and handed out postcards for the initial clue, the villain of the game had his own Facebook page, and students with the role of “documentarians” ran a Twitter account to keep track of what was happening in the game.

The designers wanted to change the game to be able to respond to players’ actions. Through the game they tried to determine if the new forms of networking would be helpful or harmful to the players’ interactions.

“At every step of the process of making this game we asked ourselves whether the form of the collaborative project was compromised by information capitalism, or whether it made possible forms of alternative thought and coming together,” Jagoda said.

Jagoda and the rest of the team also faced the prospect of the failure of their experiment, which he said was not necessarily bad. “My goal is to make failure more interesting for players. Make it as interesting for them as it has been for me,” he said.

Ultimately, The Project was meant to be an artwork that explored the role of networking.

“Artworks serve as processes rather than statements,” Jagoda said.