UX for Alternate Reality Game


Alternate Reality Experience was a team project which purpose was to provide a promotional event for future and present students of Edinburgh Napier University. Inspired by mixed media storytelling it was decided to design an experience, which can be used as an exciting activity during Open Day event by future applicants.

The main role in the project: UX researcher and designer.


  • engaging users by collaborative storytelling and promote Edinburgh Napier University
  • creating a highly usable and accessible multi platform experience
  • creating playful, engaging and believable narrative

Alternate Reality Game

 (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and uses transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players’ ideas or actions.

Target Audience and main theme research

Target audience of the ARG are present and future students of Edinburgh Napier University, mostly students of School of Computing and Merchiston campus. Designing a promotional experience, two potential themes were chosen: John Napier and Napier Tower or Jack Kilby and Jack Kilby’s Computing Centre. The questionnaire was filled by 42 participants, students of School of Computing courses, mostly man (60%) and age between 18-24. Half of the participants claimed to know who was John Napier, but only 6 actually knew the answer. In case of  Jack Kilby, most participants did not know who he was.




After initial research couple of observations were conducted around Napier Tower and JKCC to find out about which theme would be more attractive to target audience. Considering target group age and location features it was decided to choose John Napier theme, using Napier Tower as a very attractive game location. The tower is a mysterious place which every student passes by couple of times a  week, but not everyone has access to it. This Gothic style building with couple of enters, enables imagination of the students. For this reason the game plot is based not only on IT theme but also on Harry Potter like legends, magic and mystery.    




  • based on observations, short interviews and The University statistic data
  • prepared to describe potential participants


Design and story line

The project is based on real events and locations as well as fictional events. It also features social media profiles and online websites in order to support fictional characters and events. The reality is mixed with fictional events to create a believable story and to engage players, by discovering variety of platform and clues that will make the experience feel real.

Real life locations and assets :

  • Merchiston Campus
  • Napier Tower
  • Existing websites
  • Existing YouTube films


Real events:

  • John Napier’s life
  • John Napier’s work
  • Fire on the campus

Generated for the game:

  • 4 fictional online presence  for characters – Facebook profiles
  • Twitter account
  • Gmail accounts
  • Dropbox account
  • YouTube profile
  • 3 Websites

Fictional events:

  • Group of students working on AI project
  • Expelling  the students
  • The bad professor working on AI
  • The good professor working on AI
  • John Napier’s ghost

The story synopsis

The game’s plot is inspired by conspiracy theories but also Harry Potter adventures books series, which is popular within the target group. The concept of the game was built on the mysterious Napier Tower.

The story starts when four postgraduate students, who worked on AI project, which surpassed their expectations and put their lives into danger as they developed Artificial Intelligence software. It was loaded on the University server, which was possessed by the ghost of John Napier, captured in the Napier Tower for centuries. According to legend, Napier was suspected to practice necromancy. Before his death, he managed to capture his genius mind in the Napier Tower. The group of students set him free by accident.

After this event, one of the professors discovered what the group managed to do and wished to use it for his own evil purposes. Students wanted to destroy the software, as they had an evidence the fire was an effect of John’s Napier activity. However, before they managed to do anything, system changed their student’s records and submissions so they have been expelled. Being banned from the University buildings, they decided to form Anathema Group to communicate with students, warn them and ask them for help to repair their mistake. This is when the adventure begins. Participants gradually discover past events described in couple of stages, and find out new information, helping to neutralize the threat with the help of another professor.


Game Flow

The flow of the game is designed to be very flexible, and user has several start points as well as way to uncover clues and parts of the narrative. Social media profiles are use to organise community and information exchange between participants. It is quite complex system which is controlled by ‘puppet master’, hidden under Anathema group identities.



The first stage of the game was tested during Open Day event for future applicants. Posters with the link to one of the website spread across the campus triggered first action and some students accessed the website. Unfortunately, campus security got involved, thinking this is a real website which cause the security threat. Both reactions were expected effect of ARG, which should give the realistic feel and involve and intrigue participants.  First testing was very successful, caused a lot of interested at the campus and in result the group was offered to run the full even during next year Open Days event.