I haven't been to the lighthouse for years. There's no road to it; you have to walk. You drive the car to a spot the locals call Jack's Point. It's named after Bloody Jack, a hard man who, by his name, you might think was a fierce warlord. Turns out he got his nickname from his colourful language. His real name he gave to the headland half a mile to the south, Tuhawaiki Point. It's marked with a white octagonal light tower. On my right is a rolling paddock of wheat, on my left a sharp drop to the shingle beach fifty feet below. The dog is in a state of high excitement, new scents abound. I am having a ball, and I wouldn't be here if I wasn't playing Ingress.
So if your opinion is that computer games promote a disconnect from the planet, obesity, and a taste for violence, then you may have to rethink it; if only by acknowledging that there are games you can play on your feet, in the open air, in loosely knit teams of like-minded, peace-loving people your own age. These games go by many names: alternate reality game, augmented reality game, urban gaming, location-enabled game, pervasive game, street game, and probably more. I'll use just the one term in this article: alternate reality game (ARG). Imagine a world in which things are slightly different. Allow yourself to buy into that idea, and temporarily re-invent yourself. In your real life you'll be whoever you are, but in this other world you are effective, pro-active, insightful, and above all resilient. Put that other life on hold. See if this new effective self transforms your old self. Maybe even transcends your old self. That's why ARGs come under the broad mantle of reality hacks.
Typically these games are played on mobile devices, most likely your phone. They are "multi-player location-based games played out on city streets and built up urban environments" [Wikipedia], but I'd say that there is plenty of evidence and rationale for Ingress to push out into the wider landscape, and even to really remote locations. Ingress is a game from Niantic Labs, a startup within Google led by John Hanke, the man who, with others, invented Google Earth. You think it's a game, but it's not a game, the authors say. Every time you long tap an empty space on the Ingress map and choose New Portal, you are sending Google a little tiny piece of their stock in trade. That's not a bad thing, nor is it a conspiracy theory; it's just crowd-sourcing.
Exotic Matter (XM) is entering the world through portals. These portals are statues, monuments, porticos, churches, football stadiums, murals; any object of interest openly available to the public. The players are divided into factions: the Enlightened, and the Resistance. I chose to play on the side of the Resistance, because I don't want the world filled up with this Exotic Matter, whatever it is. I like the old world, the way it was before. You can defend a portal of your own, and you can attack a portal of the other faction and try to take it over. You must physically approach a portal to play it, you have to move in the real world to engage. The gameplay is deliciously complex, rich in rewards, inventory and powers. It's played out on Levels 1 to 8 and beyond. I heard of a Level 15 player the other day, a demi-god. There are frequent bulletins, videos posted on YouTube called the Ingress Report, and Ingress News. There are communities, both official and unofficial. There are around 7 million players worldwide.
So, why am I doing this? For the good of my health? At one level, yes. I need the exercise. But at another level, I am trying to understand the anatomy of an ARG. There's a whole new pedagogy here. It's constructionist, connectivist, and game-based. I have a strong feeling that students and their teachers should be doing this in some way. Designing, building and playing alternate reality games folded around curriculum. Just how I don't pretend to know yet. I'm looking for that now. That's why I'm at the lighthouse with my dog.
I’m keen to hear from any educator who is following a similar pathway, and may have experience of alternate reality or augmented reality games used in an educational context. I’d like to join any existing community, else I’ll start one and we can begin sharing!
Just as Niantic Labs is a start-up within Google, so is Stephen's project a start-up within CORE Education. Towards the end of last year CORE established their internal incubator. ARG-EF, The Alternate Reality Games in Education Framework, is one of the projects supported by the CORE Incubator, and is scheduled to deliver its first demonstration game in June of this year.