What it is…and why
Reality is a secret “underground” game designed to be played as an optional and unofficial activity at institutions such as universities and high schools. It is never openly advertised via official institutional communications. Players must find out about it organically through word of mouth or by piecing together clues left around the school or on the Web.
With persistence, players will eventually discover the hidden Game Office, where they will be inducted into the game, signed up for the website, asked to swear an Oath of creative fearlessness to the Reality Committee, and given a packet of 10 assorted game cards. These cards can be combined with each other or with other players’ cards to create a “Deal” – a unique creative prompt (there are over 50 million potential combinations) that can be used to seed the production of some kind of media artifact such as a short film or a game or a “happening” or a website.
By producing and documenting these media artifacts and submitting them to the game’s website (working alone or in self-assembled teams), players earn points on a weekly leaderboard.
As players cross various point thresholds, they unlock time-sensitive trailheads leading to special experiences and encounters, usually involving meeting interesting alumni and industry professionals in offbeat or otherwise unexpected locations.
All the projects created through the play of the game are shared with the world via the game’s website, which also serves as a hub for player-to-player communications, player-driven rating and ranking of projects, and interactions with Game Runners.
The whole experience is framed by the fictional Reality Committee – which is, in fact, a real committee. By running the game, you will become a member of this committee, and will be entitled to attend meetings in its inner sanctum.
The purpose of the game is to increase peer discovery, deepen students’ understanding of and experience with a wide range of media-making practices, and open new channels for experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration.
In Reality, the core media-making game serves as a means of bringing about personally-relevant social interactions. While the many wonderful creative projects produced by the students constitute an impressive outcome on their own, the most important objective and most lasting outcome of Reality can be described in terms of the way that the game provides a channel through which players can connect with one another and generate social arrangements centered on the discussion and practice of media-making.
Because the game is played in the lived environment of its players, and because its procedures involve taking real actions that necessarily have impacts on the social environment independent of the game, these arrangements emerge not as second-order “side-effects” of game play, but rather as fundamental components of the activity.
Creative direction: Jeff Watson
Design: Jeff Watson, Simon Wiscombe, and Tracy Fullerton
Sponsors and Partners
Continuing development and expansion of Reality is generously sponsored by Microsoft Research. Expansion partners include the University of Washington, Bothell, the Annenberg School of Communications, and Radboud University, Nijmegen.
Reality (aka “Reality Ends Here”) began its existence as my PhD project. You can read more about its development and original deployment in my dissertation.
- Interview with Henry Jenkins, pt 1
- Interview with Henry Jenkins, pt 2
- Transmedia Talk Podcast
- Out Front Article (USC School of Cinematic Arts)
- Engine29: “A Game That Works”
- ARGNet: Reality: Transforming USC Film Students’ Freshman Year Into an Addictive Game
- Wired: USC Film Students Practice Artistic Craft Through Games
- Full Interview with Jeff Watson About Reality
- Fast Company: Games for Civic Participation, Social Causes, and Fun”
- Penny Arcade Extra Credit: Games In Education
This is not “gamification”
This is a game. There is a big difference. Gamification is the application of points and badges and other representations onto real-world behaviors under the assumption that such application will motivate or “incentivize” said behaviors. We believe that gamification is a crude behavioral control system masquerading as innocent marketing. That is not what games are, or have been, or ever will be. We define a game as a set of rules and procedures that generates problems and situations that demand inventive solutions. A game is about play and creativity and surprise. Real play isn’t about motivating people to do things; it’s about channeling and challenging motivations that are already there in order to create new meanings and possibilities. Gamification is about “checking in” and ticking off boxes. Never confuse the two. At the very least, you will piss off any game designers within earshot.
To find out more, or to get set up to customize and run your own version of Reality (the manual, software, and card templates are all free), visit http://realitycommittee.org