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Online interactive game expands to school

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Online interactive game expands to school

Photo by: Kaitlyn Zellner

Photo by: Kaitlyn Zellner

Photo by: Kaitlyn Zellner

Austin Civatte, Video Editor

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Secret codes. Spies. Puzzles. Adventure. All a thing of fiction and action movies for most. However, throughout the last two weeks mysterious signs have been popping up all over the school, prompting people to join the hunt, and leaving everyone who sees them with one question: What is “Bowie3301”?

THE INSPIRATIONS

“Bowie3301” is an example of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), which involves participants playing the game not just Online, but crossing over into the real world to complete in various in-game tasks.

Cicada3301” is an Online scavenger hunt and the original inspiration for “Bowie3301” that took players all across the world to decipher codes hidden across every corner of the Internet. While most of the students actively working have never experienced an ARG before, some like sophomore Jaden Davis, are familiar with the concept.

“Not only do you really have to understand code and computers well, you have to have a lot of background knowledge in codes and ciphers to even understand what you’re supposed to do sometimes,” Davis said. “It gets progressively harder as you move through and actually watching it work is an amazing, satisfying feeling like nothing else.”

The five students behind the mask of “Bowie3301,” who have all asked to remain anonymous, acquired inspiration from not only “Cicada3301,” but “Gnasher3301.” This experiment was a parody of the Cicada hunt started by Gorzycki Middle School technology teacher Jon Howard during the 2016 school year.

“I originally thought [“Cicada3301”] was a really interesting mystery, and I wanted to create the same experience for the students at Gorzycki,” Howard said. “It was really fun building a series of puzzles that the experience of going through them was the fun part – not necessarily just completing it. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.”

Photo by: Joe Morales

 

THE FIRST PUZZLE

The Gorzycki hunt planted the seed for what would eventually move to the five mysterious students known as “The Admins” and become “Bowie3301.”

One of the anonymous creators of the Bowie puzzle goes by “Admin01.”

“Challengers of our puzzle will expect to face both quite fun and quite difficult experiences throughout the process,” Admin01 said. “Solvers will definitely need to have a strong will to complete some of the latter chapters in the experience though, as they will be quite frustrating at times.”

Students who decide to take on the challenge will be tested on solving secret codes, scouring the Internet, and climbing under cafeteria tables for clues.

“I am involved in a very strange way,” Computer Science instructor Bow Brannon said. “Students had to earn [the clue] by coming to my room and performing some display that was embarrassing. I’ve had students sing karaoke to some “cringey” songs, perform a memorable tap and dance routine, the Russian national anthem played on a trombone, and even a medley on the tuba. I never know what the students will do, but it’s fun being an observer.”

Adding to the mayhem, the “Bowie3301” Discord server has created a whole new element to puzzle solving as a place for students to go to discuss puzzles with others that are working on them. Freshman Jacob Stone is one of the active members of the Discord server, as well as an active puzzle solver.

“It has been super funny seeing the peoples’ reaction[s] in the chat when they complete a chapter, or every little side quest and frustration they go through,” Stone said. “It’s also helped with the multiple bugs that The Admins were able to quickly fix. The lengths people will go to, for the answer to a puzzle that they are stuck on, is really fun to watch.”

One of the biggest contributing factors of intrigue with students is the mystery element. Nobody knows who the students behind it are, despite some puzzle solvers’ best efforts. Nobody knows what the eventual promised prize, if there even is one, for completing the game will be, besides the “join our ranks” caption given in the posters advertising for the hunt.

“[The] Admins have many methods of communication, which we use to draft and revise chapters,” Admin01 said. “We go through a revision process by having them play-tested by one of our close associates. We do want to keep certain elements a secret, but all we hope is that students at Bowie will continue to be interested because we want to continue this challenge for as long as is chronologically feasible.”

The project has brought students together, and creating an active community of individuals united under one goal  of reaching the end. Every night, the Discord is bustling with users cooperating as the puzzles are released.

“The best part of working on these puzzles has been experiencing the solvers’ reactions to the newest chapters,” Admin01 said. “We are frequently checking on the Discord server, and it is quite entertaining to experience the reactions of joy or frustration as puzzles are attempted.”

Photo by: Joe Morales

 

THE CONTROVERSY

Oct. 15, 10:27 a.m. the call was made by Admin01, “Congratulations to @ombra for winning the 2018 Fall Bowie HS 3301 puzzle!”

The competitors immediately had questions. The Admins, however, were quick to reassure everyone that the game far was from beaten.

“The challenge is not over yet,” Admin01 said. “This phase is complete, but more is coming. We will be releasing a new set of puzzles after the new year, and you have until then to complete the first phase, in preparation for January 1st, 2019.”

Unbeknown to the game’s community, the contest happened to attract more attention than even The Admins had planned for. As the details began to unfurl, it was discovered that the winner, known only by his Discord username “ombra,” wasn’t a Bowie student. Austin High senior Ben Fremin was the first to complete “Bowie3301” through the creation of a program that helped filter out the answers to most of the puzzles.

“I have really mixed feelings about winning,” Fremin said. “It almost doesn’t feel like I won, a computer did a lot of the work. I wrote a program and it found several of the answers, but not all of them. I was really lucky.”

Fremin’s accomplishment in completing the first batch of the puzzles has been seen as controversial by The Admins and the community, and led to the contest rules being adjusted.

“We intended for puzzles to remain within Bowie, so we are not encouraging completion from other schools,” Admin01 said “We know how [Fremin] won, and we are not happy about it. We are including a clause in the rules stating that the winner must be from Bowie, and will create more physical puzzles to support this.”

 

Photo by: Joe Morales

THE FUTURE

One question on several player’s minds is what is next for “Bowie3301.”

The Admins have revealed very little, but what can be confirmed is that this event has grown from a small middle school experiment to something much larger than the creators believed.

¨The first ‘Gnasher3301’ was designed by me and an advanced student,” Howard said. ¨But this is 98 [percent] the work of Bowie High School students. And they are doing a great job.¨

“Bowie3301” is an on-going  event unlike any other spreading across schools. It provides a challenge that hasn’t been seen often in traditional video games, movies or TV, and has engaged a growing community. The code breakers, amateur secret agents, or those looking for a challenge to keep them on their toes, can play the first 20 puzzles until the new part comes out at the beginning of next year.

“We want this puzzle to be enjoyable for those who attempt to complete it,¨ Admin01 said. ¨We want each chapter to be an experience in and of itself. We don’t want solvers to view the whole challenge as a way to reach an end goal, but as a rewarding and difficult achievement.¨

 

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Online interactive game expands to school