Friday, September 28, 2012

Army of the White Peacock: Order of Play

In beginning to document the Alternate Reality Game I created for the students at Alliance Charter Academy, I thought the first order of business would be to document how the game was played. I should mention that until about one or two weeks before the END of the game, I maintained a "this is not a game" attitude. I pretended to have no knowledge of the game, and was just as baffled by the appearance of clues and artifacts as the students. However, because I was teaching a class about "TINAG" alternate realities, it was understood by most that I was directing the play behind the scenes. I should also mention, I got approval for running the game from the principal before I started putting clues up around the school.

1. Pieces of paper featuring five symbols began to appear around the school in random locations. This continued for about a week.

2. Pieces of paper featuring the five symbols and a message (for example, "Help find the missing five") appeared in select student mailboxes. A very large, clear crystal appeared on the desk in my classroom.

3. A phone number appeared on the window in my classroom, written next to one of the symbols that had appeared around the school.

4. When students called the number they heard a message, a guys voice stating, "Hi. You've reached the Army of the White Peacock. If you want to join, um. just say your name, I guess."

5. Students who left their name on the message received an envelope in school. (These were distributed in various ways--via other students, handed back with graded papers, via other teachers.) The envelopes contained a medallion with one of the five symbols carved in it, along with a word written on the back. The envelopes also contained a piece of paper with a message. The message welcomed them to the AotWP, told them to wear their medallions around school to recognize each other, and to read the blog The letter was signed "Fogle." If the student had a facebook account, a friend request was sent to his or her account from Archie Fogle.

The blog was written in the voice of a high school student at the school, and was supposedly created as part of an assignment by a teacher. The facebook account showed a profile picture that was a bear, and the only entries or comments had to do with asking readers to visit Archie's blog. Throughout the rest of the game, facebook messages were used to notify players that a new blog entry had been posted. The blog often held clues as to what was to be done/discovered next.

The blog also began to tell the story of how Fogle, the student, had met a strange boy in the woods--Batrie--and how the two of them had encountered a girl named Makhi, who improbably appeared one day through a portal from another reality, Otherworld. Students began to get some answers about the five symbols, which appeared to be linked to five rulers who had disappeared from Otherworld a long time ago and were believed to be living here in our world. I won't go in detail into the plot here--you can go over to the game blog if you want to catch up.

6. Once five people had joined the game, a game board appeared in the classroom. It had five distinct regions on a map, and one of the regions had a box, a gemstone, a small statuette, and five tokens that spelled out a name placed on that region. There were no other instructions given with the game board.  (The filled-in region was meant to serve as a guide regarding the other regions--the students would need to locate the missing pieces for each of the other four regions. The regions were each demarcated by the symbols they had seen in previous parts of the game.)

6. One day, the blog showed a map of the woods behind the school that had several locations noted along with one of the symbols marked on those locations. When the students went to the woods, they saw painted trailblazes that pointed them in the right direction. If they were successful, the uncovered two hidden boxes (like the one already on the game board), that had been painted and decorated in the colors of the symbols. Inside the boxes were tokens that spelled out a name. The students figured out that they needed to place the boxes on the board and use the tokens to try to spell out the missing names. An entry on the blog instructed them to keep trying different combinations until a statuette of the missing ruler appeared.

7. Another "treasure hunt" prompted by the blog led to the discovery of the two remaining boxes. The students continued to try new spellings until they solved the names of the five rulers and all five statuette appeared on the board.

8. Meanwhile, a box of tokens, similar in shape to the medallions given out at the beginning of the game, appeared in the study hall of the school, along with a message that tokens could be exchanged for clues on the game board. A white box on the game board matched the coloring and design of these tokens. Inside this box were clues that helped further the plot of the story, helped figure out the spelling of the missing names, or suggested long-term objectives for the completion of the game.

9. A bulletin board appeared in the hallway outside my classroom, where students began posting their clues to share with each other.

10. A note appeared in the clue box on the board stating that the clues had been stolen by the spirits of the ancients--Batrie's ancestors (players knew by this point that Batrie was the last surviving member of a Native American tribe that had encountered the five missing rulers hundreds of years before and had agreed to guard the woods in exchange for knowledge from the five rulers). Now Batrie's ancestors, angered over the forgetting of the old ways, demanded that players solve certain clues relating to the Chinook language. The blog gave clues that, when solved, would lead students to approach certain faculty members and speak a Chinookan phrase to them. If the phrase was correct, the faculty member would read a clue to the student, instructing her in the next order of game play.

11. The next order of game play was for the student to to use the words on the back of their medallions to determine the defining qualities of each of the missing rulers and to create an invocation that would call those rulers out of hiding. (It should be noted that this did not happen, so I had to facilitate the ending of the game, which is when I came out of TINAG hiding).

