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An Overview of The Source (Week 5): Megan Macklin

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To conclude the fifth and final week of The Source, Game Changer Chicago Design Lab fellow and week 5 lead designer Megan Macklin reflects on the activities and learning goals of the fift art-orientedphase of this alternate reality game.

Compared to its STEM cousins, the A that makes STEAM—art—can feel like a black sheep among those more technical and tangible counterparts. As Anna Dozor explained in yesterday’s post, Week 5 of The Source turned towards art, and, to our delight, our players continued to diversify their analytical skills while further developing a critical engagement with social issues. A major challenge in the humanities is achieving the elusive link between theoretical thought and its real-world applications. Nevertheless, we as game designers relished this opportunity to revise our players’ understanding of the creative, educational, and expressive value of art.

Our players began the week with a series of online activities that primed their close reading abilities of paintings such as Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas and short stories by Ray Bradbury and Virginia Woolf while reinforcing the code breaking and cryptography skills of previous weeks. There we also introduced a charged and heavy twist: the revelation that Adia’s brother Ibe is gay, and that their father’s departure may have been motivated partially by homophobia. During the design process, we were simultaneously enthusiastic and hesitant about broaching sexuality as a social justice issue. Yet the maturity and sensitivity of our players once again surprised us. Tuesday afternoon, we asked our players to react to Adia’s father’s homophobia and to Adia’s resulting ambivalence. Regardless of their own personal beliefs, players widely promoted acceptance, both of Adia’s brother and of her father, and they wisely noted that love does not necessarily exclude differing opinions.

Also on Tuesday, our youth played Meet the Middletons, a collaborative storytelling game that encouraged players to remix digital and audio assets from films such as Battleship Potemkin, Night of the Living Dead, and Little Shop of Horrors to create a unique, and often hilarious, narratives. This activity came from a collaboration with Veronica Paredes and her teammates Lauren Fenton and Susana Ruiz, who graciously created three additional iterations of the game from a variety of source material. Later that day, players experienced a video puzzle created by the menacing artificial intelligence entity hAIti.

On Wednesday, our players descended on the Art Institute of Chicago. Unlike the Museum of Science and Industry, which hosted our players in the game’s first week, the Art Institute requires and appeals to a different kind of museum patron. However, our players rose to the occasion, and successfully completed a curating activity and a scavenger hunt, both of which required them to engage art in its visual aspects as well as its thematic suggestions.

Thursday marked our final player meet-up. The challenge of creating a memorable ultimate experience led us to host a delightfully hectic and powerful series of events. In the morning, players entered in a tournament of Ludorum Rasa, a 1000 Blank White Cards-style metagame. Over 100 players were whittled down to 5 Champions, who before the rapt eyes of an engrossed audience entered into a “boss battle” with the artificial intelligence hAIti (created by Adia’s father). During this epic exchange, we were joined by the actors who played Adia, Ros, and Micah. Their entrance — the first live appearance by any character in the game — was met with a range of emotions, from star struck to skeptical, and their presence energized the group while the Champions eventually defeated hAIti. hAIti’s fall revealed the final pieces of the game: a series of photographs, and a letter from Adia’s father that abruptly shut down any speculation that Adia would find him. In order to temper the disappointment of an unrealized reunion, we issued one final challenge to our players: to create their own ending to the story of Adia and her father. Alongside their peers, our players looked Adia in the eye and offered optimistic suggestions, encouraging messages, and above all, genuine promises of support and friendship.

Over the five weeks of The Source, approximately 140 youth entered through our doors to learn about STEAM fields through hands-on activities and creative game-based opportunities. Yet along the way, our players traversed an intricate social journey as well, one that culminated in an overwhelming sense of community. We hope that our players’ outcomes will not only be quantifiable on an educational scale, but that they will also reflect their deep consideration of their roles as leaders among their peers and as the game changers of the future generation.