We are second-year students in the course Design for Virtual Theatre and Games at Utrecht School of the Arts. We got our assignment to create a “Reality Game”, with three possible themes and three possible forms. These included Trees, Water, Inheritance as themes and Gamification, Alternate Reality Games, Urban Games as forms. For three weeks we developed a few concepts for three combinations of these themes and forms, and eventually came out with Shrines, a concept based on Urban Games with Inheritance as theme.
We decided we wanted to create a game which used the existing GeoCache system. GeoCaches are hidden treasures around the world, hidden by GeoCachers, who post their GPS co-ordinates on a central website, along with a few hints, puzzles and riddles. Other GeoCachers then must find these hidden boxes or objects using the co-ordinates and possible hints, and sign their name on a logbook, and on the website. GeoCachers are an enthusiastic community of hobbyists from families to middle-aged men, very broad, and very inquisitive. We figured they’d be a brilliant group to design a game for!
We quickly came to some ideas for mechanics which allowed for players to voluntarily step into the game world, find hidden caches not on the central database, and collect tokens in order to gain territorial control over certain real-world areas. It started off as a strategic game, simply put. Conquer territories through discovering caches.
Through some brainstorming, quite a bit of beer, and even more cigarettes, oh and some ingenious game mechanics, we got to the conclusion that we needed a good declarative layer. In other words, we needed a good story to immerse the players into this world. We already had a simple set of rules, now we needed the story to explain it. We thought of the central “territorial” spots as shrines. Important places where offerings could be placed to please someone or something, and to further solutions to your problems. You would have to conquer these shrines by simply placing more offerings. With another few beers we decided that you, the player, would slowly become aware of the fact that, through playing this game, by collecting offerings in hidden caches, and placing them at a central shrine, you were helping a whole underworld of fairies, fae-folk, gnomes, you name it, that sort of matchstick-sized humanoid fantasy stuff, to gain power in each of these shrines. Each sort of fairy would have a different offering they’d need: dice, buttons, dried plants, bones and teeth, feathers. Depending on what you find, and where your sympathies lie, you would work with other players of your same fairy, in order to get as many offerings to shrines, or trade with other players and the fairies themselves for what you need to progress through the game.
But these fairies aren’t Tinklebells and pink fluttering cute things (well okay maybe some), but fickle, dangerous and unpredictable. They may want to help you, but in the end they’re in it for their own gain!