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Lindley Estes covers the University of Mary Washington for fredericksburg.com and The Free Lance-Star.
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What is that Mary Washemon thing we’ve all been hearing about?

RELATED: See more UMW news

The University of Mary Washington‘s Fredericksburg campus became the site of one, large game this week. A campus-specific Pokemon game called Mary Washemon, to be exact.

Students in Zach Whalen’s class English 359: Transmedia Fiction developed a transmedia campaign, which he calls “real world massively multiplayer game.”

The gameplay is modeled after Pokemon, a video game in which players capture “pokemon” and then send them into battle against one another. For the students, the pokemon will be places and people on campus, and players will “capture” these items by taking pictures on their mobile phones. “Battle” will be entirely digital.

Battle is tailored to each professor. For example, in the English department poets Luke Johnson and Jon Pineda’s primary attacks are called “Poetry Slam,” while Chair Gary Richard’s attack is called “Bookworm Brutality,” and communications expert Anand Rao uses a “Grammar Grenade.”

This game will run from Nov. 18 – 25.

Check out the Creature Index and an intro video from Whalen to learn more about the game. Keep your eyes peeled to this website created for the game as well.

Here is a Q&A with Whalen about Transmedia Fiction and the game:

How would you describe your transmedia class? What are they learning?

Whalen: “This is a class teaching students about Transmedia Storytelling, which is a narrative phenomenon where multiple media channels are coordinated in telling a single story. We studied The Blair Witch Project, for example, because its success depended not just on the film but also on (among many other things) the website created by the film’s producers that elaborated the fictional mythology of the Blair Witch. The connectedness of digital media makes transmedia storytelling more and more commonplace, so I want students to learn how to think critically about how transmedia works. For my class, that starts with a historical and literary context, but like in many different areas, learning by doing creates a better outcome as well as a better experience.”

And how does this project help them learn?

Whalen: “Primarily, I want students to learn what goes into producing transmedia fiction and alternate reality games — the planning, design, production — so they can use that experience and knowledge to become better critics of transmedia. Beyond that, I think it’s true that “monomedia” is increasingly complex and coordinated. Think of something like “Lost,” for example.  It takes a community of viewers to understand and work with a text like “Lost,” just as it takes a community of producers (writers, directors, artists, actors, crew) to make “Lost” in the first place. This “many to many” textuality is a reality that complicates how students think about texts. Even in literature, it’s never really been as simple as a “one to one” conversation between author and reader, and the evident complexity of something like transmedia hopefully leads students to asking those kinds of questions.

Secondarily, this project involves a lot of different kinds of work, so they’re learning about things like game design, video production, and social media marketing. If nothing else, working with a team this large is a challenge, so we’re learning the importance of project management and organization.”

What are the rules?

Whalen: “Players can participate in the game by capturing MaryWashemon (find the list at MaryWashedex.umwblogs.org), “battling” those MaryWashemon in our app (marywashemon.com/app), and then defeating evil, extra-powerful characters in a series of gym events. Ultimately, players are working to defeat “Mr. H” so that Professor Maple can restore order to the MaryWashiverse. Players capture marywashemon by taking their picture and submitting it (marywashemon.tumblr.com/submit). There are basic privacy and courtesy rules for taking these pictures, and general rules directing students not to trespass or disrupt class.

On a related note, it’s worth emphasizing that the product we’re running with is very much an in-progress kind of thing. We’ve been casually calling it a “beta,” but really “alpha” would probably be more accurate. Which is to say, it does usually work, sort of, but there are going to be plenty of glitches. From my perspective, dealing with those is part of the pedagogy, but for players, we’ll probably have to ask for patience. Some of my students have talked about spending next semester refining it into to a shippable product, but for now, it’s nowhere near that.”

What will the outcome look like? 

Whalen: “The endgame is that, if any player is powerful enough, the big bad guy (Mr. H) will be defeated and order will be restored. If no “real” players achieve this, we’ll probably plant one of us with a sufficiently powerful team to pull it off. This should happen next Monday.”

What impact will it have on the campus/community? What physical evidence will there be of the game on campus? What is available digitally?

Whalen: “Physical evidence will just be the advertising and publicity. Physical gameplay consists of capture, so you might see people taking pictures. Combat blends digital and in-person contact, so people may be doing that as well. The gym events, sort of like mini boss battles, will be taking place throughout the week. The first is tomorrow afternoon in Combs. Here, players will encounter an experienced trainer (Wesley) and attempt to defeat him. If they do, they’ll receive a clue for where to find and hopefully defeat the next member of the evil Team Crapogee.”

What will each day of the game entail? Will there be more videos? Rankings?

Whalen: “Our two main characters (Professor Maple and Vincent Rice) at least will be posting on Twitter and publishing video throughout the week, and we’re going to try and record the gym events as well. Player ranking will also be a thing, but I’m still working on programming that into our database.”

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