Category Archives: Games

Porthampton City is growing!

When I first started developing the idea for my enterprise Authentic Learning Activity (ALA), which is set in the virtual city called Porthampton, I always had a vision that the city would expand to contain more “properties” than the small number that I initially “built”.  This sounds like a rather daft statement – what do I mean?

My vision is that other teachers (within my university or externally) would decide to develop similar units, using the same ALA principles, but rather than re-inventing the wheel, and developing the whole thing from scratch, they would set their activity within Porthampton also.  This opens up lots of exciting possibilities, including:

  1. Sharing of common resources such as the Porthampton Council and Porthampton Bugle websites. So, for example, any teacher could write and publish any number of  stories relevant to their own context on the Bugle website.  This would also have the effect of increasing the content richness of these sites, which in turn means they end-up looking and feeling more realistic (I tried to do this myself initially by adding content which was not at all useful for my students such as the Porthampton FC weekly match results).  Why is this advantageous? A site like the Porthampton Bugle that only contained information that was relevant to the unit’s context would look contrived (and I am trying to make this look as realistic as possible) but also I think it is important that the students have to work at seeking-out important information whilst filtering content which may not be so useful. It is cognitively more challenging and encourages them to think more deeply about the context.
  2. The potential for students to collaborate across programmes and institutions.  My ALA  students are learning basic business knowledge and skills and putting these into practice by dealing with a simulated client (a rather dodgy clothes shop with lots of problems).  With careful coordination I can imagine a scenario where students, who for example are participating in a web design ALA, might work in collaboration with my students to quote for and build a website for this client too.  My students would have partly answered their brief by recommending that they develop a new web presence for the client whilst the web design students would develop the site.  Another example might be to engage students from a journalism ALA unit to develop and put into to operation a PR strategy for the same client (the Porthampton Bugle site would provide the perfect platform for delivery of this).  I love this idea of students having to collaborate professionally in this way – it really extends the traditional classroom based learning paradigm.
  3. Each ALA is likely to be fairly unique, each requiring at least one new business or organisation to be “present” within the City.  This will mean more Porthampton based websites which can be inter-linked and added to the growing city map.  The simulated environment becomes so much richer for participating students as a result and the richer the environment the more realistic it feels.

I can announce that we have two new ALAs currently in development by academics who are really excited by these possibilities and who are therefore building their own scenarios within the walls of Porthampton City.  One is at Leeds University and will be a social enterprise unit and the other is at Abertay University and is related to health sciences.  How cool!  We are currently developing the new ALA’s in collaboration and, although it is early days, have some exciting ideas about how we can start to blur the boundaries between each of them so that the students will interact with each other.

Both new units will run in 2011-12 academic year so watch this space.  I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you fancy developing your own ALA unit please get in touch.  There’s lots of real-estate available in the City, the planning process is a doddle, rents are cheap and we’d love to have you.

The Mayor is waiting for your call. 😀



    Authentic Learning Activities for when simulations are not quite enough

    On 2nd September I presented at the International Enterprise Educators Conference which this year was held in Cardiff.

    The title of my talk was “Alternate Reality Games for Enterprise Education: Bridging the reality gap between simulation and authentic experience“.

    I don’t have much time to expand at the moment but you can view the slides, which I think are fairly self-explanatory, on Slideshare, here:

    Using an Alternate Reality Game to Teach Enterprise

    This article was originally submitted as a poster presentation at the International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference, Edinburgh, 2009.  I was pleased to win the poster prize for this contribution.

    You can download a printable pdf of the original poster here: IEEC 2009 Poster.


    Entrepreneurial learning is enhanced when learners:

    • are immersed in authentic or near-real experiences (transformed into knowledge and understanding-1)
    • are able to reflect on these experiences
    • are able to synthesise key concepts by construction of links between theory and practice (a deep approach to learning-2)
    • are motivated and engaged
    • are allowed to imitate, experiment (play) in a safe (low-risk) environment

    Simulations, case-studies, role-plays and, more recently, computer-based simulations (hereafter collectively referred to as “simulation(s)”) are the commonly used experiential teaching “tools” employed to approximate realistic experiences.

