The Malthusian Paradox

The Malthusian Paradox was a free to experience and highly immersive transmedia narrative. The story played out both online and in real life across the East Midlands between 15th October and 16th December 2012. With over 500 live events and interventions taking place in Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Corby and Sleaford.

The work started with the first live event ‘Whose Holy Grail? – A lecture by Dr Solomon Baxter‘ on the 15th October. Dr Baxter has been working with an underground environmental campaign group known as AMBER, and he has secrets to share that ‘they’ don’t want the public to know. Halfway through the lecture, 3 armed men burst in assaulted and then abducted Dr Solomon in front of an unsuspecting live audience. Dr Solomon’s estranged daughter, Rachel Baxter, was also in the audience and makes herself known by having an argument with our other main character Alex Bailey, in full view of the audience she then reveals that her farther left her an envelope containing a number of clues before his sudden abduction. At this point the audience members are all given an envelope identical to Rachel’s and encouraged to join AMBER and the game begins.

The most intense and controversial interaction within the work was undoubtedly the kidnapping and interrogation of the audience. An undercover informant contacted and met one-to-one with participants to hand over an object left by Dr Solomon Baxter before his disappearance. But the location was compromised by TFT who somehow got wind of the meeting and had other plans for the unsuspecting AMBER Agents…

Two academic papers The Malthusian Paradox: performance in an alternate reality game and The Production Dynamics of Alternate Reality Games have been published based on research conducted during The Malthusian Paradox.

The papers explore the design of the game, production challenges in the process, key professional skills, working attitudes, and relationships that sit behind ARGs’ complex narratives.  The Malthusian Paradox casts players as agents of a radical organisation attempting to uncover the truth behind a kidnapping and a sinister biotech corporation. The project redefined performative frames by blurring conventional performer and spectator roles in sometimes discomforting ways. Players participated in the game via a broad spectrum of interaction channels, including performative group spectacles and 1-to-1 engagements with game characters in public settings, making use of low and high-tech physical and online artefacts including bespoke and third-party websites. Players and game characters communicated via telephony and social media in both a designed and an ad hoc manner. The paper reflects on the production and orchestration of the game, including the dynamic nature of the strong episodic narrative driven by short films created entity using mobile phones that attempted to respond to the actions of players and the difficulty of designing for engagement across hybrid and temporally expansive performance space. Suggesting that an ARG whose boundaries are necessarily unclear affords rich and emergent, but potentially unsanctioned and uncontrolled, opportunities for interactive performance, which raises significant challenges for design.

The associated research was supported by the Mixed Reality Laboratory and Horizon Digital Economy Research.

To see more photos and video from the project check out the Flickr Gallery and YouTube Channel.

During the project participants where encouraged to created their own blogs to document their experiences and promote AMBER. A few examples of these sites are listed below:

A big thank you goes to all the organisations and venues who have partnered with us and supported the project from the very beginning. We couldn’t have done it without you.
GameCity7, Nottingham Contemporary, Phoenix Square, Derby QUAD, The National Centre for Craft and Design, Montana Shop Nottingham

The Malthusian Paradox was a joint Urban AngelCovernomics and Mixed Reality Lab production. The project was also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.