This is a big-deal idea I’ve been developing for some time, and I kind of want to air it out, probably because I’m lecturing on future forecasting games tomorrow in class. I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of praxis for the information age in activism and education, and what the logical outgrowth of a Frierian model would look like, were it to be adapted to the internet. I don’t think you can get better than alternate reality games, and I have a couple reasons why. I don’t think I’m going to delve too deeply into this at the moment, but this might evolve into a more serious paper at some point. For now I just want to sketch my thesis and show where I see the parallels that I want to draw out. (What I’m saying is, grant me some simplifications here, this is, after all, a blog.)

If we understand the Frierian pedagogical model to entail participatory education that encourages learners to draw parallels to their own experience, and values the experience of the individual, it seems to me that ARG is a great outgrowth of that kind of ethic in the area of gaming and play. I think that the focus on the real life of the player — and especially in recent models of ARG for social engagement — is key. Instead of making up a fantasy life from scratch, the player must deal with the advantages and limitations that are encountered in daily living. This forces the player to consider hir personal experience, and its potential as a tool for storytelling and modeling the world. That’s sort of radical in and of itself.

Using an ARG model to raise awareness about a social issue explicitly asks the player to engage in the social issue from their own experience, and also forces the player into encountering others’ personal experiences surrounding that social issue. This is valuable and humanizing. Also, the collaboration between people of varying perspectives and experiences engendered by this kind of play is very much like the kind of collaboration encouraged by radical pedagogical models that emphasize conversation and self-exploration in a group setting.

Another parallel I couldn’t help notice was that group problem-solving in both ARG and conversation-based radical pedagogical models leads to a sense in the player/learner that they have somehow stumbled on this information themselves. There is a sense of agency that arises from discovery instead of traditional, blunt presentation. In fact, at least as far as social engagement goes, many people don’t trust a straightforward presentation of information. (For good reason!) On the other hand, given clues and encouragement to think critically, people more often than not discover the important point — and their sense of ownership and discovery is key to creating the feeling that the information is important and impacts the player/learner personally.

All this is a great point of departure for the next steps in social engagement — actual organizing and acting. I think that the communities fostered by ARG-style play are enormously powerful for a number of reasons, the least of which is that they are more or less self-organizing, collectively driven, and have a sense of ownership over the information that they at this point possess. Give a community like this the right tools and information, and you have an empowered, organized citizenry. What I like best about it is the part where game play can empower agents who are part of a collective agent. As with radical pedagogical models, individuals are given knowledge and tools to do more.

The next question, of course, is what to do with this idea.