Our sixth guest blogger is Troels Barkholt-Spangsbo from Copenhagen. He’s a Danish larper and larpwright, who’s had his fingers, among other things, in The White Road, Tre grader af uskyld and System Danmarc that were mentioned in Pervasive Games. He reports his experience of SecretCPH.
SecretCPH was something in between a larp, an ARG and a reality game. As players you played the part of agents from three different agencies which competed with each other to find a secret which had arrived in Copenhagen. The game ran for two weeks, from Sunday the 8th to Sunday the 22nd of November. The game was mostly based on QR Codes, two-dimensional barcodes readable with mobile phone software such as BeeTagg Multicode Reader.
The introduction to the game was a clue hidden in Ørstedsparken, Copenhagen. The clue led you to a registration page, where you signed up for the game and chose an agency. I was notified of the game by way of their Facebook group and registered on their website.
Your agency gave you different missions on a personal webpage, which you scored point by completing. For example, in an early mission you had to photograph yourself in action (my agency Kappa9 was branded as modern action heroes, so I of course made pictures of myself attacking other people). The Network (another agency branded as cold-war spies) instead had to break a code. Later missions included choosing a safe house, which we photographed and uploaded to our agency-network-page. The game also featured a few missions including physical action for example one, where we stalked a courier and planted a barcode chip on him – we successfully delivered by sneaking close to him and dropping it in his backpack.
The last mission of the game was a timed run between the agencies. The evil agent Bartok had killed the courier and now dared the players to win in a game to free another agent, “The Lady”. Each agency was limited to choosing one participant for the last mission, which I found a bit strange. Typically in ARGs they try to gather as many players as possible to the end event. We were all invited to a live event which concluded the game. The original, now dead, courier was replaced by his former handler, so the story of the secret was circular and returned to its starting point with the secret leaving Copenhagen yet again.
All in all, it was a great game, it was good fun to participate and do missions. However, if I had not known so many of the other players beforehand, there might have been less chance of me following the game through to the end. This was because it was quite confusing to keep up with the different communication channels. In the end I was following three web pages and receiving both in- and off-game information by email (see SecretCPH in Ning, Twitter and Facebook,).
The missions sometimes required very short reaction time: one mission required you to be someplace in the center of Copenhagen two hours after the mission briefing was accessible on your personal page.
Its hard to tell exactly how many players we’re involved in the game. I met eight active players and know that there was at least three more. There was however many more profiles created on the different network-pages but I don’t know whether any of them were active. Participation was free — except that I got tired of the lousy internet-browser on my old cellphone and felt the urge to buy an iPhone during the game.
I fancy myself a larper first and foremost, and therefore feel an urge to compare it to larps. I have organized larps which had many similarities to this game. SecretCPH had a lot of the trappings of regular role-play, such as characters, a story and a common fiction: For instance, we were asked to create agents with codenames and choose an agency with a clear identity, and of course those personas evolved a bit during the game. On the other hand, SecretCPH did not expect or encourage role-play. There was a little social interaction with non-player characters, but it was very limited and only concerned a single player from each agency in the last mission. For the rest of the game we were told to stay away from the Courier, The Lady or the evil agent. And finally there was no way the players could possibly change the outcome of the story.
To summarize: SecretCPH placed itself between several genres. Somewhat an ARG – but it was mainly happening in the physical world. Somewhat a larp – but it shared small-to-none creative rights with the players. Somewhat a game – but you had no way of comparing you point score with other agents. But on the same time it played to some of the strengths of the different categories – the mystique of ARG, the live experience with costumes and doing weird stuff of larp, and the recognizable form of game-like missions.
SecretCPH was run by Adam Mayes of Ludic Nation, as a beta test of the game system. Apparently the plan is to run something similar at Roskilde Festival in 2010.
Photos by the author, taken as a part of the game.