A few weeks into our project we took a risk and it paid off. The risk was contacting a wonderful man by the name of Jeff Parkin, who along with Jared Cardon masterminded the brilliant ARG/web series called The Book of Jer3miah.
During our planning, I remembered having heard them speak about their work at a local film festival and decided to send Jeff an email explaining Camera Obscura and asking if he had any tips. Not only did Jeff respond quickly and positively - in the middle of the night, no less - but he offered to set up a video conference at which we could discuss things in greater depth. He brought Jared along, and we had a starstruck hour full of some of the best advice we could imagine.
Listing all the good ideas we received would be nearly impossible, but here are a few of the highlights:
Tip #1 - Anything free and accessible is a tool. Because the goal is to engage people on as many levels as possible, anything that expands your reach can and should be used. Know your audience, but don't be afraid to spread the clues/story across a wide variety of media. We've found some great tools by keeping this in mind, such as Aurasma, an augmented reality app that lets us hide digital content in the physical world by placing trigger images discoverable by mobile devices. This really contributes to the immersive quality of the game and to the collaborative potential. Maybe we'll write a post on how we're using it sometime.
Tip #2 - Don't underestimate your audience. Jeff and Jared said they basically couldn't make clues that were too hard for the players to figure out. Almost without exception, puzzles were solved far faster than anticipated.
Tip #3 - Story is your biggest motivator. Gimmicks and points are fine and can be important, but people will do anything to find out what happens next. A truly engaging story should be top priority. Which leads us to:
Tip #4 - Show progress. One specific suggestion they made was to put a progress bar on the wall that lets students see how close they are to the end of the game. They want to know what's happening, but they also want reinforcement that their work is moving them towards an endpoint. We all know TV shows that begin with an end in mind are better than ones that go on interminably, never really gaining meaning but not being willing to part with the profits that come from being on the air. Don't let your game become a pointless TV show.
Tip #5 - Celebrity endorsements. Doing things to give your game legitimacy outside the world of school will go a long way towards getting kids involved. One suggestion was to use what Jeff and Jared termed "celebrity endorsements," or references to your game from sources outside the school environment. Ask popular YouTube personalities, community members, and others to mention your game or to hide a clue in some of their materials. They should be people the kids will recognize either by name, face, or reputation. That will open up a world of credibility and players will start to take their efforts much more seriously.
Tip #6 - Bring in stragglers through individualized content. Jeff and Jared talked about having lists of players' addresses and personally delivering some game content to players that lived near enough. This would help players who were falling out of the game come back with enthusiasm because they were getting exclusive hand-delivered content. Nobody else got these clues, but they were important to solving the puzzles. You can see how incredibly helpful this would be in the classroom environment, where you could hide clues in the locker or workbook of a student who seemed to be losing interest or left out. Imagine how important that kid would feel the next day, when he or she was able to single-handedly supply the clue the whole class had been missing.
We could go on like this for a while. I'm sure we'll talk a lot more about what we learned from these guys in later posts. They're kind of like our patron saints, even though they might not like that title. We couldn't have gotten this far without them. If you guys are reading this, THANK YOU!!!
To all readers: please let us know if you have any other tips and tricks, especially if you've done something like this before.