Sara Howe, one of the presenters in the 2010 Computers & Writing panel “Press ‘Start’: Critical Reflections on the Development and Deployment of a Large-Scale Alternate Reality Game (ARG)” reflected on J. James Bono’s (2008) assertions that ARGs are “a useful pedagogical alternative (or adjunct) to virtual reality games and massively multiplayer environments that retain the imminently social quality of the communities these spaces engender” (para. 2). Howe (2010) further stated that “one of the profound pedagogical benefits of ARGs is their necessarily social nature. It is also true, however, that we understand social dynamics aren’t without their own complications.” It is these complications that are at the heart of the moment we dub Sparklegate.

That is, C’s the Day relies on the networked participants and networking behaviors that occur at conferences to succeed; indeed, one of the early workshop participants, Annette Vee (2014), has noted that many of the original C’s the Day quests were created to effectually satirize the “game” of conferences and make “explicit some of their stereotypical moves.” While originally satirical, many of these quests have evolved within the framework of mentoring and support—particularly for graduate students and those new to the field—to help players enact moves toward networking and ongoing professionalization that are crucial for success in rhetoric and composition. The game today is one meant to “augment the conference experience, particularly for newcomers who might find the conference environment particularly daunting” and to “encourage meaningful professional development among players by presenting such opportunities in a playful context” (“Origins and Purpose,” 2014).

C’s the Day co-creator Wendi Sierra further articulated that the goal of the game was to

provide players with a sense of control in the overwhelmingly large (and sometimes isolating) conference environment, give them agency to choose their actions and take actions that mattered, and help them understand the meaningfulness of the conference itself—not as an abstraction, but as a lived, meaningful event.

As she explains in the video below, C’s the Day was designed to “encapsulate some of the main things that you’re supposed to try to get done at C’s . . . professionalization, networking, but make it really customizable.” (Transcript available here.)

Sierra on Quests

And truly the best conferences are those where participants leave with a sense of having participated in something meaningful. Rather than simply sitting in on a few panel sessions and then flying back home, participants at conferences who have gained new ideas, had stimulating conversations, and met new friends and colleagues have, as Sierra explained, been part of a meaningful event in which their actions mattered. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to remember how hard it might have been to strike up those conversations, to go to the first publisher party all alone, to give one’s first panel presentation at a conference in front of that faceless crowd. As with the other meaningful events in graduate school, on the tenure track, and in one’s first academic job, the rules are sometimes unknown, and we long for the support and guidance of someone who has been there, done that. Even senior scholars are not immune to negotiating new challenges, from revitalizing one’s research agenda, to taking on administrative work, to making time for family and friends in the academic life.

Our point here is that conference games like C’s the Day can make explicit many of the moves that help make a conference a space for participating in something meaningful. Especially for graduate students and those new to the field and to the conference, C’s the Day quests are structured to encourage networking and participation within a framework of fun. These efforts toward greater inclusivity align effectively with already existing efforts to make the Conference on College Composition and Communication more inclusive—such as the Newcomers' Breakfast, the CCCC Caucuses (the American Indian Caucus; the Asian/Asian American Caucus; the Black Caucus; the Jewish Caucus; and the Latino Caucus), the Lavender Rhetorics award, and others that reach out specifically to new and/or marginalized groups. As the discipline works to make the field and its conferences more accessible to all, games like C's the Day offer a playful yet welcoming space for those who attend the CCCC.

While contacting current and former players for photo permissions, Jennifer and Stephanie received an outpouring of support for the game; we include some of their comments below as illustrations. As you can see, the respondents are not only graduate students: While MA and PhD students do play C’s the Day frequently, players also include academics of all stations (on the tenure track and off).

So to conclude, we look back here at Sparklegate 2014 as a moment that ultimately offers us much to think about. What kind of field do we want to be: exclusionary or welcoming? How can we work to encourage more playfulness in our field, embracing—rather than shying away from—the exciting possibilities offered to us by games as pedagogical and scholarly objects? We urge our readers to lift their sparkleponies high in solidarity. And if you don’t have one, then next time you attend CCCC, C’s the Day.