In this webtext, we present Battle Lines, a pedagogical alternate reality game we developed over the course of two years under the aegis of The University of Texas at Austin’s Digital Writing & Research Lab. Battle Lines offers a compelling game experience that allows student-players to develop rhetorical, community-building, and digital literacies, crossing boundaries between academic and ludic practices. The game was test-run for the first time in a class of undergraduate students at UT Austin over the course of four weeks early in the spring semester of 2012. Our experiences as game designers and gamemasters, beta testers and data analysts have opened the term multimodal for us in theory and practice. Just as important as explanation is demonstration, yet both are still largely reflective practices which emphasize consumption over production. A unique affordance of games is that they involve, at their best, productive activities that include reading, reflection, trial-and-error, revision, and tactics;
writing a game is thus no mere transmission of knowledge or instruction, and from this derives all the challenge and advantage of teaching through games.
We have designed this webtext, therefore, not merely to explain nor even to demonstrate but above all to simulate the multimodal experience Battle Lines offered both its designers and its players. Crossing Battle Lines, like the game it is named for, is designed to engage readers in multiple sensory dimensions. The goal of this multimodal engagement is to maximize the potential of a digital and online text by presenting evidence and analysis from a combined digital and live-action game (an alternate reality game) in multiple modes: visual, audible, and interactive. Reading our webtext also invites you to watch, listen, interact, and play. We describe this experience across the senses as multimodal following a convention established among composition theorists (Kress, 2001; Lauer, 2009; Selfe, 2007). Multimodal is adopted for its emphasis on the semiotic channels of an argument, and on its design and composition, versus multimedia or other alternatives with more product-focused shades of meaning. For further perspectives on use of the term multimodal, see Claire Lauer's (2012) publication in Kairos. We invite you to play, then, engaging in a number of semiotic channels, as you learn what Battle Lines was, how it came to be, what questions it raises, and what potentialities it brings into view.