12. I talked to the three students who had been most active in playing the game. I had them deliver messages to all of the other players throughout the school asking them to attend my class on a specific day/time (only a few attended outside of the actual class).

13. On the given day, five people dressed in elaborate character masks (as the five missing rulers) appeared out of nowhere and descended upon my classroom. They did not speak, but instead, offered up the missing gemstones, which, when brought together, yielded the fabled "Peacock Stone," which would enable the missing rulers, as well as Makhi, Fogle, and Batrie, to go back through the portal and reclaim their kindgom.

14. The character playing Makhi offered up a letter, which I read to the class, explaining the resolution of the story to the students.

15. Once the five characters left, I debriefed the students, reporting on the making of the game and what I learned from making the game and having them participate. I gave large medallions to every student who participated in the game in any way.

Next Up: I will post about what went wrong and what went right. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Army of the White Peacock: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

Last school year (2011-2012), I taught a writing class called Worlds within Worlds: Creating Alternative Realities. We studied classic works of science fiction and fantasy, such as Flatland, the Martian Chronicles, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as well as the modern classic Feed. We also looked at case studies of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) such as "I Love Bees."

The students were charged with creating an alternate world that they would write about and create artifacts and characters from for the entire school year. When possible, I like to do my own assignments so that I will understand what I have asked the students to do. Last year, I decided I would also create an alternate reality, as well as an ARG for my my students to discover and play. And thus, Army of the White Peacock was born.

I used my weekly visit to Adi Shakti Studio as an incubator for "THE GAME" as it came to be known amongst the other pottery mavens. Studio owner and good buddy Heather Anderson (above) was my biggest supporter in creating and finishing this game, which ultimately took me 7 months and hundreds of hours to design, implement, and bring to a conclusion.
The picture above shows one of my students holding a sign announcing the final day of the game. I finally pulled back the "This Is Not a Game" curtain, inviting those with questions to come and have the answers revealed.

I learned a lot from making the game, but probably the most important lesson I learned was the importance of finishing things. I am so guilty of starting things and never finishing them. I have begun several excellent novels, none of which is longer than 100 pages. I have started collaborative art projects that are still unfinished (looking at you, Wedding Dress Art Project), and I have many unfinished paintings crowding the corners of my studio. But dammit, I finished the game. I'm going to detail here what was entailed in making the game, in case anyone is interested. But I think I'll finish that later.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Summer School Part II: The Boy Brain

Last summer (2011), I took a day-long workshop about teaching boys. I made a few sketches.

The presenter. She did not lead by example. Still, I learned a lot.

I'm not really sure where this came from. 

I always doodle. Teachers should know--doodling is not a sign of a student not paying attention--doodling is a strategy a student uses in order to pay attention.

Summer School: Geeks at OSU

This summer (2011), I took a week-long workshop at OSU, where I learned how to make basic video games. The conference was all about integrating technology into the classroom. I made some sketches. 

If you have looked at earlier posts from the same summer, you will see I was experimenting with quick-sketches, in which I don't really look the paper as I draw. Therefore, the figures come out very loose and distorted. I find the result is surprisingly good at catching the distinguishing features of the person. It rarely makes the person look very attractive, though. Only distinctive. 

The conference organizer, to whom I say, "Well done, you." 

When there is nothing left to draw, consider your foot.

The key-note address, about a pilot project in L.A. schools aimed at closing the achievement gap.

Chris--the life of the party, great at Karaoke, and a cool teacher too.

There's one at every conference. And she knows who she is.

My excellent instructor, Jason, about to be a dad. 

Sketches from an old trip Part II: The Art

Two years ago, I went to England. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to sketch other people's art. 

Why did I draw this? I think I was trying to figure out how complementary colors and composition functioned on such a simple level to create a masterpiece.Whistler's Nocturne: Blue and Silver Chelsea.

 Public art from the train.

The artist was trying to figure out how to make art out of waste/leftovers. I resemble that idea. Balka's work, however, is much more elegant. 

The walk from Tate Modern towards St. Paul's. My favorite spot in England so far. 

I am the one with the ponytail, downstage. It was a very strange moment. I was watching a video of an artist--the art was a film of her having sex with a patron who agreed to pay 20,000 for the sex+art video. A commentary on the artist/patron relationship. A very awkward moment of watching porn in a public space with strangers. 

Here I am sketching myself again to show my scale as compared to the huge table and chair. Like walking through a giant's living room. 

Perhaps the most interesting art of the day--two live twins sitting in twin chairs under twin paintings of dots. The artist was playing with the idea of twins as nature's art--one is the copy of the other.

Not really art, but I loved all the baskets on bikes in Oxford. Very storybook perfect. 

