Treasure Hunting & Alternate Reality Games for History

As part of my Digital History class, I introduced the students to the concept of alternate reality games. I don’t know of any that exist with the explicit purpose of teaching history, so we looked at some of the standards – I Love Bees, The Beast, Majestic. We looked at the work of Jane McGonigal. All in all, it was a fun couple of sessions. At the end of the last session, I mentioned that while I was in the library, a piece of paper fell out of a book I was reading, and this is what it said:

What could this mean? Points to the group who solved it first!


So that was my attempt at using some of the basic conventions of an alternate reality game – the puzzle, the riddles, the treasure-hunting aspect – to teach history. “Is this worldwide?” one student asked. “Safe to say, limited to this city” I replied.

I figured it would take them a couple of days, if they really tried hard. The first group returned two hours later with the whole thing solved! So what was I trying to do with this? By calling it ‘people are places are people’, I was pointing to the way we name buildings on the campus here. The first clue too was pretty easy, and I figured that when they solved it, it would alert them to the fact that we were looking at the buildings on campus here. To solve the puzzles, they had to perform one of the authentic tasks of the historian, and read closely.  But some groups didn’t read the clues very closely, and were stumped almost from the word go.

Interestingly, one group took my off-hand comment about ‘limited to the city’ to imply that the game would be played all over the city; and the line, ‘people are places are people’ to mean the founder of Ottawa, Lt Col. By. Amazingly, they found locations, statues, historic plaques all over Ottawa’s downtown that *could* be thought of as the answers to my clues… so in interacting with my text, they found items completely unrelated to my intentions – the sort of thing that happens when working with historic documents all the time, after a fashion.

As part of my continuing exploration of 7scenes, I’ve also tried translating it into a smartphone application. If you’re around Carleton, give it a try and let me know what you think. Consider this still as *draft*.

Some of my student feedback:

“[…] It is hard to figure out exactly what the clue means and once you find and solve and reveal the clue, you don’t want to stop.
Personally, I thought this game was really challenging because you didn’t really know where to start with a clue that could deal with generally anything. Once you figured out the clue or were on the right trail, I thought was exciting because it felt more like a race to be the first one to crack the clue. […]”

“[..]What worked for me about this game was the mystery behind it. It really captured my attention because it had kind of like a secretive aspect to it; it made me want to decode the mystery. The “rabbit hole” of the game is to figure out the first clue first in order to solve the rest of the clues and therefore solve the riddle[…]”

“The procedural rhetoric is I suppose to inspire active as opposed to passive learning about a subject that, while right under our noses, goes overlooked even though it has a lot of history. The rabbit hole was the sheet of paper falling out of a book in the library.

I found that this game touched on every aspect of what makes a good augmented or alternate reality game, but what I found to be most frustrating was the appearent lack of an overarching objective, that is to say something that tied them all together explicitly and not just generally. I feel that the game could have been better if there was a longer back story with the rabbit hole, like a hint dropped about what we should look for based on what you were researching in the library. It was a fun experiance over all though, I enjoyed learning what I did and it was nice to be able to do so in a group.”








7Scenes: Augmented Reality Authoring for Digital Storytelling

I’m very interested in augmented reality for interpreting/experiencing landscapes (archaeological or historical). I’ve explored things like Wikitude and Layar. There’s a great deal of flexibility and possibility with those two, if you’ve got the ability and resources to do a bit of programming. Skidmore College has used Layar with success to produce a Campus Map Layar. (follow that link for excellent pointers on how they did it). But what if you’d like to explore the potential of AR, but don’t have the programming skills?

One platform that I’ve come across recently which can help there is called ‘7Scenes‘. It explicitly bills itself as a ‘mobile storytelling platform’.  The free account allows you a basic ‘tour’ kind of story to tell; presumably if you purchase another kind of account, different genres become available to you.

I signed up for the free account, and began playing around with it (I’m ‘DoctorG’ if you’re looking). Even with this level of functionality, some playful elements are available – you can set quizzes by location, for instance, and keep score. A tour of your campus for first year students as part of orientation could include quizzes at crucial points.

