Breakthrough (ANOMIE) Evaluation
2010 to 2011

ANOMIE is an online, multi-player alternative reality game set in a fictional, dystopian future in which the United States has fragmented into a collection of smaller confederacies of politically like-minded states. The goal of the game is to introduce players to the migration experiences of various groups throughout American history and to encourage player consideration of the value of diversity in political and civic life.

Using Facebook as the game's base site, players will solve weekly puzzles built around historical artifacts relating to immigration/migration experiences in U.S. history. The puzzles necessitate visits to virtual sites, such as YouTube and Twitter, as well as real-world visits to museums in order to search for clues and resources. Through choices they make in the game, players will have the opportunity each week to support one of two forces in the game world: the coalition arguing for dissolution of a central government or the coalition that supports a continuing union of the states. In addition to playing the game, players will also contribute to discussions and dialogue about immigration issues within the context of the game through an online forum and by electing to answer optional questions in the game that clarify their thinking about issues.

Our evaluation of the game will focus on players' rationales for the choices they make during the 12 weeks of gameplay. Each week, after players have made their choice relating to that session's narrative, we will insert a question that asks them to indicate their reasons for choosing as they did: strategic, narrative, or political. The language of the questions will be tailored to each week's content, with the goal of determining whether there are changes in players' decision-making, given their exposure to the historical content they encounter during gameplay. This evaluation will enable us to determine whether there is a progression in players' attitudes toward the issues as they are exposed to new topics, as expressed. by their rationale for their actions in the game. The overall analysis will not focus on changes for individua1 players, but rather for the larger group of players.

Based on the analysis of players' game decisions, we will then select a small subsample of individual players and review their responses to bonus questions, which might expand on their rationales for gameplay choices and their attitudes toward the issues. This subsample will not be representative of the broader population of ANOMIE game players, as it will be limited to a self-selecting group that chooses to respond to the questions. But the language should provide examples of how players' motivation to act in the game is informed by their exposure to historical content. Based on the subsample, we will determine whether any themes emerge in these players' thinking.

Additionally, we will analyze demographic data collected through Facebook to determine whether there are any relationships between information about players (e.g., geographic location or game playing experience) and patterns of choice.

Our analysis will provide a framework for conducting additional evaluations of player gameplay, including a way for considering how to thematize players' responses to open-ended questions in the forum or through bonus questions.


Melissa Burns (PI)
Cornelia Brunner (PI)
Cornelia Brunner
Jim Diamond