Using alternate reality games to
support ﬁrst year induction with
Learning Technologies Group, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK
Purpose – This paper aims to describe a pilot project investigating the use of alternate reality
game/treasure-hunt formats to provide an alternative to existing mechanisms for introducing new
students to university information and services.
Design/methodology/approach – An alternate reality game was designed to be played online and
ofﬂine, which aimed to be fun, intriguing and engaging through task design and storyline. The
university’s social network was used as a platform for players to support one another in solving each
task as well as for ﬁctional characters in the story to interact with the players.
Findings – Logistical problems are identiﬁed with the campus environment, and successes are
highlighted where tasks were particularly effective or enjoyable. The game format also provided
students with something special to “feel part of” and to provide a break from their formal course.
Practical implications – It was found that the game format did not appeal to all students, but was
very effective for those that liked it.
Originality/value – The author believes the alternate reality game/treasure-hunt format can provide
an interesting alternative to existing mechanisms for introducing students to certain types of
information or services.
Keywords Induction, Students, Indoor games, Learning, Higher education
Paper type Case study
In higher education, the use of “play” and “games” has been shown to promote
engagement and task completion (Colarusso, 1993). However, as Whitton showed, when
entertainment and education is combined in this way, despite highly increased
engagement, the potential was often limited by cost-effectiveness and accessibility of the
game (Whitton, 2007). This study looked to ﬁnd a game format which could overcome
these limiting factors and which could increase student engagement in the ﬁrst year
induction process. Speciﬁcally, it reports on the format of an alternate reality game (ARG).
Alternate reality games began growing in popularity over the early 2000s with
advertising campaigns for ﬁlms and games such as the Beast for A.I. and I Love Bees
for Halo 2 (Szulborski, 2005). These games deliberately blurred the lines between the
in-game and out-of-game experience for players:
Alternate reality games are games that are cross-media and that blur the line between the
game space and the real world experience (De Freitas, 2006).
ARGs were identiﬁed by this study as providing a way to offset the cost and
accessibility issues by using familiar, established web technologies and enabling game
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Campus-Wide Information Systems
Vol. 26 No. 4, 2009
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited