Archive for September, 2009

ARG’s: Marketing Strategies, How Religion Fits in, & Sadie’s Story

A few days ago we got into small groups again and discussed our articles that we all wrote summaries on. My group consisted of two other people who also read about ARG’s: alternate reality games. I thought a specific definition would be helpful for this, because in each of our articles, ARG’s were talked about a little differently. So, I went on the web, and went to, the alternate reality game network, and felt I got a definition that encompassed all of our 3 articles talked about:

Alternate Reality Gaming is, according to CNET, “…an obsession-inspiring genre that blends real-life treasure hunting, interactive storytelling, video games and online community…

“These games are an intensely complicated series of puzzles involving coded Web sites, real-world clues like the newspaper advertisements, phone calls in the middle of the night from game characters and more. That blend of real-world activities and a dramatic storyline has proven irresistible to many.”

These games (which are usually free to play) often have a specific goal of not only involving the player with the story and/or fictional characters but of connecting them to the real world and to each other. Many game puzzles can be solved only by the collaborative efforts of multiple players, sometimes requiring one or more players to get up from their computers to go outside to find clues or other planted assets in the real world.

One thing about ARG’s is that it can spill into your own life, as in into reality, and my group discussed that sometimes we don’t even notice that what we are looking at is an ARG. We talked about how it can be a marketing strategy for the game, where it becomes a new plotline, almost a new form of a narrative. For example, one of my group member’s articles used how the ARG for the TV show “Lost” (as an example) lets you learn a new plot twist, and new information about the show. But for that you had to pick up the phone and call a certain number in order to get that certain information, which is what made it a marketing strategy. Advertising gives a whole new dimension to the story.

How does religion fit in? Perhaps because you are religiously looking for clues of the ARG to find information, or you log on to “I Love Bees” at a certain time (also ritual) during the day. I’ll leave my blog entry with a website on Halo 3:ODST’s ARG – “Sadie’s Story”, which the articles says,

“Sure enough, Halo 3: ODST will have a unique extended experience of its own. Or rather, an embedded tangential experience, for lack of a better term. Within the game, players will be able to uncover bits and pieces of a separate story arc throughout the campaign.”

Below is the site with the article on “Sadie’s Story”:

We’ll have to see what new things spill into our life as we search for clues…


The Story Doesn’t Care: An Interview with Sean Stewart (Article Summary)

The author conducted an interview with Sean Stewart, and posted a partial transcript of that interview. Stewart was first a sci-fi novelist and later became an ARG (alternate reality game) developer. He wrote eight novels and helped create games such as “I Love Bees” for Halo 2 and Last Call Poker” for Activision’s Gun.  The author provides the definition of an alternate reality game from Wikipedia in terms of interactive narrativity in virtual reality:  “. . .a cross media game that deliberately blurs the line between the in-game and out-of-game experiences . . . . Often events that happen inside the game reality will ‘reach out’ into the players’ lives in order to bring them together.  Elements of the plot line may be provided to the players in almost any form”.  The author defines any form as including “emails, phone calls, chat session, snail mail, and live events.” The author then moves on to the interview where Stewart defines ARG’s as “storytelling as archeology. . . . That is, you work out a story, you create all the evidence of the story, then you smash the evidence into a thousand teeny bits and sprinkle it around and people gather it up, put it together again and argue what it must have meant. . . . Everything you find is real within the fictional bubble of the story.”

One of the main points that Stewart makes is that ARG’s are an art form which is evolving. He finds this art form more exciting than writing novels because Stewart believes that any form of communication can be seen as a possibility for becoming art. Past examples include the fact that novels followed printing presses and that movies followed the development of picture cameras. He finds technological advances in storytelling ongoing/changing.  The current technological advance of the internet allows for a new type of storytelling: that of an intimate space for strangers which he refers to as a patio space.  A patio is both private and public, and that is a function served by internet advances such as blogs and ARG’s. These virtual reality experiences provide an interactive experience which is built collectively through sharing experiences back and forth.

Stewart is very excited about this new type of storytelling because it is an evolving form.  One of the exciting things he feels about this form is that the story doesn’t care what the platform is; it could the cell phone, the TV, the web, or print. He sees the future for the 21st century as one which will use the web as its main method of storytelling because it can be conveyed through any available platform. A second thing Stewart finds exciting about this new art form is that he believes that it will remain collaborative and interactive. The ability to click on things allows for a higher level of interaction than any art form yet he feels.  He feels the narrator in this art form has moved to a new level because they portray the narration through showing (ideas, thoughts, and emotions) without explicitly saying.

