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 six-month experience used transmedia storytelling and gameplay to increase engagements 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 environmental 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. 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 they had 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.
About the Artist
Terrarium was developed by a team of artists, faculty, staff, and students under the umbrella of the “Fourcast Lab.” The core designers included five members: Patrick Jagoda, Professor of English and Cinema & Media Studies, director of the Weston Game Lab, and 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient; Heidi Coleman, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Theater and Performance Studies and Senior Lecturer in the Humanities Collegiate Division; Ashlyn Sparrow, Assistant Director of the Weston Game Lab; Kristen Schilt, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality; and Marc Downie, Lecturer in Cinema and Media Studies. Alongside this core, a team of artists, performers, designers, and programmers contributed to Terrarium.
Concept by: Patrick Jagoda, Heidi Coleman, and Kristen Schilt
Game Directors: Patrick Jagoda and Heidi Coleman
Game Manager: Ashlyn Sparrow
Interface Designer 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
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
Documentary Cinematographers: Ben Kolak, Agustin Donoso, Charlie VanderKlipp, Matthew Shimmel, Tyler Araujo
Documentary Editors: Ben Kolak, Agustin Donoso, Drew de Pinto, Giorgia Harvey, Alexandra Epstein