The [6] Wonders of the Imaginative World (?)

In today’s post I thought I’d share so real life places I’d like to do/have enjoyed. These real places are related to the immersive entertainment and marketing area many of us are in. They are experiences that, unlike many of the online works that many people refer to all the time, you actually have to go to! While there are many wonderful museums, wonders of architecture and of course wonders of nature, I thought I’d highlight an unusual mix of places and events related to the wacky area of immersive entertainment and marketing. Here are some to get the list going. I’d love to hear of places or events you love.

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Possibility Post: Will Integrated Media Homes Kick the Holodeck's Butt?

In 1997, academic and designer Janet Murray published a book called Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. It not only gave voice to the dreams of technologists, fans and universe creators, but also inspired more. The thematic thread of Murray’s excellent book is the notion of the holodeck:

First introduced on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, the holodeck consists of an empty black cue covered in white gridlines upon which a computer can project elaborate simulations by combining holography with magnetic “force fields” and energy-to-matter conversions. The result is an illusory world than can be stopped, started, or turned off at will but that looks and behaves like the actual world and includes parlor fires, drinkable tea, and characters, like Lord Burleigh and his household, who can be touched, conversed with, and even kissed. The Star Trek holodeck is a universal fantasy machine, open to individual programming: a vision of the computer as a kind of storytelling genie in a lamp. (Murray, 2000 [1997], 15)

Murray (and others) hold up the holodeck as the ultimate storytelling machine. What can be more exciting than entering an fictional space that is indistinguishable from reality? There are many that are working hard to create technologies and content that will manifest this vision: sensory devices (both sensing us and enabling us to sense it), realistic graphics and artificial intelligence programs smart enough to do anything. All these efforts aim to make a work of fiction seem real, but they do not attempt to bring the fiction into real life. The holodeck is a separate space, in a magic-circle that one enters. What of a work of fiction that operates in your own life?

While this experience of fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea, it is very exciting to others. It is one of the attractions to ”alternate reality games”, as ARG designer Dave Szulborski explains:

In an alternate reality game, the goal is not to immerse the player in the artificial world of the game; instead, a successful game immerses the world of the game into the everyday existence and life of the player. (Szulborski, 2005, 31)

And ARG designer Elan Lee (who has now co-founded Fourth Wall Studios):

An alternate reality game is anything that takes your life and converts it into an entertainment space. (Lee in Ruberg)

ARGs are not the only format this desire towards a real world immersive space has emerged though. Practitioners of many different properties are playing with ”furnishing” their fictional world with creations that look real and exist in your own world. What I’m also interested in is what happens when this urge to have fiction enter your real world and ubiquitous computing takes hold. As a background to the idea, here is a short clip from Robert Zemeckis’s 1997 feature film Contact. I have used this in some of my talks over the last couple of years to illustrate the possibilities:

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

I’m not talking about stalking audiences! No, instead I’m interested in what it would be like to have that film scenario experienced in real life, but with fictional content coming through the various media. Indeed, how this can be experienced within a media integrated home. Well, a short while ago I posted about an an ”Anytime/Anywhere Content Lab” (AACL) being built by the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California (with big entertainment industry sponsors such as Disney, LucasFilms, NBCUniversal, Fox, Sony, Paramount). It is described as ”a modular, state-of-the-art, research and testing site where the industry can explore how consumers interact with high-quality entertainment in an integrated environment”. Here is their artist’s vision pic:

This lab is a wonderful opportunity for creators to experiment with testing creations that employ ”concurrent” and ”simultaneous” media usage (which I’ve posted about a couple of years ago here, here and here), but also for coming up with (what I think is) exciting media-integrated experiences. Imagine you come home after just getting the latest Alternate Reality Home ModuleTM. You and your partner put the special ”Game in Play” message on your door and then load the special USB drive into your computer or special device. It does a system check to ensure all your household devices are connected either with cables or wireless. It installs any special plugins your toaster or fridge might need, loads all the programs needed, asks if you want to know how long the experience goes for, the verbally-triggered ”STOP” command and whether you’re ready to commence. You look at each other with eyes wide and giggle. Click.

