When it comes to attempting to teach people different views and connecting with different identities, the biggest challenge is attracting people to such a format. Such an endeavor doesn’t naturally excite people and may struggle to attract the right target audience. For example, if you held a contrasting viewpoints seminar teaching people how others think, likely the only audience you will gather is those people open-minded to accepting other views. However, the challenge truly lies in those who aren’t as willing to open their minds, and therefore, in my mind, the trick of this challenge is disguising its true intentions.
To make this happen, I came up with The Con, an immersive real-world amusement park game designed to get participants to step into the shoes of someone else. The Con is targeted for groups of friends to sign up for an evening of the game. A week or so prior to the group’s reservation, each friend is given a case file with the identity of their new persona. This file includes personal history and other traits that make that persona unique. Each individual must study the file thoroughly so that when game time comes, they can flawlessly assume their character. In each game session, there are multiple groups of friends participating, as well as a score of paid actors working for The Con. When the session begins, the participants (dressed in appropriate costumes) step into our pre-designed amusement park (a real-life scene kind of like West World) that is themed based on some designated environment. For example, the park may be designed like a war torn region, a small rural town, a booming metropolis, etc. The players enter this world, and for the entire game session must assume their new identities and interact with that world around them. As they interact, there is a major storyline, as well as a few sub-story lines, that fit the scene. The players interact with both our actors and other players throughout these storylines, without being able to easily distinguish between the two. Eventually, once the session has expired, the players leave the world and enter a “Sleuth Room”, where each player guesses which characters were our actors and which were other players. The game calculates the player that correctly predicts the most characters and fools the most people, giving that player the title of The Con. He or she thus wins the game and gathers some prize money.
So how does this address the challenge? There are a few ways The Con attempts to do so. The first is that in studying someone else’s identity and attempting to impersonate them, the players are all being forced to learn about another person’s viewpoint and lifestyle. Players are incentivized to learn as much as possible, and as a result they are getting exposure to different ways of thinking and different life stories. Secondly, the immersive experience requires you to make decisions based on your character, putting you in their mind as they make tough choices. You have to set aside your notions in order to convincingly play a different role. The process of studying and acting as another person subconsciously opens your mind to different perspectives. You are literally stepping into someone else’s shoes.
Thus the goal is that The Con teaches people empathy for others and broadens life experiences to understand different backgrounds. By hiding these goals within an immersive game, participants don’t actively realize they’re educating themselves on different perspectives, they’re just having a fun night out with their friends. This lets the game have a broader appeal and truly targets the audience that may benefit the most.