Since 1934, Orientation Week has introduced first-year students to the University of Chicago through a tradition that includes exploring campus, meeting their house communities and getting to know Chicago. But this year, the Class of 2021 also encountered a secret society, cryptic red monks and the search for an alternate-dimensional portal as part of their first College experiences.While it may sound like a scene out of Harry Potter, it was part of a massive “alternate reality game” or “ARG,” created by UChicago faculty, designers, and students that stretched across social media, virtual reality and real life to encourage students to explore campus and build relationships with one another.
The game began this spring with a clue hidden at the bottom of the official new student welcome letter—with a “P.S.” that actually stood for “The ParaSite,” the name of the game. “I’ve never done anything like this before, which is why it was so cool to me,” said first-year Justine Shih, who was intrigued by puzzles and began talking with students online this summer.
The game is the brainchild of Heidi Coleman, director of undergraduate studies in theater and performance studies; Patrick Jagoda, associate professor in English and cinema and media studies; and Kristen Schilt, associate professor in sociology. The project is the result of two years of planning led by Coleman and Jagoda, who co-directed the game and have taught several courses on game design.
The purpose of the courses and the efforts behind the game is to give students a chance to practice a series of skills such as resiliency through failure and communicating with peers and teachers. “Through games, one can learn through a comparatively forgiving process of trial and error that yields improvement,” Jagoda said.
“The ParaSite” was modeled after UChicago’s famed Scav Hunt, which over the past 30 years, has grown to become the …