In the editor window, you first select the genre. Then details (backstory, introduction etc).

The real work begins in the map window. When you add a location, you can make it trigger information or photos when the player encounters it. You can also build in simple quizzes, as in the screenshot.

Once the ‘scene’ is published, anyone with 7scenes on their smartphone can access it. The app knows where you are, and pulls in the closest scene. In about 15 minutes I created a scene with 3 locations, one photo, one info panel, and one quiz, around the main quad here at Carleton. Then, I fired up the app on my iphone and went outside. Even though it was quite simple, it was really rather engaging, wandering about the quad trying to get close enough to the point to trigger the interaction (note to scene makers: zoom into the map interface so that your location is precisely where you want. I put my first point actually outside my intended target, Paterson Hall, so I was wandering about the parking lot.)

I will be playing with this some more; but fired up after only a short investment in time, I wanted to share. The authoring environment makes sense, it’s easy to use, and the results are immediately apparent. When you log back into the 7scenes site, you also get use metrics and reviews of your scene. If only my digital history students had more smartphones!

More on 7scenes from their own press page

Niagara 1812: An iHistory tour of Niagara on the Lake

From Kevin Kee’s team at Brock U, an excellent augmented reality application for history:

Take a trip into the past with Niagara 1812. Using your iPhone, visit places and people from the War of 1812 and beyond. Choose Roam Mode, walk around one of the historic towns of Niagara, Canada, and discover the stories that lie behind the bricks and mortar. Or choose Quest Mode, and solve a centuries-old mystery in an immersive adventure.

With Niagara 1812, you carry history with you, in the palm of your hand.

I saw a prototype of this game earlier in the year, and with the website up and running, I guess it’s been launched! Having just finally purchased an iPhone, I can’t wait to give this a try.  I like that it comes in two flavors – roam mode, and quest mode. Not everyone is up for playing AR games, so the choice is a nice usability feature. To get a sense of what the quest mode is about, go to the website and play the prologue…

Civil War Augmented Reality Project

Over on Kickstarter, I’ve come across the ‘Civil War Augmented Reality Project‘.  I can imagine many ways of incorporating a bit of AR/VR on an historic site, and I think what these folks are proposing is eminently doable. It’s easy to get caught up in the tech side of such projects, so their focus on the end user is laudable. From their project page:

The Civil War Augmented Reality Project was conceived by several public educators with technology experience and a desire to offer more interactivity to students and the general public visiting historic sites. The objective of the project is to develop and implement augmented reality services related to the American Civil War in Pennsylvania, and to modify soon to be released tablet personal computers to allow the general public a chance to experience the applications. The project’s inception is planned to give ample development time in the run up to the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, beginning in 2011. It is hoped that early support could generate interest in Maryland and Virginia.
We also propose to construct stationary devices patterned after the “pay binoculars” often found at scenic overlooks. These devices will offer a virtual geographic view from a few hundred yards above the user. Physically swiveling the viewer left and right changes the direction of the view in real time, just as swiveling up and down changes the view. The intuitive nature of the device is intended to invite “non-tech oriented” persons to try the experience, and learn more about AR and the Civil War. We propose that these binoculars be set up at locations across the region touched by fighting in the war. In order to give the user a sense of the historical connections between each location, a nearby screen will project realtime webcam images of people using the devices at other locations.

Voyager Xdrive

I’m interested in exploring augmented realities with iPhones & other smartphones etc. Of course, where I live, you can’t actually get cell phone reception and with this being Canada, the data rates are ridiculous.

Anyway, rant aside… there are neat possibilities opening up.  In an earlier post I mentioned the Wikitude World Browser, which grabs Wikipedia articles and overlays them on a ‘see-through’ type interface.