The lights go out. Your TV starts up and so you wander to the loungeroom. On the screen is a news report on an event that happened just a few minutes ago. You watch it, gathering all the details you can, trying to figure out what the events on screen will mean for you. You hear your kettle boil. The game obviously wants one of you in the kitchen while the other finishes watching the news report. You make two cups of tea while your heart pounds. You hear voices upstairs, freeze, then realise that the radio in your bedroom has turned on. You go upstairs, slowly, and enter your bedroom. The radio is another news report, but this time you’re hearing live calls from people at the event. The phone rings. You answer it and get a government recording telling you that you need to evacute your home immediately and go to this location. You run downstairs to your partner who excitedly says he’s found out something but you tell him you’re got to leave immediately. Your partner looks at you with raised eyebrows. Really? Yes! Cool. Your partner quickly prints out what he found while you grab blankets, your mobile and a torch. You both jump into your GPS-enabled car and….

Now, there are a whole lot of other things one can do in the home, and it doesn’t have to be scary-style. Design issues would include working out how much time people would need to figure something out; leaving cues in the peices as to when a player can leave them (so they don’t feel stuck), indeed: encouraging agency; also balancing the joy of discovering against the game revealing everything for you; using devices to create a setting and tone and for narrative information above mere suspense or house-navigation; a system that can discern the spatial location of your devices to ensure the position of participants is utilised to the greatest degree and so on. But I like the possibilities…Do you have any ideas how the media-integrated home can be used for entertainment?

Murray, J. (2000 [1997]) Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ruberg, B. (2006) ”Elan Lee’s Alternate Reality” 6 December, URL:

Szulborski, D. (2005) This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming, New Fiction Publishing.

Launching Strategy: Birth Your Alternate Reality in an ARG Community

One of the issues when creating an ”alternate reality game” is that it may receive negative backlash from being perceived as a ”hoax”. Alternate reality games (ARGs) if you recall, are (among other things) multi-platform works that remove any cues to its fictionality. So, if you put fake newsfootage online, there is no meta information around it explaining that it is a work of fiction. There are many examples of negative backlash due to confusion over the fictional status of a work, a recent example is LonelyGirl15. August last year I posted a short essay on Why ARGs Aren”t Hoaxes on my old blog (which I’ve moved to my personal site). The argument I put forward was that ARG creators actively encourage players to co-create the work of fiction with them and the resulting player-production that occurs (gameplay resources) then puts all the fictional cues back in. ARG creators take the cues to fictionality out while the players put it back in. This has worked well with many ARGs, except those that are not launched to the ARG community first.

ARGs that launch outside of the community often garner lots of media buzz, but for (I argue) the wrong reasons: people are discussing whether it is a hoax and how this makes them feel. In an interview at ARGNetcast, filmmaker Lance Weiler, reflected that the reason why his ARG to market the Warner Bros. VOD release of his film Head Trauma, Hope is Missing , faulted temporarily under this hoax accusation was because it was launched outside of the ARG community. Weiler will be on a forthcoming podcast here (talking about distribution techniques and so on), but for now I wanted to explain why I think ARGs launched outside the ARG community suffer from hoax issues.

As I discussed in my mini ARGs & Hoaxes essay, ARG players have a new media literacy of ”judgement”. I reconfigured this new media literacy posed in the new media literacies whitepaper ”Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” in the context of ARGs:

Judgment: players evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources (to discern whether the sources are part of a game, or discovered at the right time) through activities such as checking the date the website domain was registered, who the website was registered by, the depth in the archives and the links to and from the site and ingame references.

Recently, a longitudinal study ”Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future” conducted by CIBER research team at University College London has found that the ”Google Generation” (among other things) lack the skills to critically assess online information. This deficiency of judgement is due in part I believe to the lack of education in schooling. At many universities and secondary schools there is a ”no web” policy where teachers do not train students how to judge websites, they just forbid them from citing the web. One of the reasons why this policy is so rampant of course is because many of the educators don”t know how to judge websites either. But the inability to judge content (including its fictionality status) is a skill in itself. That is why many educators are excited about using ARGs — they (among other things) help teach such literacies.

