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Video Gaming and Economic Collapse

New online venture created in a Duke Humanities Lab offers a futuristic doomsday scenario

In a hard-to-reach corner of the Internet, a resistance force is rising up to challenge a ruthless cabal of bankers bent on ruling the world.

And a group of Duke faculty and students is watching it unfold with glee.

It's called "Speculat1on," an alternate reality game created in Duke's Greater Than Games Lab. There, faculty and students working with counterparts at the universities of Chicago and Waterloo are monitoring the progress of the game, which has attracted about 1,500 hardcore gamers, most of whom may still not realize the game is the product of a university lab. It runs through early June.

Based on the 2008 economic collapse, the game creates a futuristic economic doomsday scenario in which a coalition of banks rule the world and a resistance movement rises up to challenge it.

Far from a mindless shoot-'em-up video game, this is a rigorous intellectual exercise comprised of eight stages, each with a series of puzzles to solve and passwords to obtain. At one stage, for example, you trade stocks and must hit a profit target in order to move to the next level. At another, you must translate the latin mottos on obsolete currency.

"The game is quite deep in the sense that there's a lot of material to work through," said Duke professor Katherine Hayles, one of the game's creators. "We're expecting that players will share passwords; somebody interested in finance capital may want to work through the stock trading module because they're interested in it; someone else may want to work through the international currency trading module. We're hoping there will be something for nearly everyone's taste in this game."

The game's creators have monitored its progress closely, tweaking it as players worked through the various levels. At one point, they even built in a trap when it became apparent that some players were trying to cheat.

Speculation tricked out to the gamer community through a video trailer that ended with an address to the website where the game begins. Players can still join in now.

Eventually, the game's creators hope it could be adapted for use as an undergraduate college course or even as a high school teaching tool.