Lately, I’ve been made aware of another approach, the Voyager Xdrive. Essentially, this appears to be a hand-held guide to a historic location, with 3d reconstructions appearing at the appropriate point. My Italian is a bit rusty, and I always find it difficult when I can’t see the face of the person speaking but it seems to be quite an effective way of pulling archaeological VR off the desks of the archaeologists into the spaces where it should be understood.

website for Voyager

I really feel the digital divide living where I do, able to read about but never able to play with these technologies…

Tales of Things

Just seen:

Wouldn’t it be great to link any object directly to a ‘video memory’ or an article of text describing its history or background? Tales of Things allows just that with a quick and easy way to link any media to any object via small printable tags known as QR codes. How about tagging your old antique clock, a building, or perhaps that object you’re about to put on eBay.

They have a free iPhone app to allow you to “scan, comment, and add location to things”.  Cliocaching, anyone?

Nethernet Puzzle Contest: I am the Champions

One of the main attractions in playin ‘The Nethernet‘ is the ability to lead people a merry chase through the internet. In its beta days, I created a ‘puzzle’ mission that ostensibly taught students how to research properly using internet resources. It took the player by the hand through a number of related websites, pointing out the who, what, when, where, why of that particular site, as it pertained to research.  Handy for distance ed students.

To make sure that students were paying attention, I tossed in a broken link at the end – the mission could not be completed unless the student correctly divined what URL to go to. The performance of the task demonstrated that the learning had taken place – plus I also got a list of players who successfully completed my mission.

There was a puzzle mission contest for Nethernetians (? perhaps the wrong word) this past April, and my wee little mission won first place. I now have 10,000 more ‘data points’ than I did before.  The accomplishment would be more meaningful had more than three people submitted their puzzle missions, but hey, they loved me! They really loved me!

Interactive Fiction – bibliography and other directions

Denis Jerz writes of IF,  “Interactive fiction requires the text-analysis skills of a literary scholar and the relentless puzzle-solving drive of a computer hacker. People tend to love it or hate it. Those who hate it sometimes say it makes them think too much”

I like IF. I’m crap at solving puzzles, but I like it all the same.

For the bibliophiles amongst us, some bibliography from the academic literature on Interactive Fiction – you’ll note that most of the academic interest in IF waxed and waned in the late 80s, early 90s. But, there has been a resurgence in interest lately, mostly due to the literary qualities of IF. If that’s the sort of thing that interests you, check out:

Douglass, J. (2007). Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media. Dissertation, U. California Santa Barbara. link

as well as the complete oeuvre of Nick Montfort, including his ‘Twisty Little Passages‘. Nick also has a ‘harcover‘ of an IF he created, for sale:

An annotated bibliography of academic IF, published in 2002, lives here.

Emily Short’s articles on the art of creating IF may be found here. If you’re at all interested in the possibilities of creating IF, you must start with Short’s work!

Finally, a blog worth following for the literary qualities of IF and other species of computer-mediated writing: Grand Text Auto ‘A group blog about computer narrative, games, poetry, and art’

Right. Here’s the bit o’ bibliography that I’ve scraped up this morning:

Baltra, A. (1990). Language Learning through Computer Adventure Games. Simulation & Gaming, 21(4), 445-452.

Blanchard, J. S., & Mason, G. E. (1985). Using Computers in Content Area Reading Instruction. Journal of Reading, 29(2), 112-117.

Bonnaud-Lamotte, D. (1986). Contemporary Literary Lexicology and Terminology: An Inventory. Computers and the Humanities, 20(3), 209-212.

Brackin, A. L. (2008). Tracking the emergent properties of the collaborative online story “deus city” for testing the standard model of Alternate Reality Game. (1)U Texas At Dallas, US.

Broadley, K. (1986). Past Practices and Possibilities with Computers. Australian Journal of Reading, 9(1), 41-50.

Clement, J. (1994). Fiction interactive et modernité [Interactive fiction and modernity]. Littérature (Paris. 1971), (96), 19-36.

De Souza E Silva, A., & Delacruz, G. C. (2006). Hybrid Reality Games Reframed: Potential Uses in Educational Contexts. Games And Culture, 1(3), 231-251.

Desilets, B. J. (1989). Reading, Thinking, and Interactive Fiction (Instructional Materials). English Journal, 78.