    Although becoming more sophisticated these interventions are generally unconvincing proxies for real life experiences often requiring a large leap of imagination on the part of the participating students.

    The best experiential teaching techniques shrink the “reality gap” (figure 1) that exists between classroom “simulation” and authentic life experience (the wider the gap – the harder the participant has to work to suspend their disbelief).

    A functional hallmark of Alternate Reality Game (ARG) design is the use of immersive techniques to blur the boundary between what is story and what is reality (ARGs are often referred to as immersive games).

    These same techniques (see “2. What is an ARG?”) are to be employed in a taught enterprise unit in an attempt to create what might be termed a hyperreal simulation or hyperreality – an experience that will produce a sense of realism far in excess of that of traditional “simulations”

    A well designed ARG based unit also provides the opportunity to enhance student motivation and engagement through the use of techniques employed by traditional game designers (competition, reward etc).

    reality gap

    What is an Alternate Reality Game (ARG)?

    “Alternate Reality Games take the substance of everyday life and weave it into narratives that layer additional meaning, depth, and interaction upon the real world.”3

    Alternate Reality Games (ARG’s) tell rich, interactive stories through narrative elements that are distributed across various platforms.

    Pieces of the story are distributed online or off across multiple mediums. These may include websites, blog posts, email, video clips (maybe on youtube, television or cinema), audio clips (podcasts, voicemail messages, radio broadcasts), print ads in magazines and newspapers, billboards, posters in shops, payphones (cards or real-time calls), people with placards on streets and packages sent through the post.

    The stories are carefully concealed from players until appropriate moments determined by the game designer(s) or ‘puppetmasters’.

    Game play involves players working collaboratively (often globally) using email, phone/sms contact, real-time interactions and extensive online engagement to solve problems (puzzles) revealed through the narrative.

    Players of ARG’s often develop strong emotional connections with the story characters who are designed to appear as real people. Devices such as real-time communication with the players (using blogs, social networks, video, VOIP, sms, telephone, online chat etc) and development of realistic, rich character histories make this possible (Figure 2).


    Instead of requiring the player to enter a fictional game world, ARG designers attempt to enmesh the game within the fabric of the player’s real world by harnessing as many media technologies and interfaces as possible. By doing so, ARG’s expand the frame for the game beyond the computer monitor or television screen, effectively making the entire world the “game board.” (above modified after 4).

    ARG players report unprecedented levels of immersion in the presented narratives as well as high levels of engagement.

    Why ARGs for Enterprise Education? (after 5)

    Realistic, interactive narrative (characters/story)

    • Not just a “normal” simulation / roleplay. Extends the simulation
    • paradigm towards authentic experience
    • Contextualised – the narrative can be modified to fit ANY real-life
    • situation
    • Experiential – application of theory in a low-threat, realistic
    • environment

    Self directed play – influence on outcomes

    • Ownership / responsibility for learning
    • Enquiry/research based
    • Facilitates critical (deep) academic thinking
    • Motivating

    Progress and rewards (leaderboard and prizes)

    • Provides incentive, motivation, competition, sense of achievement, fun!(feedback/reflection)
    • Regular delivery of new problems/events
    • Key to maintaining engagement/interest
    • Large, active communities
    • All the benefits of learning in groups (collaborative, self-supportive, peer feedback, vicarious learning)
    • Development of teamworking skills

    Novel method of delivery

    • Engagement, Fun, Motivation

    Utilises Existing technologies

    • Removes barriers = Buy-in
    • Promotes engagement

    The Unit: Enterprise in Context (Level One, 10 Credits, One Semester)

    The Scenario

    Students will be participating in an Undergraduate Training Programme (UTP) run, in collaboration with Portsmouth Centre for Enterprise, by a company who specialise in turning around failing businesses.  The company is called Phoenix UK Ltd.


