ARG-tastic Material (ARG=Augmented Reality Game)

University of Pittsburgh Library ID Card Listing ExampleAugment or alternative reality games combine the digital and the physical to create innovative and interactive games. Notable examples could include geocaching games, and games where players decode information on websites to find information on other websites, call or email the “decrypted” phone numbers or email addresses, or any one of many other activities based on the information learned from the digital site. The real play of ARGs comes through in the back-and-forth from digital to non-digital and in the gaming communities these types of games create. While I’m familiar with ARGs from game studies, it seems like some library and archival materials almost invoke the concept with as oddities that seem to need to be used in some way.

The image above is an example from the USX National Defense Program, Identification Card Listings – 1940’s Series (Source: UE/Labor 91:6, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh.). The University of Pittsburgh Library’s website explains the origin of these ID cards:

In the 1940’s, workers at US Steel’s National Works (sometimes known as the Tube Works) in McKeesport, were photographed for identification cards, which also provide social data on individual workers. The Archives Service Center is hereby making available a name index to its collection of these cards, numbering more than 10,000 in all, approximately 25% of which contain the abovementioned thumb-nail sized photographs. The social data on the cards have thus far been used for a variety of scholarly research projects: e.g. for a study and oral history on women crane operators at the National Works during WWII and for a book on Jews of Hungarian background who worked there. By combining cards belonging to members of a given, defined group, one can form conclusions about the connections between race/ethnicity and job classification or promotion, or about the geographic origins of selected groups.

The card almost calls out to be used in a game that requires additional research, making it perfect fodder or inspiration for an ARG. With so many related materials on the University of Pittsburgh Library’s site, and with material from places like the Typographical Union,
I’m amazed this hasn’t yet figured into an ARG already. Of course maybe it has, but I just haven’t found it yet. At any rate, wondrous materials like this seem to hide or simply sit waiting in all libraries and museums. Given their historical significance, ability to inspire, and usability for projects like ARGs, it’s hopefully only a matter of time until we all stumble across them through a game or an internet search.