Immersive Environments

Immersive Environments include digital game spaces, interactive virtual environments, as well as alternate reality games (ARGs) or augmented reality systems that blend digital and non-digital worlds. You could design/create your own immersive environment, or you could make use of an immersive environment to create some other artifact like a machinima. You could also create a lesson plan or syllabus that borrows elements of games, ARGs, augmented reality, or other interactive virtual environments. >>>

I began my time in the DWRL in the Immersive Environments group (2011-2012). The previous year’s team had envisioned an alternate reality game (or ARG) that could be used to teach principles of rhetoric, and drafted a white paper that outlined “levels” for the game focusing on different technological skills. The Immersive Environments group not only turned these plans into a playable ARG and ran a live test of the game in a Writing in Digital Environments class, we also composed the Kairos article I submit for my Immersive Environments specialization badge: “Crossing Battle Lines: Teaching Multimodal Literacies through Alternate Reality Games.”

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The conceptual design for the “Crossing Battle Lines” webtext is also a game: for example, the map used to navigate between elements of the Battle Lines story and the related clues or levels of gameplay was at one point envisioned as the navigation tool for the entire webtext. “Crossing Battle Lines” won the Kairos award for Best Webtext in 2014. The game itself (called Battle Lines) revolved around a controversy between UT Austin university president William Battle and Texas Governor James “Pa” Ferguson. While researching this controversy, a UT history grad student mysteriously disappears. Players must discover what has happened to the protagonist through a series of clues left by a shadowy organization, The Friends of Texas. To solve the clues, students had to work together to share and develop digital literacy skills, learning to use GarageBand, Photoshop, and iMovie. Battle Lines culminates in a declamation-style persuasive argument that students composed the digital media of their choosing. Not only did Immersive Environments design each clue and the digital solutions to its puzzles, but we also crafted the narrative we hoped students would become immersed in—and they did, even becoming more attached than we anticipated to the fate of the game’s protagonist!

My experience as a part of the Immersive Environments team taught me in broad strokes how games can deepen student motivation, even when it comes to developing difficult technical and rhetorical skills. It also gave me a lasting interest in digital games which is now coming to inform my scholarship. In the context of my work on rhetoric as a structure of address, and on sensitivity as a condition of possibility for being addressed, part of my dissertation focuses on a recent wave of digital games made with Twine. Twine is an open-source text-based tool hailed by The New York Times as “the video-game technology for all.” I contend that Twine games linking trauma, sensitivity, and femininity rework the dominant values in gamer culture about identification, gender, violence, survival, and play.

Twine games show that immersive games don’t always depend on high-powered graphics or expensive consoles and systems. Because Twine is easy to learn, even people who have never made games before can make one in less than hour. I started making games with Twine, including this abstract game based on Jacques Derrida’s “At This Very Moment in This Work Here I Am.” I look forward to the opportunity to use Twine in my classes because of how well-suited it is to connecting invention and arrangement, and I am working on assembling a Twine bibliography for rhetoric instructors which will include games, tutorials, assignments, and lesson plans.

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