Define Alternate Reality

In my free time over Spring Break, I attempted to continue making headway in Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken. For a game design student, I feel as though I ought to be taking notes the entire time as I read. But that thought aside, I was reading her chapter called “The Benefits of Alternate Realities,” which I was really eager to read since I was obviously interested to hear more of what she had to say on the topic of my thesis, and I came across something that I found rather thought-provoking. Here, I’ll write it in here. (This seems to be a trend, me copying in McGonigal’s words…)

Chore Wars is an alternate reality game (ARG), a game you play in your real life (and not a virtual environment) in order to enjoy it more. Chore Wars is essentially a simplified version of World of Warcraft, with one notable exception: all of the online quests correspond with real-world cleaning tasks, and instead of playing with strangers or faraway friends online, you play the game with your roommates, family, or officemates. Kevan Davis, a british experimental game developer who created Chore Wars in 2007, describes it as a “chore management system.” It’s meant to help you track how much housework people are doing– and to inspire everyone to do more housework, more cheerfully, than they would otherwise. — Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken, pg 120

As I read this I thought, “What? Chore Wars can’t be an alternate reality game. It’s not… big enough.” But then I went back and I read what she wrote again– “a game you play in your real life, not a virtual environment.” What? Can this be? An ARG that is so simple? What is this sorcery?

I read a little bit further and realized that maybe this was a form of an ARG. After all, this game is creating an alternate reality in which the chores that you do earns you points in a game land online. That’s not a true reality– it’s a reality that the game creates for you.

This has kind of redefined ARG in my mind. I used to think that an ARG was simply a huge massive game like Why So Serious or I Love Bees that had to have an elaborate and indepth narrative but no, an ARG can be something as simple as something that creates a new framework of doing something in your life. Keeping that in mind, at least for me, helps me to see game design in a whole new way. Instead of forcing myself to think a huge scale, I can look at a design problem and just think, “Okay, how can I create an alternate way of doing this that makes it fun.”

It was kind of a liberating realization, albeit a small one. I’d love to hear any thoughts about this!

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