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16 Jan 2014

ARGs Can Be Used to Create Compelling, Educational Games

I had an interview with my guest for this week’s Game Academy Radio earlier in the week, and one of the discussions that really sparked my interest was using Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) to educate children. Using this genre, players would have new experiences in indie games they have never seen before. Yet not only that, but these ARGs could be used to create incredible educational games that would not only teach students as they played, but would also be fun for anyone to play.

If you have read these posts for a while, you will know that I have talked in detail about the importance of developing educational games that teach but do so in a manner that it doesn’t feel as if lessons are being shoved down the player’s throat (I believe that may have been my exact quote in one of my past posts). Yet what ARGs do best is that not only do they teach players educational lessons they can use later in life, but the way the game is presented makes them feel as if the game is playing out in their actual life.

Here’s an example: a teacher wants to teach their students about World War II, yet they don’t want to teach them straight out of the textbook. They want their students to feel a little more engaged into the lessons, and they want to make a game out of it. Is there such a game the teacher could use that would not only engage every student in the classroom, but would also teach them everything they needed to know about World War II while making them excited about playing the game further (while again, teaching them a thing or two about World War II)?

Maybe it exists currently and maybe it does not, but at any rate, the perfect genre for this type of game is ARGs. Continuing the example above, let’s assume the game is about a time traveler stuck in World War II. To introduce the game to students, the teacher could pretend that she got a letter in her mailbox and ‘act’ like he/she is genuinely surprised by it, stating that it says it is from a ‘time traveler.’ Let’s assume this letter has a website that the instructor can visit. Thus, he/she shares the computer screen with his/her smartboard in front of the classroom, visits the website, and the game is on. Students are introduced to a video that acts as an S.O.S. message asking for help, and from there the class receives emails, letters, links to mysterious websites, video messages, and so on that provides them with clues, helpful hints, etc. over the next few weeks in an effort to get the ‘time traveler’ back to safety and complete the game.


And along the way? They learn everything they needed to know about World War II thanks to the ARG.


What makes ARGs so unique is that the game is played via real-world technologies that we use every day. For example, if you were playing a particular ARG you may get a phone call that has a recorded actor on the other end that tells you to visit a website to find a clue, and from there the clue informs you to send a text message to a mysterious number. A few days later? You may get an email with a photograph attached that acts as another clue to progress the game, and so on until you complete the game.

The tone of every ARG game should be that the player is not playing a game, but instead the ‘game’ is really happening. It provides the same feeling that pen-and-paper games provide, and because of this, ARG games have the potential to be truly compelling.


And they’re perfect for educational games.


Schools around the world are desperately looking for ways to make learning more engaging than ever. Because we live in a time in which everyone uses technology in some way or another in their daily lives, now is the time to use the ARG model to create some of the best educational games ever made. Is it uncharted territory for indie developers? For the most part yes, but the same disciplines and principles that indie developers use to develop awesome video games can be used to create ARG games that educate and fascinate simultaneously.

If you are interested in this concept, check out tomorrow’s episode of Game Academy Radio to learn more about this fascinating genre. After you do, it’s my hope that you consider using ARG mechanics in some fashion in your future games (or heck, create an educational game using ARG gameplay if educational games are your niche). It’s an untapped genre to be certain, and the time is right for it to realize its full potential.

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