Pentagon eyes alternate-reality games

Posted by Shane McGlaun

The research arm of the United States intelligence community is known as IARPA, an acronym for the Intelligence Advanced Research Agency.

Recently, the agency announced it was looking for designers to create alternate-reality games also known as ARGs - which shouldn't be confused with augmented reality video games.

Rather, an alternate-reality game is something that takes place in the real world, but clues to set off these real world events are offered across a wide variety of media including TV and in particular, the Internet.

The goal is to create a narrative structure to get people involved in the storyline of the game where their actions can have an effect on the outcome. These alternate-reality games, or simulations, often involve hundreds of people and a number of actors.

IARPA says that it wants to craft some of these alternate-reality games to help learn more about human psychology and social behavior. As such, the agency is seeking designers for a project known as UAREHERE.

IARPA says, "[UAREHERE] may provide capabilities that allow for high-quality, externally valid social, behavioral and psychological research in near-real world contexts."

There are some key pieces of information about the game that are deliberately omitted from the official IARPA announcement. For instance, the specific intelligence function the game is expected to serve remains unknown, while the agency declines to say who the players will be - even if one of the challenges outlined by the request for designers is how players should be screened and recruited.

Under the current budget crunch in Washington, it remains to be seen if the research agency can get the funding to pull this off. Personally, I hope the budget ultimately does go through, because it would be pretty cool to see a government-backed alternate-reality game in action.