Over a year ago, the president of RIT and the publisher of our local Gannett paper (the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle) called a meeting with a few people from each organization to talk about ways that we could work together. Out of that meeting, and a few that followed, came the idea of a city-wide ARG that took advantage of RIT's strengths in interactive games & media, and the newspaper's strengths in community outreach.
Since then, I've been working with the newspaper and with my colleagues at RIT to design, develop, and (soon) deploy that game. It's called "Picture the Impossible":, and it will run for seven weeks this fall, from September 12th through October 31st.
The name Picture the Impossible is something we came up with working with Elan Lee. It's a reference to Rochester's incredible history related to photography and imaging (Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, and Pictometry were all founded here), as well as our even more incredible history of people accomplishing things everyone thought was impossible (like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, among many others). Each week game activities will focus on a different theme related to the history and culture of Rochester, including imaging, social justice, food, music, arts and crafts, and "Rochester firsts."
The game ends with a gala costume ball on October 31st, held at RIT's beautiful new Innovation Center, and 300 game players will win tickets to that event. Others who win individual challenges throughout the game will have the chance to win Kodak cameras and other gifts.
But what I love most about the game is that we've tied it directly to three local charities, each of which will be affiliated with a specific faction in the game. When you register, you'll choose a faction. Each week, the faction with the largest number of accumulated points will have a donation made to their affiliated charity.
How will players earn those points for their factions? For each of the seven weeks of the game, the following activities will be available:
Web Games: Monday-Friday casual Flash-based games will be updated with new content related to that week's theme. There will be five total games, rotating through the five days of the week, such as a slider image puzzle, and image matching activities.
Local Games: Each week at least one challenge will involve players going to specific locations throughout the city and gathering clues and/or codes. Other activities will involve participating in local events, festivals, and concerts. We're working with the awesome SCVNGR to build local scavenger hunts that will get people out and about in the most interesting and historically rich areas of the city.
Newspaper Games: Twice a week the newspaper will publish a puzzle or game, some of which will involve tangible aspects of the paper itself. And on Sundays, the entire back page of the Sports section will be devoted to the game--news coverage, narrative updates, featured players and photos, faction standings, and a weekly locally-created crossword puzzle.
So, how are we paying for all of this? Universities and newspapers aren't exactly rolling in extra cash these days. But what we do have is incredible talent and enthusiasm, and both organizations have put their very best people--students, professors, designers, reporters, photographers, programmers--to work on this project. In addition, Microsoft's bing search engine gave us a very generation donation to fund the basic infrastructure (web hosting, printing, prizes, etc). This game is a grand experiment--can we find the support from local businesses to fund the charitable donations and party? Stay tuned for more information! And do become a fan of our Facebook page, so you know about game-related news as soon as it happens!