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The Parable of The Hackasaurus - an experiment in interactive narrative.

branch: gh-pages
README.md

The Parable of The Hackasaurus

By Atul Varma

Artwork by Jessica Klein

Vision

I wanted to create a somewhat game-like learning experience that wasn't quite as verbose or explicitly instructional as the Hackasaurus missions, but that rather led to learning through goal-focused tinkering. I also wanted to have the experience be story-driven, even though in this case the hacking doesn't have much directly to do with the story (but it's easy to imagine variations where they're more aligned).

Additionally, there isn't actually an online experience that really teaches people how to use the goggles. The missions only go so far as teaching people how to activate the goggles by pasting a javascript: URL into their address bar (and that doesn't even work on the latest versions of browsers due to the evolution of the browser security landscape). So I wanted to make something really simple that would lead to the same kinds of discoveries that kids have at hack jams.

Finally, I wanted to make an actual example "game" that served as a forcing function to make me think about what kinds of APIs the entrants to the proposed "Hack This Game" challenge might want to use. In particular, I added an API that lets an embedding page "hook into" the goggles when they're activated on a page and alter the user interface a bit. In the case of Parable, the CSS style overlay is tweaked to only show a small handful of CSS properties, rather than every possible one (which is rather overwhelming). This makes it possible to have a game that actually "unlocks" features of the goggles as the player progresses through it and masters individual concepts one by one, allowing for manageable learning curves.

Implementation

The parable "embeds" the goggles. Changing the parable and remixing it to make your own missions should be reasonably easy: just edit index.html or bugs.js.

Note that some scripts, including bugs.js, are actually injected into the remix dialog using a mechanism similar to GreaseMonkey. This makes their behavior a bit unusual, but I've tried commenting their code to set developer expectations.

Next Steps

I personally love the idea of a sort of "Aesop's Fables for the Web", where each fable's "lesson" is about some aspect of the web that's hard to learn by just using the goggles. In the case of this particular story, the lesson is about the meaning of the word "hack". The actual gameplay reinforces this because the player is hacking the page in a positive way—i.e., to make it work better.

Making this experiment also got me thinking about "support infrastructure" for Web-based games. Steam is like the iTunes of gaming (except it doesn't suck) and provides some really great social features that would be a pain for all games to integrate on their own. One of my favorites is achievements. I've never actually developed a Steam-compatible game, but I suspect that from a game developer's standpoint, you program your game to just tell Steam "hey, the player just unlocked the 'Left The House' achievement" and then steam does the rest: puts a badge on your player profile, notifies your friends, and so forth. Perhaps that's part of what the open badges infrastructure will provide, I'm not sure. But it'd be very cool if some kind of infrastructure like that already existed for the proposed "Hack This Game" challenge.

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