Although I mentioned this in my last
Diffraction, the pilot title of Arts Council England Interact programme, offered placements to already established artists in innovative research and industry contexts for up to 9 months between the end of 2005 and the end of 2007. Aiming to unlock artists’ professional potential and demonstrate their vital contribution to the social, cultural and economic landscape, the placements offered inspiration and support to participants to continue to produce work that is challenging and innovative. A sum of £10,000 was allocated to each placement by Arts Council South West, with additional funds available for advertising, recruitment, project management, mentoring and documentation.
Hazel decided to do an ‘alternate reality game’ to specifically explore the narrative-possibilities of the genre:
In January 2007, Hazel moved into an office in Watershed and launched MeiGeist, an Alternative Reality Game created from the research undertaken as part of the residency. Blending fiction with reality by telling its story across different media including websites, text message, live events and email, 30,000 people around the world took part in the game which lasted eight weeks.
A report was issued with two parts. The first section includes feedback and observations as gathered by Watershed, and the second was ‘written by Hazel Grian, Jonathan Williams and Kenton O’Hara and summarises feedback and learning around the production of the game’. In the report, the difference between a commercially-funded and publicly-funded ARG is outlined:
ARGs have two main benefits for contemporary creative practitioners. They are conducive to multi-media,
multi-contextual expression whilst also having a commercial application. […] We see therefore that MeiGeist, as the first ever publicly funded ARG, has unusually taken a form of innovative advertising and turned it into a piece of work for its own sake. An interesting question here is whether there are any real differences between the commercially funded and the publicly funded ARG. From the creative practitioner’s point of view, public funding for MeiGeist gave the makers a free hand in the content and time-scale of the project. MeiGeist reached a wide audience and the feedback shows they considered it to be a highly successful additional to the genre. This is very good news for those who supported the game financially. From a practitioner’s point of view it is obviously also very satisfying. However despite the great critical success of MeiGeist the producers have been left without anything to show financially for what was in effect a twelve-month project with global impact. Having said that, there is a postscript – the increased reputation gained from the game’s success has drawn in valuable commercial work for the producers.
Another difference between a commercially funded and publicly funded ARG is the sharing of data and insights afterwards! The report includes data collected from 400 players through the following channels:
• MeiGeist Sign-up form – name, address, email, phone numbers.
• Sphere Research Institute (Eva’s fictional college) student enrolment test – in the form of a spoof
psychological questionnaire – contact details, marital status, personal/political interests and
opinions, reading habits and state of mind.
• End of game feedback form.
• Website activity statistics.
The report also outlines the role of the player-created meta-sites, points that support my arguments in my forthcoming paper about Player-Created Tiers in ARGs:
This documentation serves an important role in the experience that relate to the pragmatics of playing this and other ARGs. A good example here concerns the long timescale of the game and the fact that they are played out only once from a particular start date. For this reason, many players do not experience the game right from the beginning either through lack of awareness, practical constraints of getting involved, or through a deferred commitment to a game until it had received a sufficient stamp of credibility from other players on the ARG forums. Consequently as the game evolved momentum and credibility overtime, new players continued to join throughout its lifecycle. Joining the game in this way could be an arduous task given the complex and distributed nature of the game elements and characters and the vast amount of player supposition accompanying the story. These meta sites provide an easier way in for new players to join in the game without getting bogged down in the forum history. Given the importance of player participation for everyone experiencing the game (whether actively or passively), the addition of new players is helpful for the ongoing experience of the game. A second example concerns the practicalities of time management in relation to playing the game in the context of everyday life. Following and contributing to the forums, visiting the chat room, accessing the web sites, participating with the characters and solving the puzzles can potentially consume a vast amount of time for any player. Even for the most dedicated player this time has to be managed. In the forums we saw examples of postings where people had been away from the game for a few days and unable to contribute due to work and family commitments. For more casual players, too, they would experience the game by dipping in and out of it.
Apparently Hazel is now working with Jan Libby, another talented ARG creator who was also snapped up, to work on Kate Modern (by the creators of LonelyGirl15).
Some more info:
- Player-created Game Wiki
- Community gameplay @ Unfiction
- Hazel’s Journal @ Diffraction
- Podcast with Hazel @ ARG Netcast
- The report [PDF]