Terrarium: An Alternate Reality Game

About Terrarium

Terrarium is an alternate reality game (ARG) scaled for approximately 1,700 players during the University of Chicago orientation for first-year students in 2019. This five-month experience used transmedia storytelling and gameplay to increase engagement with climate change. Terrarium was an experiment in mixed reality storytelling that combined the streaming platform Twitch, Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) software for live streaming, live-action performance, video game mechanics, team-based scavenger hunt tasks, and transmedia puzzles that stretched across websites and augmented reality experiences. Our mixed reality platform allowed users to engage in real-time text interactions with performers who respond via voice, text, or gestures in a designed environment. Through several phases, this ARG invited players to participate in co-imagining a preferable climate future. In May, players discovered “wormholes” that initiated a large-scale online scavenger hunt and transmedia puzzle trail. Following two months of intensive play and coordination via Discord, players began interacting with characters from four versions of 2049 who were trapped in inverse escape rooms accessible only via Twitch. In order to facilitate character escapes, players solved multimedia puzzles, improvised interactions, and played live-action networked games. The game used asymmetrical cooperation mechanics that connected live characters with players, who had different information to share via Twitch chat. While the entire game was focused on climate change, the four future scenarios adopted themes of CO2 emissions, nuclear disaster, surveillance, and population growth. The experience culminated in September with the live “Futures Design Challenge” in which players pitched ideas linked to the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts that could combat climate change. Terrarium combines a site-specific experience that is personalized and improvised with a flexible design that can be replicated and distributed digitally across contexts. The following short documentary demonstrates the overall design and levels of Terrarium.

Concept by: Patrick Jagoda, Heidi Coleman, and Kristen Schilt

Game Directors: Patrick Jagoda and Heidi Coleman

Game Manager: Ashlyn Sparrow

Interface Designer, Programmer, and Filmmaker: Marc Downie

Narrative: Patrick Jagoda, Heidi Coleman, and Evan Wisdom Dawson

Puzzle Designer: Sandor Weisz and Matthew Stein

Costume Designer: Nathan Rohrer

Scenic Designer: Jessica Wardell

Installation Artist for SPORE Room: Dave Carlson

Sound Designer: Michael Bodeen

Web Designer: Ashlyn Sparrow

Visual Artist: Dav Yendler

Lighting Designer: Brandon Wardell

Documentary Director: Ben Kolak and Scrappers Film Group

Game Design Consultants: Stephanie Boluk, Patrick LeMieux, and Ken Eklund

Actors: Patrick Jagoda, Evan Wisdom-Dawson, Darling Shear, Tyler Araujo, Heidi Coleman, Kristen Schilt, Ashlyn Sparrow, Peter Forberg, India Weston, Hamlet Fernandez, Rebecca Husk, Jersey Fonseca, Leland Culver, Daniel Lee, Samuel Schwartz

Design Interns: Evan Wisdom-Dawson, Ella Beiser, Leland Culver, Ashby deButts, Theo Evans, Hamlet Fernandez, Jersey Fonseca, Peter Forberg, Rebecca Husk, Daniel Lee, Niyya Moody, Sam Schwartz, Hurston Mazard Wallace, India Weston

Content Experts and Design Challenge Judges: David Archer, John Boyer, Leila Brammer, Bill Brown, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Michael Christiano, Shannon Dawdy, Cassandra Dunn, Gregory Dwyer, James Evans, Desiree Foerster, Sarah Fredericks, Edgar Garcia, Adom Getachew, Melissa Gilliam, Kimberly Kay Hoang, Ryan Jobson, Sarah Johnson, Bonnie Kanter, Catherine Kearns, Kara Keeling, Edwin Kite, Kent Lambert, Issa Lampe, Elise LaRose, Julie Marie Lemon, Pedro Lopes, Tracye Matthews, Benjamin Morgan, John Muse, Engin Özkan, Seth Richardson, Jason Riggle, Sabina Shaikh, Borja Sotomayor, James Sparrow, Mark Templeton, Nina Titone, Vu Tran, Mai Vukcevich, Shellwyn Weston, Christopher Wild, David Wolf

Lead Researcher: Kristen Schilt