    Phoenix UK Ltd has directors, employees, a history, a web presence, email addresses, Skype and Twitter accounts.  The managing director is a character called Simon Brookes!! Simon will be running the UTP.

    Phoenix UK Ltd are based in the City of Porthampton which has a council (, a newspaper –  The Porthampton Bugle
    ( and a football team (non-league!).


    In small groups the students will be working with a “real” business that is suffering financially.  Their task is to turnaround the fortunes of this failing business.

    The failing company, Salter & Son, is a rather old-fashioned, high street, gentlemen’s outfitter whose “brand” and product range leave much to be desired!


    Salter & Son, also based in Porthampton, has a new Managing Director (Craig Salter) and several key staff who deal with different areas of the business; Christine Parker – Marketing; Barry Scott – Finance.

    photos The scene is set!


    Mostly self-directed (or guided self-research), usually in response to triggers from Salter & Son employees.

    The students will need to communicate and work closely with each of Salter & Son’s key personnel in order to get the information they need to make their final recommendations.

    Communication will be through email, conference calls, online chat, video and traditional mail (Students will receive packages through the post sent from Salter&Son Employees).

    As the unit progresses the students will learn about the basics of marketing (retail slant), business finance, business management and personnel issues (the unit learning outcomes).

    Several workshops or master-classes will supplement the students own research, delivered by “external consultants” (in reality academics role-playing consultants).

    Students will need to keep on their toes and be ready to respond to the clients requests, moods and whims. There will be some surprises!


    Assessment one – small group presentation to the client (in this case Craig Salter) on the findings of a “best practice” fieldtrip the students will have undertaken in a local high street (students also have an opportunity to spend some time interviewing the owners of several local clothes retailers).

    Assessment two – individual short answer tests.  At five points throughout the unit each student will receive an email from a Salter & Son employee which will contain questions pertaining to that employees area of responsibility (marketing, finance etc).  The answers emailed back to the client will be assessed.  These marks also contribute towards the Phoenix UK Leaderboard™ score (see “The Leaderboard”).


    Assessment three is designed to encourage the students to reflect on their performance as a member of a team.  Every fortnight the students will self- and peer-assess each other’s teamwork performance against a number of pre-selected criteria.  An individual 500 word essay reflecting on their overall performance will be assessed.  The total mark at each assessment also contributes towards the Phoenix UK Leaderboard™ score (see The Leaderboard).

    Assessment four is a group submitted, 2000 word report, written for the benefit of the failing company, Salter & Son.  This report will include all of the students’ recommendations (marketing, financial, personnel etc.).

    The Leaderboard

    A bespoke, online leaderboard has been developed for this unit.

    Throughout the duration of the unit students are given marks for various tasks completed (answers submitted to client’s questions and also for teamwork contribution).

    These marks convert to scores which will be added to the Phoenix UK leaderboard.

    Students will be able to view their scores and those of their colleagues online, throughout the programme.

    At the end, prizes will be awarded to the highest scoring individual and also the highest scoring team.

    The leaderboard was included as a way of introducing an element of competition (this is a game!) and fun to the unit.


    1.    Stokes, D. (2009, March 26). Action learning tools for building self-efficacy and entrepreneurial skills. Paper presented at Essential Tools for Entrepreneurship Education, University of Reading. Retrieved August 25, 2009,

    2.    Biggs, J. (1999) What the Student Does: teaching for Enhanced Learning. Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 18: 1, 57-75.).

    3.    Martin, A., Thompson, B. & Chatfield, T. (2006). Alternate Reality Games White Paper – IGDA ARG SIG. Retrieved August 26, 2009 from

    4.    What is an ARG? (2008). Retrieved August 26, 2009, from the website:

    5.    Mosely, A. (2008). An Alternative Reality for Higher Education? Lessons to be learned from online reality games. Retrieved January 28, 2009,

    6.    Harvey dent demo photo. Retrieved august 29 2009 from

    7.    Phillips, Andrea. “Deep Water.” (July 26, 2001) Access: May 6, 2002.