Douglass, J. (2008). Command lines: Aesthetics and technique in interactive fiction and new media. (1)U California, Santa Barbara, US.

Finnegan, R., & Sinatra, R. (1991). Interactive Computer-Assisted Instruction with Adults. Journal of Reading, 35(2), 108-119.

Howell, G., & Douglas, J. Y. (1990). The Evolution of Interactive Fiction. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 2, 93-109.

Lancy, D. F., & Hayes, B. L. (1986). Building an Anthology of “Interactive Fiction.”. Report: ED275991. 15pp. Apr 1986.

Lancy, D. F., & Hayes, B. L. (1988). Interactive Fiction and the Reluctant Reader. English Journal, 77.

Marcus, S. (1985). Computers in Thinking, Writing, and Literature. Report: ED266468. 20pp. Nov 1985.

McVicker, J. (1992). Several Approaches to Computer-Based Reading Study. CAELL Journal, 3(4), 2-11.

Newman, J. M. (1988). Online: Write Your Own Adventure. Language Arts, 65.

Niesz, A. J., & Holland, N. N. (1984). Interactive Fiction. Critical Inquiry Chicago, 11(1), 110-129.

Packard, E. B. (1987). Interactive Fiction for Children: Boon or Bane? School Library Journal, 34.

Pea, R. D., & Kurland, D. M. (1987). Chapter 7: Cognitive Technologies for Writing. Review Of Research In Education, 14(1), 277-326.

Sampson, F. (1987). Interactive Fiction: An Experience of the “Writers in Education” Scheme. Children’s Literature in Education, 18.

Simic, M., & Smith, C. (1990). The Computer as an Aid to Reading Instruction. Learning Package No. 27. Report: ED333393. 50pp. 1990.

Tavinor, G. (2005). Videogames and Interactive Fiction. Philosophy and Literature, 29(1), 24-40.

Thomas, S. (2006). Pervasive learning games: Explorations of hybrid educational gamescapes. Simulation & Gaming, 37(1), 41-55.

PMOG is now the Nethernet

Pm0g – the passive multiplayer online game – has gone in for some rebranding, calling itself ‘The Nethernet’.

I rather like the term, ‘nethernet’, as it implies a game played in some sort of metaspace outside (above/below/beside) the regular ol’ internet.

However, in the transition, Nethernet has lost some of the old steampunk aesthetic and charm that Pmog had – whereas before there were scrolls popping up inside your browser, and neo-victorian characters assaulting/assisting you, now there is the same-old same-old web2.0-ish vibe. No doubt the game runs better and is more secure this way, but I rather liked the old charm.

For old time’s sake, here are my missions made back in the Pmog 0.4 era (and rejigged to run under the new regime):

“How in the world can I find sources on the motivations of ancient Olympic athletes?? Maybe if you told me what to read, then I could answer the question.” read the email. The prof looked away from his computer, groaning inwardly. And no doubt, just parrot back to me a webpage, he thought. Why do students expect to be spoon-fed everything? “Follow me. First, let us search ‘ancient olympics’ properly. Where would you go first, O student at the University of Manitoba with its excellent library resources?’

Ruins on a Distant Planet

4 stars!
created by doctorg 9 days ago

New long range telescopes have identified a distant, inhabitable planet. There appears to have once been intelligent life…

Who Killed William Robinson?

4 stars!
created by doctorg 11 months ago

Between 1867 and 1868, a tiny community at the north end of Salt Spring Island, populated by about 25 families, was the scene of three brutal and seemingly unconnected murders. But were they really unconnected? All of the victims were members of the island’s Black community and all of the murders were blamed on Aboriginal people. Two of the murders were officially unsolved. In the case of William Robinson, an all-White jury found an Aboriginal man, Tshuanahusset, guilty of killing the Black settler and sentenced him to death. Was Tshuanahusset guilty? Why was he convicted? If Tshuanahusset did not kill William Robinson, who did? (Great Canadian Mysteries, by John Lutz and Ruth Sandwell)