This week’s seminar topic was the Digital Humanities and we were visted by Elisabeth Bonsignore, who is a PhD student in the iSchool where she is researching transmedia storytelling. The readings we had included Kim, Lee, Thomas, & Dombrowski (2009), Gurzick et al. (2011), and Bonsignore et al. (2012). This was a special week for me, because DH is the mental space where I spend most of my work day in MITH. I’m particularly interested in connections that can be made between the work of the iSchool and MITH.

During the first half of class Bonsignore walked us through some of the transmedia storytelling projects that she has worked on for the past few years with colleagues such as Kari Kraus and June Ahn. They were all examples of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).

ARGs aren’t to be confused necessarily with Augmented Reality Games, which are more concerned with applying virtual layers on top of reality, rather than providing environments for virtual spaces to intersect with real life situations. ARGs complicate the virtual and the “real” often as a way to draw attention to forms of media, types of literacies and the construction of reality, or realities.

The conversation covered a few different games like [Ingress], I Love Bees, World Without Oil and Year Zero, several of which were created by design firm 42 Entertainment. We also talked a bit about NSF grant funded work that UMD has been involved in:

In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the Computer History Museum, NASA, plus leading game designers, educators, and scientists, Brigham Young University and the University of Maryland will design, research and iteratively test two large-scale Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) to engage thousands of youth aged 13-15 in scientific inquiry. Aimed at attracting girls and other groups historically underrepresented in science and technology, the games will focus on computational thinking and deep-time sciences in areas of astrobiology and astronomy. ARGs are interactive experiences in which players collaboratively hunt for scientific data, make sense of disparate data and information, contribute content, and solve questions to advance a science-based narrative woven into the fabric of the real world. Inquiry activities within each ARG will be based upon the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Unlike video games or virtual reality experiences, ARGs lead players to use a variety of media (social media, text messages, websites, videos, audio recordings). Because players participate as themselves ARGs afford learners with intensive, self-driven, scaffolded, scientific learning.

The readings surfaced a few design patterns that are used in ARGs such as:

  • rabbit holes: a way to draw players into the game
  • puppet master: the person who designs the game, often in realtime in response to game play
  • open/closed ended: whether the game has fixed outcomes

If there was more time it would’ve been interesting to discuss metrics for measuring learning outcomes, for the educational ARGs.

In the second part of the class Diane led a discussion about Marciano, Allen, Hou, & Lach (2013). This was an interesting conversation because we discussed work Mariciano (faculty at UMD) was involved in to make redlining maps more accessible using image recongition and deep learning. I think it was an example of where a humanities discipline, in this case History, can be transformed by digital tools and methods. The topic was also of interest to me because of MITH’s BlackLivesMatter work this year, and the relevance of redlining maps as material evidence of institutionalized racism in the United States. We had an interesting discussion about the logistics of making this type of historical data available, the changing nature of privacy, and data ethics.


Bonsignore, E., Hansen, D., Kraus, K., Ahn, J., Visconti, A., Fraistat, A., & Druin, A. (2012). Alternate reality games: Platforms for collaborative learning. In Proceedings of the 10th international conference of the learning sciences, icls 2012 (Vol. 1, pp. 251–258).

Gurzick, D., White, K. F., Lutters, W. G., Landry, B. M., Dombrowski, C., & Kim, J. Y. (2011). Designing the future of collaborative workplace systems: Lessons learned from a comparison with alternate reality games. In Proceedings of the 2011 iConference (pp. 174–180). ACM.

Kim, J., Lee, E., Thomas, T., & Dombrowski, C. (2009). Storytelling in new media: The case of alternate reality games, 2001–2009. First Monday, 14(6). Retrieved from

Marciano, R. J., Allen, R. C., Hou, C.-Y., & Lach, P. R. (2013). Big historical data feature extraction. Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, 9(1-2), 69–80.