What if instead of playing a game, you felt it? What if instead of reading about adventure, you understood it by the haunt of light surrounding you, or the play of the unknown lurking just beneath the boring and familiar? What if instead of visiting another world, you found yourself already in the midst of it?
Daybreak, a real-time, real-life event for one or two, takes place in the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library and allows players to discover, by looking with eyes newly awakened to wonder, a narrative hidden in the signs, books, and even in messages written in UV sensitive ink throughout the Reg. Daybreak is not just a game, but an expedition into three different worlds in order to uncover a creation myth that precedes all creation myths. Borrowing and re-envisioning a video game concept of light and dark worlds (as in The Legend of Zelda, Legacy of Kane, Castlevania 2, and a number of Final Fantasy games), Daybreak introduces the universe as a triptych. The ordinary world, as the centerpiece of this triptych, is the overlap of the Light and the Dark realms, and the player, once he or she knows what to look for, can discover this world and, perhaps, become a part of it.
The game forces players to re-experience familiar settings in unfamiliar, even frightening ways, requiring, for instance, players to “enter the dark world” by turning the bathroom lights out to usher in the pitch darkness required to read previously invisible glow-in-the-dark messages on the walls, or to use UV flashlights to read notes and hints written in plain sight in order to proceed to the next (subverted) Regenstein environment. Ultimately, the game fosters an experience that paints our world as one that is constantly in a state of liminality and transition and where those elements should be embraced.
Taking the form of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG)—a genre of game which, unlike video or board games often takes place in the real world and across undefined boundaries of media and time—Daybreak is a “puzzlehunt” that uses light as a mechanic for altering the Reg, a study space well-known by much of our player base. Players must often expose game elements to the correct lighting (brightness, UV, or darkness) in order to advance, capitalizing on the transformative (and symbolic) effect of light on our perception. Many messages appear blank until either back-lit (shining a light behind the paper to reveal messages) or viewed under blacklight. This de-contextualization of the ordinary world encourages exploration, as well as a bit of detective work. Clues hidden in plain sight and subtle additions to the environment illustrate the powerful effects of atmosphere and usher in new modes of discovery in a place of such familiarity that the base parts of its form are practically ignored.
With the combination of an intriguing narrative, innovative puzzles, and a unique atmospheric experience that involves re-imagining the environment without ever actually altering it, Daybreak is a challenging and unique gameplay experience that explores and redefines ARGs as a medium both for storytelling and for affective experience. The game is extremely cheap, “resettable” (able to be quickly set up again for the next player) and, uniquely, can operate well under a “set-and-forget” model, which allows players to accidentally or passively discover a world in the ways that characters like Alice (of Wonderland) or Dorothy (of Oz) discover worlds. This is diametrically opposed to the traditional, deliberate—and in some ways discovery-destroying—ways we are used to experiencing new worlds: by picking up a book, turning on a movie, or loading up a game we expect will undertake a form of discovery. In these ways, Daybreak is both a game and an artistic, emotive experience the likes of which are so scarce in the market as to be practically invisible.
-By CTA (Rachel Hwang, Andy Jordan, Elizabeth Perkins, and Keith Wilson)