Interactive Fiction, Passively

PMOG:The Passively Multiplayer Online Game

An interesting feature of Pmog ‘missions’ is the way that so many of them are really guided tours of specialty websites (e.g. this one). This is a handy approach if, say, you teach via distance and you want to show your students what constitutes ‘good’ research sites.

Yet, that’s really nothing a powerpoint couldn’t already do. An interesting variant on these missions is the ‘puzzle’ mission, where creators exploit a glitch in the game to create breaks in the flow of the mission. The only way to progress is to solve the riddle to learn what website to go to next – whereupon the mission resumes.  Some of these, like ‘The Mystery Machine‘, require you to read the page to fill in the blanks: each word represents a letter in an ultimate URL. If you’ve got the right letters and you complete the last URL, the resulting webpage represents the ‘Victory!’ screen.  Others are more complex, more devious. My own mission, ‘The Case of the Missing … Something” depends on anagrams of URLs (which is mean, I know). I can’t solve ‘The Lost Gold of Dr. Nes‘, since it depends on a gamer’s knowledge of nintendo, but the principle is good.  ‘Meet Felix Klein‘ takes the player on a tour through various flickr photographs to create a kind of visual story. No puzzle, but it certainly *feels* like an old-style text adventure.

All of these represent a new twist on “interactive fiction”, with the fiction layered on top of the day-to-day internet (perhaps a riff on augment reality, too?).  In a way, they are like the ‘Prisoner Escape from the Tower of London‘ game created by mscape: the fiction intersects with daily life to create the game, with events being triggered by your physical or virtual location in the game space. Unlike regular interactive fiction, the game creator does not control that game space – other people intrude (in Pmog, other players might lay, for reasons unrelated to the mission you happen to be on, mines or portals on pages within a mission, which could -perhaps- prevent you from completing it).

The archaeological angle: simple show and tell of vetted sites is good, for starters. Using Pmog (or other AR) to create layers of information/meaning on top of the information is even better. You could imagine a student creating a pmog mission on curse-tablets. This might begin as simple show and tell. Other students could then play the mission, leaving mines on pages they think are ‘bad’ (poor information, bad research, whatever) or portals to ‘good’ sites… the game records the play, and the meta-analysis afterwards with the prof would spark a deeper discussion. Inserting puzzles into the mission would force a deeper engagement still, and completing a puzzle mission would constitute a formative assessment exercise.  Creating missions could also be exercises in public archaeology for the students,  if built around a decent resource (say the British Museum, or Chaco Canyon).

What I’m arguing for is that we, as educators, need to be using things like Pmog to get our students to engage with online materials in a deeper fashion. They are too often uncritical users of what they find. They need to interact passively.