Creativity and Collaboration During COVID-19:

Creating an ARG in the Face of a Pandemic


This paper describes the design, development, and implementation of an alternate reality game (ARG) created by a small team of graduate students in the Digital Media program at the University of Central Florida. The paper specifically focuses on how social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic hindered traditionally collaborative college campus environments and what techniques the team used to overcome those limitations in order to create a fun and engaging experience for players. The solution for overcoming those limitations included designing an ARG that promoted a sense of involvement by framing the game as a student-run organization for those interested to join. Through the utilization of engaging puzzle games, fictional narratives, and online platforms, the ARG known as the Fairy Investigation Club was a unique medium for collaboration and involvement in the face of a global pandemic. 

Fairy Investigation Club ARG UI
The Game

The FIC took a whimsical design approach while still maintaining the common themes of mystery and investigation typically found in ARGs. Through the club website, players were able to familiarize themselves with characters, such as the Club President, and others who each had a unique personality and role in the FIC. At the start of the game, it appears as though players are simply members of a group aiming to observe the many mystical fairy sightings on the university’s campus until circumstances grow increasingly more peculiar as Aerin, the Club President, vanishes and club members must solve puzzles to bring her home. The online modality of the ARG contributed to allowing players to participate in the game whenever and wherever they were located during this time.

The final game consisted of a series of ten tasks, communicated through puzzles and blog posts that were released over the course of five days, commencing after the university’s Spring Break in mid-April of 2021. The ARG features a well-known Fae character, Puck, or RobinGoodfellow, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the main antagonist. This adds to the narrative by introducing familiar aspects of fairies in a contemporary way. Since fairies are historically described as mischievous pranksters, tying that into the riddles and puzzles was a calculated effort. Comments written from the viewpoint of the characters were featured in each blog post which adds depth to the gameplay and plays a role in later puzzles.

Flow chart diagram of the narrative blog posts and puzzles in order of which they were released
Key Takeaways

The goal of this ARG was ultimately to create a whimsical game that allowed university students to fictitiously join this club during a time where joining a real club on campus was impossible. This kind of experience was facilitated by:

  • Deploying the game episodically through an online medium
  • Encouraging social-distanced collaboration through social media scavenger hunts and complex puzzles
  • Utilizing online collaboration platforms like Discord

The Fairy Investigation Club team hopes that despite the tribulations encountered during the game’s design process, this experience may challenge other digital media professionals to seek alternate methods of collaborating with their peers and to think more deeply about how they might create meaningful experiences for their users.

The Authors

Diego Faverio |

Iulia Popescu |

Matthew Mosher |

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