There are certain people, and all children, that are more able to see secret doors. Alice, Narnia children, secret garden girl, Harry Potter, great stories start with a choice to believe, accept an invitation, open a door – these children followed the chance of adventure and possibility into new worlds. The power of games depend on this choice to believe, the leap of faith to open book, use the key, start the ritual. The game can not begin if the players do not accept the invitation – so the form and strength of this invitation matter greatly to its success.
These are some of the ways players can be asked to enter the game:
Depending on the theme of the game this invitation could be a beautiful royal scroll wrapped in ribbon, a cryptic email, or a simple postcard. This invitation is not to play a game, but rather is an introduction to the story, an invitation to enter a new world and participate in some event that is left unexplained. The rules and game mechanics come later once the invitation has been accepted. The wording of the invitation should be short and leave the player wanting to know more.
Physically passing through a portal of some kind is a powerful way to start a story. A rabbit hole, a flash of light, a dark cave, some disorienting or strange experience that allows the player to believe they had passed from one world to another. An edge of threat or danger – having the door forbidden or warned against entering only adds to the authenticity.
The Gate Keeper is a person, a foreign character who invites curiosity and once the player engages they are invited or entreated to join the game. They could dramatically interrupt, rapidly intruding on the everyday with demands for aid, or they could skulk mysteriously at the edges until someone notices the person who doesn’t fit and goes to investigate. They could seek out certain players and entrust them with pieces of the puzzle. They could be friendly riddle askers or dark mysterious strangers.
If the game is meant to closely align with reality, an official announcement from the normal authorities can lend immediate weight and reality to the game. Perhaps if the game involves a threat or need to solve a problem the normal authorities could make a strange request to stay out of the forest or report any strange encounters to an adult. Children are used to adults hiding the truth from them, so any mysterious statements invite curiosity and investigation.
Something is Off
Perhaps the game starts as a game, all the rules established and teams sent off – but then something seems wrong or off and gradually the game becomes more and more real. This requires walking a fine line because there is a danger that kids will think the game real. This is closest to the way that normal ARGs invite players, there is no invitation or indication that a game has started. The player is simply meant to notice that something is off. It blurs the line between real and game more than any other so it is more important than ever for facilitators to carefully monitor the boundaries of the game and behavior of the players.
Can you think of any others?