THATCamp Games Invasion Postmortem

THATCamp Games Invasion Postmortem

To get participants in the spirit of THATCamp Games, we wanted to run a mini alternate reality game in the background. I created THATCamp Games Invasion, a short puzzle-based narrative centered around the unexpected convergence of “characters” on the University of Maryland campus. What brought these characters out of their digital haunts and into the cold of the physical world? And who was the mysterious investigator asking THATCamp participants to be on their guard throughout the weekend?

The rabbit hole was a simple website chronicling the investigation. Wanted posters from the “Invasion Monitor” around the premises alerted participants to the hunt.


On the website itself, the first “invader” marked the concentration of sightings at Tawes Hall, our headquarters on campus. It also carried a message from “I.M.”

THATCamp Invasion: Investigator’s Log

It used to be an easy gig, patrolling the boundaries between their world and ours. They kept to their screens and pixels, and the outside world was still ours. But something went wrong—the borders between worlds are breaking down. There are Characters popping up everywhere, and they aren’t all the friendly anthromorphs from kids’ games.

I’ve tracked them down to a central point where the rift seems to keep widening with every passing hour. If you’re in range of this location, I recommend you use caution and keep an eye out for any stray characters. You never know who’s tagging along for the ride.

It’s possible they’re all here for some purpose. Maybe you can figure it out—or maybe you’re one of Them. I’ll be monitoring the situation to make sure this invasion is contained. If you spot anything suspicious, announce it on Twitter with the hashtag #thatcamp #invasion. I’ll be waiting.

–I.M.

I.M. also appeared on Twitter, as the “Invasion Monitor” posting photos of “character sightings.”

The same invader who marked the spot on the map offered clues to the next location, which were placed near gathering points throughout the conference:

Each QR code pointed to an encrypted message (designed by John Murray) with half of the coordinates to a rendezvous point at the UMUC conference center. An additional message was “hidden” in the code of the invasion page:

<!–
//#BEGIN_CODED_MESSAGE
//seek your fortune at the Oracle
//#END_CODED_MESSAGE
//–>

Those who made it to the “Oracle” were given another clue: “There were two items handed to you at checkout that are more than they appear. Decipher them to complete your mission.” One of the items was the THATCamp Games t-shirt, with a puzzle on the back:

(Amanda Visconti designed the shirt, and you can read more about it and her other THATCamp Games designs in her blog.)

This message combined with the black and white images on every participant’s badge: avatars that were chosen either based on favorite video game characters or other information found online. (Each character was unique, and intended to provide participants with an icebreaker for conversation–and also to help people with shared favorite games find one another!) Once deciphered, the two items encouraged participants to “be” the character they’d been assigned.

Completing the ARG required finding all four “characters” from the Wanted Posters and returning photos of them to the “Invasion Monitor.” Several participants made it to or near this end goal. Thanks everyone who played!

3 Comments


  1. It was a blast – I deciphered the QRs, the hidden IM message, and the Morse code, which led me (due to a bit of confusion on Google Maps about the precise location of the coordinates) to have an interesting five minutes with a campus police officer who was concerned about the (apparently) suspicious-looking character loitering about outside the hotel…! I didn’t, alas, follow through with the second half of the mission, but had a wonderful time nonetheless.


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