Stewart believes that he has now become a better writer through devising ARG’s.  He explains that when he worked just as a professional novelist he was advised to find his “own authentic vision” and slower go beyond the work and style of others. For ARG’s he needed to think about the audience in a different way and learned to use a plethora of other voices (other than his own voice as a writer). He learned to apply this to his novel writing as well, using all of those voices along with his own, being able to now write with a new confidence. The author ends the transcription with Stewart saying how much he has gained in his novel writing from developing ARG’s.

Therapy/Psychology In Interactive Fiction

When I saw how Façade was played in class, I really got an idea of what interactive fiction could be. As a psychology major, I later thought that perhaps this type of play could be used in therapy in younger children when it is hard for the child to verbalize his/her feelings. For instance, let’s say Travis (the child) went to the school psychologist because he was acting up in class. Let’s also say that Travis was acting up to get attention in class because his parents were always fighting at home and he wasn’t getting enough of the attention he needed there. Perhaps Travis could play a game where he made up a world (Montfort calls it a “world model” where play can exist p 313) realistic to his setup at home. Like Wii characters (like what we talked about in class), he could pick out what his family and he looked like, create what his house looked like, etc. Then the therapist would create a setting and perhaps a problem (like in a novel) for Travis to deal with as realistically as possible. For instance, the setting is dinner at the dining table and the problem is that his parents are fighting and ignoring him. Travis would then come up with the text for each character along with the actions (for instance, maybe he would just stand up and leave the room while his parents continued to fight). Instead of the therapist asking what may seem to Travis daunting questions that he could not figure out how to verbalize to share his feelings, he has just played a game (or produced a story??) which was probably more enjoyable. Also, the therapist was able to limit and watch this interactive fiction and came out of it changed with more knowledge of Travis’s situation. From there, the school psychologist could figure out where to go next.

This pertains a lot to Nick Montfort’s “Interactive Fiction as ‘Story,’ ‘Game,’ Storygame,’ ‘Novel,’ ‘World’ ‘Literature,’ ‘Puzzle,’ ‘Problem,’ Riddle,’ and ‘Machine’”  in the book First Person. Travis creates a story within a game, which is exactly what Montfort tells us Mary Ann Buckles defines a storygame as: the two are “embedded” within each other. Creating a world where a child’s play could exist is something Montfort emphasizes as a very important part of interactive fiction. Just as in literature and novels, dialogue is created by Travis (in this case the author). Also, interactive fiction is “tied” closely to written prose, as in a novel or literature. But in order for Travis to create any dialogue, Travis is given a puzzle/riddle/problem as well, for the interactive fiction game. Montfort says that puzzles and problems are basically the same thing, and a riddle is “the connection to a puzzle or problem to issues in the world” (p 315), not necessarily just the interactive fiction world, but the world that we live in.  “Machine” is involved as well because, as Montfort says, Travis’s interactive fiction “is a program, parsing input and generating output based on rules [that the school psychologist would have given Travis as the situation]” (315)

My only problem with my psychological interactive fiction is I am not quite sure how ritual fits into this (there could be a number of ways in which I have not mapped out yet), and I do not know how religion has anything at all to do with this. But I thought it was an interesting way to tie interactive fiction to the real world, and seeing how someone could come out transformed/changed after a game/games of interactive fiction (which we talked about in class).

9.2.09 Class Article Discussions

The first small group I was in when we discussed our articles, the three of us talked about advances in technology. Were they good or bad? The articles we read seemed to think advancing in technology was good for reliogion and rituals. My article and one of my group members article disucssed cyber-churches. One question that popped into my head was, no matter whether technological advances are good or bad, why would someone want to change a ritual in their religion by making a cyber-church? I figure, convenience could be a reason, but I then would think that most people who have rituals (religious or not) don’t want to change them if they work. So that leads me to wondering if something about going to church wasn’t working for people, and if so what was it?

In my second group we also talked about technological advances, but in a different way. We discusses “sacred spaces” and putting sacred text on the internet. Robert talked about how in Buddhism, when reading text on the internet you lose your guru. The meaning can then be lost in a “sacred place” online, because it is more open to interpretation. But then again, Robert pointed out, leaving room for interpretation may be good for you. This is all a battle of what is being given and what is being lost. How much interpretation should you leave room for, if any? What changes occur to the ritual, and because of that what views and idealogies change/emerge?

