Alternate-reality Players to Present at Quest on U.S.-Mexico Relations

Submitted by SUNY Oswego

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego students participating in an alternate-reality game will gather for a “teach-in” at Quest on April 13 to discuss issues around the relationship of the United States and Mexico.

The 10-minute presentations will be among more than 200 talks and performances at Quest, the college’s day to celebrate faculty and student scholarship and creativity.

In real life, events along the U.S.’s southern border and in migrant communities have made headlines: Thousands die in Mexican border cities at the hands of drug cartels. Immigration policy polarizes American citizens in Arizona and elsewhere. Migrant workers provide vital labor on Oswego County farms and around the nation, and they rely on the income to support their families.

So how do such serious concerns lend themselves to an alternate-reality game (ARG) played in the name of social justice and scholarship?

“‘Play it before you live it’ is what we say,” said Ulises Mejias, assistant professor of communication studies and coordinator of the monthlong, blog-based game called “ 2011: Border Crossings.”

‘Comfortable space’

“This experience is designed to allow some of the controversy surrounding U.S.-Mexico relations to move from a subject we’re uncomfortable talking about to a safe space where we can learn to talk about it,” Mejias said.

He cautions gamers to drop their weapons at the border: “This is not ‘Call of Duty.’ We’re not conquering lands, fighting monsters or shooting people,” he said.

“Border Crossings” got under way in late March and continues to welcome new players among faculty, staff and students across campus. Members of the public can visit the game’s website — — to see parts of it in action and to learn more about the issues.

To share their research and discussion, players use social networking concepts, wikis, texting, digital video and podcasts. Those are all tools Mejias, who specializes in new media theory and application, believes this generation’s mobile scholars can employ to teach and to learn about politics, problem solving, humanitarianism and technology itself.

The ARG’s mission statement says its purpose is “to facilitate a campuswide conversation focusing on issues of social justice in a local context.”

“When we deal with U.S.-Mexican relations in the ARG, we’re not just reading an article, but participating in writing narratives about real issues and trying to figure out ways to develop solutions,” Mejias said.

Vivid scenarios

“Border Crossings” encourages players to build on three scenarios that started as fictitious news stories: a missing relative in the Mexican border town of Juarez, the United States’ role in the drug trade and a hepatitis outbreak hypothetically traced to a Central New York farm.

“We want to provide the students with the opportunity to contribute to solutions in real life,” Mejias said.

Whether the game moves beyond a wrap-up community forum at semester’s end is up to the players. “That’s my hope,” he said. “All I can do is encourage. It’s really up to the students to question themselves, question the community and to decide what we need to do.”

More information about Quest, including time and place of presentations, will be available at