Anyway, this phenomena explains in part the issue of a ”hoax” perception in some ARGs and reveals a strategy that can be used to circumvent it. Target those who have these judgement skills, wait until they create resources that frame the work, and let the ripple effect spill over into the non-ARG communities (with well timed efforts to raise awareness from yourself too). How practitioners target the ARG community will be the topic of another post…but in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on this issue comment away!

[26 JAN EDIT: This post seems to have been misinterpreted by some, so I’ve cleared up and developed the idea with Steve Peters and SpaceBass in the comments here and also in my follow-up post here].

Admin Update: What's Happening?

Hello! Sorry for the break in transmission. I intended this site to be a place for sharing design information and thought that with my concentration on finishing my PhD, that podcasts would be a quick and simple option. I’ve since realised that podcasts actually take more time and effort than a post and so will be doing some posts in between the podcast gaps. I’m inspired to share more because what I think the area of multi-platform/transmedia/cross-media/360/integrated content needs most now is:

  • rigorous research
  • talented practitioners
  • informed reporting and reviewing
  • production infrastructures
  • funding and revenue streams
  • measuring technologies and strategies

Research is slowly emerging from specially-tasked academic groups such as the recent ”Crossmedia Experience Learning Laboratory” at the Research Center for Communication and Journalism, Hogeschool Utrecht (Jak Boumans has written on the introductory lecture and book by Harry van Vliet here and here); the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT”s Comparative Media Studies program, and some forthcoming PhDs by researchers such as Marc Ruppel and…myself!

Measurement is moving ahead slowly but surely, especially with the guidance of the Media Measurement Integration Task Force (MMITF). Funding and revenue streams are influx and in some cases undecided. Reporting is still a problem as many journalists and reviewers assess according to (understandably) their own media awareness and in many cases according to an inappropriate 1980s franchise-logic. Production companies are experimenting with different ways to work with consultants, creatively-control licensing and encourage collective efforts internally between various departments (Mark Deuze’s book on ”Media Work” provides some interesting information on these approaches).

But this site hopes to assist the development of practitioners. The scope is design techniques and strategies on distribution, adaptation, repurposing, transmedia expansions, technologically-connected gaming and arts learnt from film, TV, books, gaming, theatre, radio and art; voiced from practitioners, researchers and strategists from mass entertainment, marketing, independent art and gaming; at locations all around the globe. I believe we”ll all get better at it once we share more.

So, I’m interested in your lessons, techniques and ideas. Rather than general descriptions though, I encourage articles that address a specific design issue…that drill down. And rather than talk about just what is known, let’s also explore possibilities. I’ll be sharing some of my understandings, but I’d love it if you sent through ideas you have for articles too. Short 750-1,000 word pieces addressing a topic or posts that explore what you’d like to see. Email me your thoughts. Take your time, I know you”re busy and probably blog-shy. We”ve got plenty of time to change the world. 🙂

Nice quote


“A blank page is God’s way of showing you how hard it is to be God.”
– Anonymous

Ep 001: Hello Universe

Yes! It’s here! Here is my little birth episode for UC101. In it you’ll meet me, find out why this podcast is needed and how we”ll all be better for it being here. 🙂

A big thankyou to Steve Springall — aka Cybster DJ — for creating my intro and outro. Check out his podcasts, CDs and his club in Second Life!

Coming very soon, finally

For those who have been waiting (I’ve been threatening to do this podcast for over a year) it is nearly here. Yes, that is right, the podcast is starting VERY SOON. I promise. 🙂

Joost: "world's first online global tv distribution platform"

Joost LogoI mentioned The Venice Project here early last month, a mysterious online TV platform that is in beta. Well, now they’ve changed their name and have announced a major partnership with Viacom:

Today we’re announcing a major partnership with Viacom. Which will bring programming and lots of channels from Viacom’s key brands and properties available on Joost on our imminent launch.

