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SAAM's ARG - Detailed Info

Page history last edited by Nancy Proctor 15 years, 1 month ago


The Luce Foundation Center (part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum) hosted an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) named Ghosts of a Chance Sept-Oct 2008. The game was developed by the company City Mystery. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art is a visible storage facility within the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) that displays more than 3,300 artworks in floor-to-ceiling glass cases.  Information on every single artwork and artist as well as hundreds of media assets can be found on interactive touch-screen kiosks dotted around the Center.  The Luce Center is a dynamic facility, with a dedicated staff that answers visitor questions, coordinates an active schedule of public programs, and updates digital and physical interpretation.


An illustrated summary of the project and its results can be downloaded here.


Read a post-game analysis on Museum 2.0.


Georgina Bath Goodlander's paper for Museums & the Web 2009 on Ghosts of a Chance.


What's an ARG?

You might describe an ARG as a multimedia scavenger hunt, in which players receive and solve clues using their cell phones and the internet.  ARGs are a very new medium. They use narrative in a very traditional sense. Unlike the online games that have no end - like Second Life or EverQuest - an ARG will have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, making them ideal for storytelling. They take place in real time and in real places, blurring the line between what is reality and what is the game.  Wikipedia says an ARG is “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions.” (The Wikipedia entry has links to relevant ARG sites and articles.)


The Story So Far…

On July 19th, 2008, there was a convention for hardcore ARG players in Boston called ARG-Fest-o-Con. City Mystery saw this as the perfect place to plant a “teaser” for our game. A body builder gate-crashed the convention covered in henna tattoos. The tattoos contained the first clue to the game and led players to a page on the Luce Center web site. Within minutes of this event, ARGers had posted photos of the bodybuilder to Flickr, and had started discussing the event on the ARG discussion forums. Since then, we’ve planted a few clues, but the game will start for real on September 8th.



ABC.com article (does a great job of explaining ARGs in general and our ARG in particular):

The Smithsonian’s Got Game


Is there a clue in this month's Smithsonian Magazine Article?



The Game Web site (will make more sense after September 8) www.ghostsofachance.com

The ARG Forum: http://forums.unfiction.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=26261




What’s new and noteworthy about Ghosts Of A Chance?

SAAM’s involvement:

  • This is the first ARG produced for a museum. Most ARGs have either been attached to or sell a product (Audi, Microsoft, etc.). Ghosts Of A Chance is the only ARG to create a narrative based on a museum’s collections. It is entirely non-commercial and free to play, and asks players to experience a museum in an entirely new way – as a constellation of possibilities.
  • Just as the public is encouraged to tie pieces of the collection at the Luce Center together into a (historical) narrative, effectively creating an exhibition of some subset of the collection, Ghosts Of A Chance is about literally creating an exhibition (a fake one, at least) at Luce and weaving/discovering the narrative that binds those objects. We're walking people through a practice run of investigating the way objects embody histories; a practice that is particularly important at the Luce Center, where the volume and variety of material means there's quite a bit to be discovered.



Game design and game play:

  • We are using a minimal number of websites, which makes Ghosts of a Chance more accessible. It is easier for players to jump in at any time during six weeks of game play and follow along on a central site.
  • Ghosts Of A Chance involves players in something other than puzzle solving. Currently, ghostsofachance.com asks players to do two things; post pictures of their lover’s eye, and to record an incantation.
  • We are the first ARG specifically in tune with “maker” culture, a new emphasis on players producing artifacts for the game.
  • We offer a regular schedule of story reveals, like a serialized drama – coupled with player production.
  • Players help create a climactic event (October 25th, noon, at SAAM), which is for everyone (even first-time players) instead of just for the hardcore.



Education component:

  • We are the first ARG that will cull assets from the larger game, leaving behind a scalable (one and a half-hour), repeatable game module for Luce Center to use with students and visitors.


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