In early 2014, the moment we might now jokingly dub “Sparklegate” took place. Sparklegate was a response to the 2014 C’s the Day augmented reality game at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Started in 2011, C’s the Day offers conference attendees a gamified entrance into what can often otherwise be a large and overwhelming experience for attendees. Participants can opt into the game by visiting the C’s the Day desk and picking up the quest book, which invites attendees to earn quest points or achievements by performing simple tasks like “talk to a publisher” or “convene an impromptu focus group.” Ultimately, this game promotes networking and new experiences (both professional and personal). Players can play alone or form guilds, groups of players who work toward a goal. C’s the Day is a completely voluntary addition to the conference experience; the people who design and play it do so because they are drawn to gamification and generally have interests in researching, teaching with, or designing games. For those who opt into playing the game, they are able to access the CCCC experience through a different path than a person who comes with, say, a graduate contingent from a high-research university.

So what is Sparklegate? Sparklegate was, in many ways, an ideological response against the C’s the Day game. Shortly after the 2014 CCCC conference, Dan Berrett (2014) wrote a short news article for The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “‘Sparklepony’ Quest Helps Break the Ice at a Scholarly Meeting.” While Berrett’s article showcased the game in a positive light, it drew some negative comments from readers who failed to understand the purpose of the game given their lack of context (as the Chronicle circulates far beyond the rhetoric and composition community). Then, (2014), a national news aggregation blog that focuses mainly on celebrities and the media industry, published a particularly vitriolic piece about the game: “‘Sparkleponies’ Will Totally Make Humanities Professors Relevant Again.” Again, negative comments abounded in a blog space read by over 25 million readers in 2013, most of whom are not even academics, let alone within the field of rhetoric and composition (Klein, 2013).

Maybe because of this or maybe because of the increased participation and visibility of C’s the Day in 2014, some members of the rhetoric and composition community strongly reacted to this game, relegating it to child’s play and declaring that it was because of “these types of events” at composition conferences that no one took the field seriously. Lines were drawn in public and semipublic forums, delineating camps allied between games and seriousness (strange) and between rhetoric and composition (stranger still). In this webtext, then, we explore the rhetorics of Sparklegate within the context of games in general and C’s the Day in particular. We are interested in interrogating the highlighted ideologies that came to light during this short-lived yet intense debate, asking ourselves what this event forces us to ask about rhetoric and composition, game studies, and the seriousness of play.