Technology Considerations in ARGs

So clearly this blog is concerned about technology and ARGs. But in creating an ARG, what are the kinds of considerations that designers have to take into account? When I

Smartphones are such an awesome device to use in ARGs.

was creating my game two months ago (it feels like a lifetime ago), this was a question I had to ask myself. I go to a school that is by most measures pretty well-off. I cannot fathom a student not having a laptop or a cell phone. It’s also fairly uncommon for that phone not to be a smartphone, whether it’s an iPhone, Droid, or some other version. However, even on a campus where wealth and technology seems fairly wide-spread, I still got comments from participants in my game that they believed that my game relied too much on the use of smartphones.

When I designed the game, I specifically attempted to avoid this. At first, I thought players could track their clues with QR codes. But then a friend told me a nightmare of a project she had dealing with QR codes, and I decided against it. Additionally, I thought that it would be unfair to those players without smartphones to read the QR codes. Thus, I opted for tinyurls instead. However, it seems as though the players with smartphones were able to just type in that URL in their smartphone to access the points. I had thought that would be an option, but I never thought of it as a disadvantage for those without smartphones since I had explicitly designed this element of the game with those sans-smartphones in mind.

What this shows me is that even in a place where smartphones are almost ubiquitous, there are still going to be those without them. How, then, should ARGs take these people into considerations? ARGs want to push boundaries, to contact and interact with people in new ways. But should they use the lowest common denominator in order to make sure that they include those without that technology?

I also had an element of the game that required me to text the different teams clues. If I had done this puzzle ten or maybe even five years ago, would this have been possible? Suppose half of the teams had cell phones, and half didn’t. It would be so much more immersive to send players a text and would make it a much better game, but what about those without phones? How does the game account for those people?

I don’t really have an answer for that question. I attempted to decrease the reliance on newer technology to include more people, but even my attempts didn’t satisfy all players. I just think it’s an important aspect that game designers need to keep in mind– what happens when we want to be on the cutting edge but not all of our audience is? Do we make the jump and sacrifice that demographic or do we stay in the safe zone and risk losing those who expect more technology-involved games?

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