When I think of rituals, I think of my grandma. She has things in her set ways. For instance, before she goes to bed she checks to make sure the front door is locked and the oven is off. Then she feels safe and ok to sleep. But what if her ritual changed, so that she could just go on her computer every night and it would tell her whether the front door was locked or if the oven was on? Isn’t there something to say about the physical aspect of *doing* something? And by doing, I mean walking over to the front door, rather than using a mouse to click on something. I think if I asked my grandma, she would say that there is defininetly something about the physical acts she does that makes her rituals her own, and she would never want to change how she goes about her nightly rituals. Which brings me to my question in the beginning of this entry, why are people so interested in advancing in technology to do these sorts of things (like cyber-churches) and what are their reasons for doing so, thinking it is a positive thing? I didn’t really think too much about this in class, but now that I’ve had time to digest, I supposed I am interested in this part the most, partyly because I feel it is the basis to so much that we have learned.

Debate on Religion and Ritual in Cyberspace

In “Virtual Ritual, Real Faith: the Revirtualization of Religious Virtual in Cyberspace”, author Cheryl Casey asks the question of how religious rituals using the internet help us understand the social aspects of religion within a changing media. She especially looks at how using a virtual reality rather than a more traditional face to face social religious contact or other types of media contact may affect how we use rituals in religious practice. Casey believes that cyberspace is a great way of using religious ritual since the connection between cyberspace and ritual is great; they are both a virtual “reality”.

Casey sets up her article by defining cyberspace, religion and ritual so that the reader has an understanding of her discussion. Her definition of cyberspace involves primarily computer networks, and she makes a specific mention of sacred space in cyberspace, both the physical space of a religious organization’s homepage, and the spiritual space of the internet in general. She defines religion as a system of conceptualizing an order to our existence and providing ways of accounting for things in our world which are paradoxical. Religion does not need to only include an institution and its rules, but can be something in everyday life which guides our behavior. The definition of ritual in terms of religion is that of an act or symbol regarding something real which we cannot see which helps this virtual reality more real in our lives.

The first example of online ritual is that of an online Christian mass at St John’s Internet Church. One of the benefits of using the ritual of an online mass to interact with one’s religion is that the user is not limited by the typical institutional limitations of time of worship set by an authority who is necessary for the worship. The cyberspace version of the ritual is available anytime. Casey describes that in order to make use of a religious ritual, there must be a specific spatial zone which is considered fairly sacred, and she argues that cyberspace provides such as space since the space itself in not necessarily a physically space but is rather constructed by the person.

One aspect of ritual that Casey discusses is time; in general, when participating in religious ritual, an expected amount of time is used and expected to be used. However, when using a cyberspace mass, the user can skip parts of the ritual and spend more time on parts they consider more relevant, thus altering the traditional ritual to make it more meaningful for them personally. This is specifically relevant when one considers that an internet user can choose to ignore the Holy Communion part of the mass or not, whereas in traditional ritual mass, the Holy Communion is never skipped.

Another difference between traditional religious ritual practice and cyberspace religious ritual practice is that of community and social interactions. Religious rituals are typically ceremonial, and done in a community. Cyberspace religious rituals must be used with an imaginary participation by others. However, Casey also points out that there has been research into the relationships involved in online worship, and that many people join online religious organization particularly for the support and relationships there.

As Casey points out the differences involved in traditional and virtual participation in the ritual of a mass, she explores what might be advantages to a cyberspace mass ritual. Whereas in tratditional mass, the authority figure ins necessary for the ritual and there are specific roles for this authority vs. the participant, cyberspace shares the athoratiative role more with the participant, since the participant is not a passive recipient of what the authority says and does, but must rather choose to read the words of the authority on the screen, and must choose to understand the symbols of bread and wine as symbols rather than simply physical bread and wine presented to them. Requiring the participant to visualize and symbolize since concrete objects and people are not available is perhaps more conducive to using a ritual to enhance a religious ritual.

Casey ends her article with the question of how the media and its variations change how people perceive their world, especially social connections. This is relevant to religious practice since religion is really a social phenomenon. The idea is that access to the internet can change our views on religious practice, perhaps for the better since cyberspace will force us to think about the virtual piece of ritual more than the traditional method of ritual performance will.

Here is the site to St. John’s Internet Church:

(Although the site only has on it its final posting after twelve years of operation)