Call: ARGs in the Real World – Special issue of Digital Studies/Le Champ Numerique

To whom it may concern,

My name is Kent Aardse and I am the guest editor of a special edition of the journal “Digital Studies/Le Champ Numerique.” This special issue is focused on ARGs in the Real World, and I believe that those interested in Presence Research may be able to contribute some exciting papers to our issue. [snip]

Thanks in advance and best wishes,

Kent Aardse


ARGs in the Real World

This is a call for papers on Alternate Reality Games and the real world, by the journal DS/CN. Digital Studies / Le champ numérique (ISSN 1918-3666) is a refereed academic journal serving as a formal arena for scholarly activity and as an academic resource for researchers in the digital humanities. DS/CN is published by the Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN), a partner in the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations (ADHO). DS/CN was founded for CSDH/SCHN at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, University of Victoria, in 2008 by Ray Siemens and Christian Vandendorpe.

It is the nature of ARGs that they place players in real world settings, working to find clues or solves puzzles. As a result, these games have the potential to directly involve non-players within the action of the game.

In the spring of 2012, Wilfried Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, both in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, hosted the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The theme for the conference was “Crossroads: Scholarship for an Uncertain World.”

In anticipation of the biggest conference coming to their city, members of the University of Waterloo’s Games Institute, working in tandem with faculty members from the English Department and the Drama department, decided to create an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for attendees to leisurely play as they explored the city of Waterloo. Picking up on the theme of the conference, the ARG was designed to have Humanities and Social Science professors and students playfully justify their position within academia. Designed as a covert operation, with elements of live-action theatre and performance art, the design team created a fictional, politically right-wing organization entitled The Torch Institute. Drama students were brought in to play members of the organization, who would picket and protest throughout the event. In a moment of poor judgment, a comment was made on a social media site within the context of the game play about burning down a Humanities building. Campus security became involved and, ultimately, Congress and the University of Waterloo decided to suspend the game before it ever started.

As this example shows, the fictional scenarios envisioned for ARGs are not easy to contain, and the boundary between fictional and real spaces is constantly in tension. How, then, are we to reconcile these two realms while still maintaining a fictional scenario for players to engage in and with? What are the ethical implications of ARGs in the real world? Furthermore, what role does censorship and safety play in the designing and implementing of these games? We invite submissions of papers interrogating these issues, or any other similar issue pertaining to ARGs and their existence within public and private spaces.

Interested authors should contact the journal directly ( or email Kent Aardse at


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