On The Source Narrative: Patrick Jagoda and Seed Lynn
Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game The Source continues with an overview of the game’s narrative and a reflection on its development process.
Before this project came together, the core Lab team brainstormed a concept for the story of Adia: a seventeen year-old African American girl living on the South Side of Chicago. One day, Adia stumbles across a letter from her father who has been absent from the time she was five. The letter describes an elaborate and difficult alternate reality game that the father created to teach Adia all of the things he couldn’t share with her through her childhood. Adia is desperate to solve the game but feels that her mother is overburdening her with extracurricular activities and pressure to get straight A’s. Though Adia is unable to find the time to finish the game by herself, she begins to crowdsource the letter’s mysteries to over 100 Chicago youth. And here the game begins.
Several months ago, Seed and I began work on what became an over 80-page script for 15 webisodes in which Adia speaks to players from her webcam. Following revisions, we cast three talented high school actors to star as Adia (played by Ava Saunders) and her best friends, Ros (Nailah Harris) and Micah (Khalil Johnson). Following an intense series of video shoots, Seed Lynn, Philip Ehrenberg, and Angie Hauch engaged in a time-consuming editing process. During The Source game, Adia will release three webisodes a week that tell the story of her search for her father and attempt to solve his game. The larger transmedia narrative network, constructed by various Lab members, will be made up of stories from Adia and her friends.
— Patrick Jagoda (Game Changer Chicago Design Lab Co-founder, University of Chicago)
During a shoot for The Source a couple weeks ago, in the welcome quiet between dinner and strike, Alicia, the sister of Source production manager Ashlyn Sparrow identified herself as a “discovery writer,” and I instantly grinned. Ashlyn and Alicia had been kind enough to open their 3rd floor apartment to the production team so their bedroom was now doubling as Adia’s headquarters in addition to the most personal of spaces. A writer myself, I’d never heard the term, and I nudged, despite it likely meaning what it sounded like.
What resulted is one of those conversations where you learn something you’ve known for years: that art is organism, that process is artful, that creating involves the deepest form of listening. [Insert finger snaps] But getting to the root of that grin involved several moments of learning, and the challenge of connecting them takes me back to my rubix cube days where many lip biting nights left me alone… pissed and grinning.
For me, I’m sure it was the feeling of discovery that flashed me backward and forward through the last several months. It’s a feeling that charts the spaces we explore and the systems we navigate. It’s asking before answering and hearing before writing. Right now? It’s Philip Ehrenberg (a game designer) and Angie Hauch (a video editor) in the next room editing and giggling over the actors’ choices. It’s the actors working through the script and improvising, owning. It’s how the script came together in our minds first with Patrick Jagoda and Melissa Gilliam in a Tuesday morning meeting that always runs over. It’s how we named it, then stepped back. Does the story want to say this? What is our responsibility to the social justice topics? It’s Amanda Dittami (a game designer) and Ashlyn fusing the story and the gameplay with a room full of other game designers. It’s the spirit of our inquiry permeating every mechanic of the game.
Adia’s discovery mirrors ours, my own. It expands ideation to iterative design, the methods we use to evaluate the experience… and more. Thank you, Alicia, for the reminder. One side of the rubix cube just come together [insert lip bite].
— Seed Lynn (Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, writer and youth activist)