The real deal. Kind of. This one was a sign.

Sketches from a steampunk exhibit in Oxford. These masks appealed to me on so many levels.

 A close-up. These masks were masterfully crafted and assembled by the artist, one Tom Banwell. 

The orange of the bike + orange of cop's jacket. Modern Oxford.

Sketches from an Old Trip: Meals in England

Two Thanksgivings ago, I went to England. I made some sketches. A lot of them were of my food. 

The above is a description of the "cocktail" I give myself to get on a plane.

Half-way there--a stop in Atlanta. I used to pass through the Atlanta airport about 6 times a year on my way back and forth to my dad's house. Now I'm eating Sushi on my way to England. There are black people here. A lot of 'em. We don't get much of that in the Pacific Northwest. True story. I have a nice chat with the bartender and manager. I'm the last customer of the night.

I was most impressed with the biodegradable packaging. This was a great lunch at the Tate.

And here's lunch at the Tate Modern. I remember thinking, "The only thing missing is Barbara." In fact, I wrote it on the sketch. If you are reading this, Hi Barbara.

Above: Jamaica Wine, the pub with all the cool people standing in the alley, is where I wanted to eat, but they weren't serving any food. So I ate at Weatherspoons, (below) with a right friendly barkeep. Unfortunately, the ambiance was more Las Vegas Casino than jolly old England. 

A perfect lunch in Oxford, under a college in a vaulted basement. I admit, at meals, I get a bit lonely when I travel. But only at meals. 

 This was the kind of place you really wanted a drinking buddy or art pal.

The texture of Oxford.

 The girl/woman is someone I saw near the Oxford bus stop/train station.  Crazy red hair. 

 Thanksgiving day in Reading with my two favorite expats, Heather and Rob. This was "pie and a pint." If anyone ever offers it to you, accept immediately.

 I'm happy, and I know it.

The beer of Thanksgiving 2009.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Trip to Florida Part II

Don and Marty
I came to Florida to check in on Don, my step-dad. He and my mom got divorced about 12 years ago after 23 years of marriage. Don has developed a brain tumor--a glioblastoma. He is receiving chemo and radiation right now. His girlfriend, Marty, is also suffering from cancer--cancer of the throat. She has beaten it back several times already. I really wanted to meet her, so I decided to go down there and check things out. This isn't really a blog about my life, so I'll just be posting the sketches I took with a few captions. Suffice it to say, it was a tough trip.
Don receives daily radiation for 8 minutes a day for six weeks. He wears a mask over his head, which allows them to target the exact spot. This sketch does not show the acid green cross hairs that show the machine where to radiate. Here, a nurse fits the mask on for Don's second treatment.
A sketch of what Don's tumor might look like. It is not encapsulated and cannot be operated on.
During the treatments, I would take short walks in the neighborhood behind the center. Oak trees are my favorite part of Florida.

Some attempts at trying to sketch just the mask.

Marty looks unfortunately like a zombie here, because I colored her eyes in too much. And that's water in her hand. She can't eat or drink much--most of what she takes in is through a feeding tube in her belly, under her shirt. We played Parchesi. She couldn't talk much, but I was happy to meet her. Her dog was a sweetie too. Not pictured--her cats.

I keep trying to figure out the best way to represent my recent experience with memory, which is that diving down (into the wreck as Adrienne Rich would say), there are moments of intense wonder and joy, all colored and influenced by the shades and shadows of every other experience--pain, boredom, sadness, beauty, layer upon layer, second upon second, year upon year. The above diagram is an attempt at thinking about this memory experience as a series of glass panels, through which light builds and amplifies.
I tried to draw the same feeling another way, with lines leading from one nodal experience to another, the different colors representing the different sensory conduits and memory channels that connect it to the the other nodes. What resulted looked surprisingly like a series of glioblastomas.

Don watching TV.

Trip to Florida Part I

Mom and Jack

I just got back from a trip to Florida. The main purpose of my trip was to check in on my step-dad, who is receiving radiation treatment for cancer. But I also got a chance to see my mom Phoebe and her husband Jack. Here are a few sketches from the Christmas concert they were a part of. 

This was a singer from the visiting choir, very dapper in his tuxedo.

Three singers from Mom's church.

The flutist. Her dress was actually black, but I didn't think that would translate well.
This was the couple right in front of me.
This woman, in the front row, looked very sad for someone singing in a Christmas concert.
This was the guy sitting right behind me. His hair was actually more grayish/white than this.
I drew this one of mom the day before I left. She doesn't really have all those lines on her forehead--I just wasn't looking at the page as I drew the sketch. With all of these, I had to decide whether to make the skin yellow or white, having no better choice among my watercolor pens. The decision usually rested on whether I needed the yellow for some other reason in the picture.