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.