I almost called this “taking the aaargh out of ARGs,” but thankfully thought better of it.

There have been a couple of great ARG-related session proposals already, which I will certainly attend, and and this one could be folded in with any of those, but Ido think ARGs are interesting enough to sustain more than one discussion.

There is real (and justifiable) interest about the idea of ARGs or pervasive games for education. But there are real challenges with the genre too. Last fall, I led the beta test of an ARG for history education called Tecumseh Lies Here. (That site is currently just a placeholder as we redesign for our bigger public launch, but I’ll link to some blog posts about the game below.) We were, and remain, very excited about running a game that brought students or players into a collaborative, creative encounter with the past; a game that spilled out of the classroom and the online world into libraries, museums, and heritage sites; a game where the act of playing was actual historical research.

One of the most exciting discoveries that came out of the beta test was the power and appeal of place-based gaming and learning. We called this the Washington Slept Here phenomenon: a historical event or fact is somehow much more compelling when you are standing in the exact place it happened than when you read about it in a book. GPS, mobile devices, and augmented-reality technology make possible all sorts of exciting forms of place-based learning.

But our beta test confronted us with real challenges, both professional questions about the boundaries between fact and fiction and also very practical questions about the scalability of the genre. Our test was a success in that we gave about a dozen active players an extremely intense, enjoyable, and educational experience. But it was also a ton of work, both in the long development stage and especially in the active runtime. So the questions we’re struggling with right now are: Can this model be scaled up? How can we reproduce that experiment for an audience 10 or 100 times the size? If not, does it make any sense for money- and time-strapped educators?

I’d love to talk about these and related issues with anyone else involved (or just interested) in ARG design. Obviously my own ulterior motive is to get some ideas about how to scale up Tecumseh Lies Here for its public launch. But I think the conversation could be useful and interesting for many others.

(Non-required reading: Here are some blog posts where I discuss the genesis of our own ARG project, and a paper (PDF, with spoilers redacted) about the challenges we’ve come across to date. Email / DM / ask me in person if you’d like a non-redacted copy of the paper.) (I know, “no papers, no presentations”–you don’t have to read it!)