Alternate Reality Games and learning

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Thomas Grue Svendsen
4. term, Humanistic Informatics - Multimedia (Master Programme)
The work of this thesis centers on researching the possibilities of facilitating learning through alternate reality games (ARG). The thesis therefore deals with learning theory combined with the distinct characteristics of the cross media genre ARG. The question to be answered throughout the thesis is such: Why is ARG not used in pedagogical learning relations, when the genre has proved to be able to both motivate and involve its participants? In able to answer this question, I start out by defining ARG and learning. ARG is defined within a matrix which consists of authorship, coherence and rule set. These parameters are continuums that vary from producer control to participant control. When the producers primarily have the control, the freedom of the way in which the history is revealed in the ARG is limited. As an opposition the revelation of the story and the methods in which the participants are able to discover the story is much more free and open, when participants primarily are in control of these parameters. Within learning theory it is especially interesting to investigate the motivating force, which drives the participants of a particular ARG towards wanting to learn. Within this particular field of the learning theory I apply Daniel E. Berlyne’s theory of conflict and motivation onto ARG. He stresses that certain elements can provoke mental conflicts that leads to curiosity. These elements are characterized by being new in the sense that the individual already possesses some knowledge about the subject. In an ARG these elements can be implemented in many ways and are to some extent already present. To clarify and exemplify this point, I argue that an ARG is a closed system in the sense that the content produced within the ARG constitutes the total amount of knowledge within the system. When the producers control the parameters mentioned before they have the possibility to create these mental conflict which leads to curiosity which again leads to both assimilative and accommodative learning processes. By putting restrains on the ARG by letting the producers have control, it minimizes the possibilities for the participants to act truly creative within the story world. This again minimizes the chance of actually creating conflict and curiosity which sustains the motivational force that the participants have established. This poses to be somewhat of a dilemma. I furthermore discuss the usage of reality as a motivational tool in ARG. I argue that ARG is a counter reaction to virtual reality that seeks to simulate the world in a digital environment. An ARG takes digital environments and characteristics from their normal context and places them within people’s everyday life and reality. This is a dissimulation by accepting the real world as the only real reality. This enhances the use of the digital artifacts as people do not count on meeting them in their everyday life. When they are used within an ARG these objects can also provoke mental conflicts and curiosity. In addition, the use of objects, methods and storylines that mimic real life creates possibilities for the participants of the ARG to transfer the knowledge obtained during the ARG to other situations that exist outside the fictional universe established by the ARG. This means that when the boundary between fiction and reality is purposely blurred; the motivation of the participants is upheld, and they can mentally connect experiences and knowledge obtained within the fictional world to real world situations because of this fuzzy relationship between the two. This raises ethical questions that must be dealt with before considering using an ARG to fulfill learning goals. A case study of an ARG used within a learning context in New Zealand showed that they also had to put the same restrains on the parameters presented in the matrix. The students felt motivated but had literally no freedom to be co-creators of the story or in other ways influence the outcome of the story. My study shows that before ARG in more widely used as a tool for learning in pedagogical learning situations some issues has to be addressed. How can the parameters in the matrix shift towards being controlled mostly by the participants without loosing the distinct possibilities of facilitating learning that I have showed ARG possesses? I therefore suggest that a pilot ARG, that considers the suggestions and advices mentioned in this thesis, has to be produced.
Publication date2007
Number of pages63
Publishing institutionAalborg Universitet
ID: 12708234