Tracking Ida is an educational alternate reality game (ARG) inspired by the pioneering investigative journalism of Ida B. Wells in the 1890s. Players uncover Ida B. Wells’ crusade against lynching and use her strategies to investigate police and vigilante killings today. Along the way, they solve puzzles, decode messages through a phonograph, role-play as investigative journalists, interview members of their community, and harness social media to spread awareness. Tracking Ida was created by game designer Lishan AZ with a team of graduate students of color from USC thinking of Black and Brown youth who have limited access to radical tellings of history. I was part of the game design team and also help produce the game.
There are no surviving copies of the Memphis Free Speech, Ida B. Wells’ first newspaper. When a lynch mob came to silence her in 1892 and found no body to burn, they burned down her newspaper office instead. Though they failed to kill her, the mob succeeded in erasing the important work she was doing in Memphis. Tracking Ida is in part about reclaiming history destroyed. Whenever possible, we used newspaper articles from the time period–articles that were important to Wells’ investigations. What we couldn’t find, we reconstructed using a combination of primary documents and secondary sources.
The subject of history is typically associated with boring textbooks and sleep-inducing lectures. With Tracking Ida, we aim not only to spark interest in stories of Black resistance, but to create personal connection to these stories by making history come alive. We made the game hands-on: players get to touch historical artifacts, type on a typewriter, listen to Ida B. Wells’ voice through a phonograph, and interact with a personal narrative. We immerse players in a story that connects the past to the present and is relevant to everyday life in their neighborhood.
We aim to give players a taste of activism in a structured environment with the hope that they might one day get involved in their communities outside of the game. Players apply Ida B. Wells’ strategies to today by interviewing community members about a recent police killing. We prompt players to interact with local activists, giving them a tangible avenue into community engagement in the future.
With Tracking Ida, we aim to spark interest in Black resistance in the past, present, and future.