MTV will offer popular shows, both past and present, including Laguna Beach, Beavis & Butthead, Real World, Punk’d and My Super Sweet Sixteen, while COMEDY CENTRAL will feature episodes from Stella, CCP’s and Freak Show. Nickelodeon, CMT: Country Music Television, MTV2, Logo, Spike TV, mtvU, and will also provide content.  VH1’s offerings will include episodes of Flavor of Love, Surreal Life, and I Love New York. BET’s Networks’ offerings will include some of its biggest shows, including Beef, DMX: Soul of a Man, Comic View and recent smash hit American Gangster.  Also, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Vantage and Paramount Classics will be providing full-length feature films from its catalog of classics and recent releases.

And here is some more info about what is does:

Joost will allow users to have free access to thousands of programs and channels not readily available on the Web. Through Joost, viewers can watch programming from many of Viacom’s brands on their computers through a customizable platform with advanced television viewing features such as links that lead to more information or related websites based on the content; and a variety of plug-in applications, such as instant messaging, message boards, and news tickers.

Currently available in limited beta, Joost combines the best of TV and the best of the Internet by offering viewers a unique, TV-like experience enhanced with the choice, control and flexibility of Web 2.0. Joost is the first online, global TV distribution platform, bringing together advertisers, content owners and viewers in an interactive, community-driven environment. Joost can be accessed with a broadband Internet connection and offers broadcast-quality content to viewers for free.

They’ve opened up their Beta again, so anyone can apply. One of the things that I really like about this project is that it is providing TV content globally. This is so needed and will facilitate alot more well designed ‘extended experiences’. The problem at present is the many extended experiences (alternate reality games, enhanced TV sites, web quests, treasure hunts etc) are accessible globally, but the property they are extending usually isn’t. Now, there are ways to work around that legally, illegally and half-legally (don’t ask me for details, just trust me on that one), but due to licensing restrictions, most are controlled. Some creators of these extended experiences design them well and some don’t. I’ll talk about one that doesn’t in my next post

Check out:

How about that title?

Because there are so many different terms out there describing the same thing, and many that don’t but are employed by others to do so anyway, I decided to bundle the greatest hits together in this one title:

cross/trans/multi-platform/media storytelling/entertainment

Although they each mean different things to different people, the fact is they share a common trait in being an explanatory entry-point to the same idea. I really don’t mind which people use…we can get down to the specifics in specific environments….but as bundle banner I think it does a good job of bonding (or confusing) us all.

IGDA ARG SIG Whitepaper Released!!

Wohoo! It is here! The International Game Developers Association Alternate Reality Game Special Interest Group Whitepaper ( * whew * ) has been released! Here is Adam Martin’s announcement from the ARG SIG listserv:

After eight months of hard work and hundreds of revisions I’m delighted to announce that the 2006 ARG SIG Whitepaper is now available for download from the ARG SIG website ().

A huge thank-you to all the poeple who’ve helped make this happen. I’m very proud of the final paper, and even more so for the fact that everyone’s time and expertise was freely given. This is a great achievement, and since we came up with the idea at the 2006 GDC Group Gathering our volunteers have: had a new baby, been hospitalized, and created and edited literally hundreds of different revisions. It’s a tremendous achievement.

There’s a contributors list at the start of the paper, but once again here’s the people you should thank:

– Bryan Alexander, Director of research, National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE)
– Nova Barlow, Research Manager, Themis Group / Playerbase Solutions
– Tom Chatfield, Editorial Assistant, Prospect Magazine
– Christy Dena, Cross-Media Entertainment Researcher, School of Letters, Arts and Media; University of Sydney
– Andrea Phillips, ARG Writer, Mind Candy
– Brooke Thompson, Cross Media Entertainment Consultant

Here it is:


[Late Note: I’ve just been flicking through the whitepaper and there are some errors in there that somehow made it to the final draft. That happens. But one of note is that ‘Cross Media Entertainment’ is credited with creating Jamie Kane. BBCi did Jamie Kane.]