POST: Playing at Orientation: Interview with the Designers of “The Parasite” at University of Chicago

For the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog, Anastasia Salter (University of Central Florida) interviewed Patrick Jagoda and Kristen Schilt, two of the creators (with Heidi Coleman [all University of Chicago]) of an alternate reality game,”The Parasite,” which was a part of undergraduate orientation at the University of Chicago this fall. The conversation details the collaborations and the challenges of developing such ambitious and transdisciplinary event.

AS: What were the biggest challenges you faced in getting started?

KS: One of the biggest challenges that we faced was getting the university administration and potential collaborators to see our vision for this project – which was, without a doubt, very amorphous at the early stages and, thus, not easy to grasp for people who had not been involved with ARGs. We didn’t have any ready models we could point to and say, “This! This is what we want to do.”  We could point, of course, to previous educational ARGs but none of them had taken place at the scale that we were attempting. And, in the beginning, we didn’t have the storyline for the project, so we had to talk in very general terms about what it might be like. In these pitch meetings, we would try to determine if the people we were speaking to had any relevant “in point” for talking about ARGs – for instance, we had a big win when we found out that one of the university administrators participated in geocaching. We could use that and say, yes, it is kind of like that – only it happens on-line, too, and has some performance elements. We also could put it in the context of scavenger hunts, as the University of Chicago has an august annual tradition of the largest scavenger hunt in the world. This “Scav” tradition worked for us when we met with administrators, as it gave them something concrete to attach to when we talked about this untried and fuzzy project.

dh+lib Review readers may be particularly interested in the wide range of staff participation the game developers recruited to assist the project:

Overall, the staff role was significant. From early in the design process, we worked with the College Programming Office, which runs the first-year orientation. For particular site-specific challenges, we teamed up with staff in the Athletics department, the Center for Identity and Inclusion, Housing, the Logan Center for the Arts, the Regenstein Library, the Rockefeller Chapel, the Smart Museum of Art, and several other offices. We were amazed when a project manager at the Language Center, Rod Edwards, literally created a fictional language for our game. In my experience, faculty rarely work with university staff beyond the departmental level. Yet the knowledge and energy of folks from these offices proved crucial to realizing this ARG. Though the coordination efforts were extensive for Heidi, Kristen, me, and our entire design team, we hope we’ve established a structure for future large-scale projects.



dh+lib Review

This post was produced through a cooperation between Sarah Ames, Bebe S. Chang, Liz Dewar, Emily Esten, Alberto Santiago Martinez, Valentina Vavassori, and Sarah Vela (Editors-at-large for the week), Patrick Williams (Editor for the week), and Sarah Melton, Caitlin Christian-Lamb, Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara, and Roxanne Shirazi (dh+lib Review Editors).