Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Design an ARG for Cancer Research

This has big, big potential: Adrian Hon launches a new project together with Cancer Research UK: And Let's Change the Game is exciting on 2 levels. Firstly, the main goal is to employ an immersive game to encourage awareness of cancer research. Secondly, the competition, or challenge, perhaps, is to design this game.

On the whole, I think, using games for "serious purposes" is probably a good thing, even if it highlights the notion that it's difficult to take things seriously in modern culture. People put way more effort into games and communities than into, say, politics which they feel disengaged from. Adrian says the main challenge of designing the ARG will be to raise funds. In a way, this isn't so different from what PXC was doing - at the end of the day, the ARG relied on a private company which relied on cash income, so generating revenue from interest (and intrigue) basically = success! It's not hard, then, to look at the success/failure of PXC and take some lessons from it.

If I were designing an ARG for this (which, hey, I might well do yet ;), I'd be looking at ways to piggyback these ideas - interest and funding - on to the back of something which people can a) get into quickly/"loosely" and b) enjoy without feeling it's "for a cause". If you know you're involved in something primarily because they want your cash, you're more likely to not do it in the first place, no matter how good the story is.

So storytelling is an imperative, and if we go down that route then having some kind of personal run-in with cancer will be a huge advantage. ARGs rely on building emotions, and being able to draw on real ones is a big boon. Any team designing something should make sure they have at least 1 such person on board.

The interesting question, for me, in this is: how much emphasis on building a community should there be? Community breeds "stickiness" and - as Adrian says in his post - opens up huge new opportunities for what challenges can be set. But it can also act to put people off, as with big communities come big social investments - either you have both feet in, so to speak, or none at all. (That's not to say a multi-tiered approach isn't possible, but it does contribute to more work, and work which is nothing to do with planning the story such as possible community resources and moderation.)

I don't gots an answer to that one right now, and I'm not sure there's a particularly 'right' one anyway. Getting people hooked is important in this case, and it may be better to go down a more loosely-connected path. Or it may be better to get a viral campaign going and get more people hooked without necessarily spending your own marketing budget. One thing's for sure - the judges will be wanting to see some fresh ideas.

Addendum: CRUK have some useful pages on what they want/inspiration, an example submission, and their own forum.

Update: The Guardian have an interview with Adrian who has more advice for those entering. Some useful tips, including greater emphasis on what people will be doing, rather than just what the story is. Sounds like researching both cancer and CRUK, and merging that into everything, may be a good ploy.

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