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On The Conclusion of The Source Alternate Reality Game and the Future of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab: Melissa Gilliam and Patrick Jagoda


To conclude The Source game, the founders of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, Melissa Gilliam and Patrick Jagoda reflect on the conclusion of this educational experiment and the future of the Lab.

Last week we wrapped up The Source. During the final event, the main characters Adia, Ros, and Micah (played by three talented high-school actors) visited players and teams who pitched alternative endings to the story of Adia’s missing father. We ended with a party for players and parents with prizes for the top five teams and digital badges for the players who earned them. On Friday we hosted a lunch for our wonderful youth mentors. A few youth returned to help build the Center website that was at the core of the game’s narrative. To do this, they put to use their newly honed web, audio, photography, blogging, and social networking skills.  This week, these youth will present their work at the Chicago Summer of Learning Summer Showcase. Some stopped by to give us feedback for next summer’s alternate reality game and many begged us to tell them whether it was real. 

As we begin archiving photographs, transcribing focus groups, and cleaning survey data, we ask a similar question. Was The Source real? Will the experiences and lessons learned carry forward and affect the participating youth as they return to their schools, their friends, and their futures? Moreover, does the premise of our lab hold water? Can learning through games and narrative affect real world transformation for youth?

The Source focused on science, technology, engineering, art, and math. These topics are of personal interest to us as university professors. We want to engender an appreciation of science and art as well as a general love of learning. Yet, it reflects a larger theme of our lab. The educational approach of “connected learning” states that outside of school we can help youth discover their personal interests and tap into their peer cultures to create experiences that will carry over to their in-school lives. During The Source, we watched youth solve problems and puzzles (some of which we thought were unsolvable); engage in college classrooms and museums; work with university scholars and professionals; and learn new technological skills and digital media capacities. Our gut tells us that this experience is connected learning in action. We hope that our data will provide some answers. We will conduct follow up surveys, compare their grades to those of the previous years, and compare their grades to those of other youth in Chicago. 

We will also want to find out whether youth developed assets associated with thriving and decreased risk behaviors. Through our focus groups and individual interviews we will see whether the concepts we embedded in the game took hold. In designing The Source we focused on the four internal (commitment to learning, positive personal values, social competence, and positive personal identity) and four external asset categories (support by people who care and accept them, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time). Through pre and post testing we hope to see which assets were affected, if any.

We will also want to find out which parts of The Source were engaging and which were not, as well as what players learned. We have photos of youth with furrowed brows, in deep discussion, laughing, and playing. But we have left it to colleagues from the Center for Elementary Math and Science Education and our colleague Franklin Gay (PhD from the School of Social Service Administration) to ask these questions.

We started the Game Changer Design Lab because we are wholly committed to creating opportunities and opening doors for young people, especially those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. We do not select the youth who participate in our programs and have no idea how they perform in school and what their skills are. Yet, our games open up to many learning styles (e.g., cooperation, competition, roleplaying, and hands-on creation), interest areas (e.g., storytelling, gameplay, and team engagement), and academic areas (e.g., science, math, art, and creative writing), allowing young people to play from many vantage points and excel for different reasons. It will take a while to wrap up The Source as there are papers to write, reports to create, and lessons to be learned.

Our team of 5 fellows who valiantly helped design the game will return to its full complement of 10 and will be joined by 10 high school aged youth fellows. We will continue to hone our projects, such as the Infection Four card game and the Lucidity interactive narrative, which have taken a back seat to The Source in recent weeks. We have become intrigued by our game board “Hexacago,” The Source’s workhorse, which served as the backbone of game development across many of the weeks. We are hoping to augment “Hexacago” with elements of digital media and await anxiously to learn if our grant proposal will be funded. We will also begin designing a new 3D role-playing and decision-making game for which the working title is A Day in the Life. Finally, we are also starting to look forward to the use of mobile technologies in future game projects.

We would like to thank the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society, the University of Chicago, and all of our partners for their generous support of The Source

And we would like to thank you for following The Source. We hope you continue to follow our Lab on our main site, Facebook, and Twitter.