Building an ARGhive, part 1
This blog entry is the first in a series on building ARGhives.
For the current class project, groups of three or four students are preparing presentations and archives related to alternate reality games. I call these "ARGHives," pun most certainly intended. Preserving these things is important, and it's hard to do. As the recently published report on Preserving Virtual Worlds makes clear, the permanence of digital content cannot be taken for granted. Among other, cultural concerns, it's simply in the best interest of ARG and transmedia scholarship generally speaking to have more things to study, and right now, it's somewhat difficult to write meaningfully about a large majority of already-completed ARGs, because there simply is no extant textual artifact to examine. Put more simply, I can tell you about my experience playing and following along with several ARGs, but unless you played them too, you're not going to be able to evaluate the validity my analysis of that experience. This project aims to do something about that for six currently-running (or very recently completed) ARG campaigns.
Therefore, the first part of our process is going to be being handled through Zotero, which we're currently using to collect and document ARG-related artifacts. In what follows and what will follow, I want to talk about the workflow of this project and point toward the next steps. If you're in a student in this class: consider these your instructions. Everyone else: these are some concepts and methods for archiving transmedia artifacts, and I'd love your input.
So Zotero is step 1, and step 2 starts soon, using Omeka to build a publicly-accessible exhibit of a contemporary ARG campaign, using various tools within Omeka to provide context and a sense of narrative to the artifacts already collected. For this to work, we're using Zotero groups and, eventually, three Omeka plugins: Timeline, ExhibitBuilder and (most importantly) Zotero Import.
Getting Organized: Collecting
This workflow is going to involve several key units, so I want to start at the widest view on both sides, and then zoom in. On the input size (Zotero), students are already working in teams, gathering data as appropriate and reflecting along the way on what makes a particular item worth saving. Having a logical collection (folder) structure is an essential part of staying on top of this ARGhive, which will grow quickly. Using tags is also a good way to link items together and start hinting at their context.
An important in the Zotero toolkit is the Web Snapshot item type, which is the most generic item type, really. It's the default "Create item from current page" button, which saves a copy of the html and other files needed to view the webpage later, even offline, and even add comments and highlights to the page itself. Now, the snapshot is great for viewing inside of Firefox, but it doesn't export the web page in a way that's easy to embed or share with someone outside of Zotero. For this reason, I'm suggesting that students use Screengrab (or something similar) to scrape an image of each significant web page, which can then be added to the item as a file attachment. The screencast below summarizes this process:
In addition, good notes are essential to creating and reminding yourself about a sense of context. In fact, whenever you create an item, whatever the type, attach a note providing context for that item. This is more important than in the context of research, since narrative context needs to be conveyed with the object, even in isolation. In research uses, by contrast, context is provided by the organizational structure, which is often task oriented. For example, I have a folder in my library called Research, and in that folder, I have a folder called Channel F. The documents in this folder, therefore, have something to do with my Research on the Channel F game console.
Removed from that folder context, this item (a webpage documenting how the F8 processor works) isn't likely to mean much to most people.
All of this -- collection, organization, documentation -- is important for the collection stage, because it will make the dissemination stage go much more smoothly. I'll talk about disseminating these ARGhives in my next post.