Alternate reality game

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An ARG, also known as an altered reality game (ARG), is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions.

The form is defined by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real-time and evolves according to participants' responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game's designers, as opposed to being controlled by artificial intelligence as in a computer or console video game. Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and often work together with a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities. ARGs generally use multimedia, such as telephones, email and mail but rely on the Internet as the central binding medium.

ARGs are growing in popularity, with new games appearing regularly and an increasing amount of experimentation with new models and subgenres. They tend to be free to play, with costs absorbed either through supporting products (e.g. collectible puzzle cards fund Perplex City) or through promotional relationships with existing products (for example, I Love Bees was a promotion for Halo 2, and the Lost Experience and FIND815 promoted the television show Lost). However, pay-to-play models are not unheard of.

ARGs are now being recognized by the mainstream entertainment world: The Fallen Alternate Reality game was in the fall of 2007 awarded a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement for an Interactive Television Program. ReGenesis Extended Reality won an International Interactive Emmy Award in 2007 and in April 2008 The Truth About Marika won the iEmmy for Best interactive TV service.[1] The British Academy of Film and Television Arts recognises Interactivity as a category in the British Academy Television Awards.


[edit] Defining alternate reality gaming

There is a great deal of debate about how to define the term "alternate reality game" and what should be included or excluded by the definition. Sean Stacey, founder of the website Unfiction, has suggested that the best way to define the genre was not to define it, and instead locate each game on three axes (ruleset, authorship and coherence) in a sphere of "chaotic fiction" that would include works such as the Uncyclopedia and street games like SF0 as well.[2]

If one accepts noted game designer Chris Crawford's definition of a game (it requires that there is an opponent), then ARGs are perhaps better understood as puzzles. However, if the puppetmasters are actively changing the game while it is going on (as happened with The Beast), then the ARG does more closely fit the definition of a game.

While addressing all of the various attempts at definitions and arguments for and against them is beyond the scope of this article, defining a few terms unique to ARG parlance, identifying precursors and influences on the development of the genre, and comparing and contrasting ARGs to other similar forms of entertainment may be helpful in aiding understanding of the form.

[edit] Unique terminology

Among the terms essential to understand discussions about ARGs are:

  • Puppetmaster - A puppetmaster or "PM" is an individual involved in designing and/or running an ARG. Puppetmasters are simultaneously allies and adversaries to the player base, creating obstacles and providing resources for overcoming them in the course of telling the game's story. Puppetmasters generally remain behind the curtain while a game is running. The real identity of puppet masters may or may not be known ahead of time.
  • The Curtain - The curtain is generally a metaphor for the separation between the puppetmasters and the players. This can take the traditional form of absolute secrecy regarding the puppetmasters' identities and involvement with the production, or refer merely to the convention that puppetmasters do not communicate directly with players through the game, interacting instead through the characters and the game's design.
  • Rabbithole - Also known as a Trailhead. A Rabbithole marks the first website, contact, or puzzle that starts off the ARG.
  • Trailhead - A deliberate clue which enables a player to discover a way into the game. Most ARGs employ a number of trailheads in several media, to maximise the probability of people discovering the game. Some trailheads may be covert, others may be thinly-disguised adverts.
  • This Is Not A Game (TINAG) - Setting the ARG form apart from other games is the This Is Not A Game aesthetic, which dictates that the game not behave like a game: phone numbers mentioned in the ARG, for example, should actually work, and the game should not provide an overtly-designated playspace or ruleset to the players.

[edit] Similarities and differences to other forms of entertainment

  • Computer/console/video games. While ARGs generally use the internet as a central binding medium, they are not played exclusively on a computer and usually do not require the use of special software or interfaces. Non-player characters in ARGs are controlled in real-time by the puppetmasters, not computer AI.
  • Role-playing games (RPGs) and Live action role-playing games (LARPs). The role of the puppetmaster in creating ARG narratives and the puppetmaster's relationship with an ARG's players bears a great deal of similarity to the role of a game master, gamemaster or referee in a role-playing game. However, the role of the players is quite different. Most ARGs do not have any fixed rules -- players discover the rules and the boundaries of the game through trial and error -- and do not require players to assume fictional identities or roleplay beyond feigning belief in the reality of the characters they interact with (even if games where players play 'themselves' are a long standing variant on the genre).[3]
  • Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). As outlined above with computer games and traditional role-playing games, non-player characters in ARGs are controlled by real people in real time, not by computer AI; ARGs do not generally require special software or interfaces to play; the games do not require players to roleplay or create characters or avatars; and ARGs generally use multiple media and real life in addition to the internet to distribute their narratives.
  • Viral marketing/internet hoaxes. While ARGs are often used as a type of viral marketing, they diverge sharply from the philosophy behind "sponsored consumers" or other viral marketing practices that attempt to trick consumers into believing that planted shills for a product are other independent consumers. Similarly, they also diverge from sites or narratives that genuinely try to convince visitors that they are what they claim to be. Puppetmasters generally leave both subtle and overt clues to the game's fictional nature and boundaries where players can find them (e.g. through clearly fictional names on site registrations) and many ARGs openly flaunt obviously fictional plots. The puppetmasters of the genre's seminal example, the Beast,[4] made it a point of pride never to pretend to be players in order to solicit publicity or nudge players along, and the Terms of Service of Unfiction, the central community site for the ARG genre, strictly prohibit individuals involved in creating games from posting about them without disclosing their involvement.[5]

[edit] Influences and precursors

Due to factors like the curtain, attempts to begin games with "stealth launches" to fulfill the TINAG aesthetic, and the restrictive non-disclosure agreements governing how much information may be revealed by the puppetmasters of promotional games, the design process for many ARGs is often shrouded in secrecy, making it difficult to discern the extent to which they have been influenced by other works. In addition, the cross-media nature of the form allows ARGs to incorporate elements of so many other art forms and works that attempting to identify them all would be a nearly-impossible task.

[edit] Possible inspirations from fiction and other art forms

G. K. Chesterton's 1905 short story "The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown" (part of a collection entitled The Club of Queer Trades) seems to predict the ARG concept, as does John Fowles' 1965 novel The Magus. The performance artists in Delany's science fiction novel Triton (published in 1976) appear to be playing a type of ARG. Ludic texts such as the popular Choose Your Own Adventure children's novels may also have provided some inspiration. Reader-influenced online fiction such as AOL's QuantumLink Serial provides a model that incorporates audience influence into the storytelling in a manner similar to that of ARGs, as do promotional online games like Wizards of the Coast's Webrunner games. Other possible antecedents include performance art and other theatrical forms that attempt to break Bertolt Brecht's "fourth wall" and directly engage the audience.

Due to the influence the Beast exerted over the form of later ARGs and the willingness of its creators to talk about its development, its sources of inspiration are both particularly relevant to the evolution of the modern ARG and somewhat more verifiable than other possible antecedents. Elan Lee, one of its creative principals, cites the 1997 movie The Game as an inspiration, as well as the Beatles' "Paul Is Dead" phenomenon. Sean Stewart, another of the three principal designers, notes that designing and running an ARG bears some similarities to running an RPG, and the influence of that particular game form is further suggested by the fact that Jordan Weisman, the game's third main designer, was also the founder of leading RPG company FASA. Stewart also noted that the sort of "creative, collaborative, enthusiastic scavengering behavior"[6] upon which the Beast depended has its antecedents outside the arts: the Beast just "accidentally re-invented Science as pop culture entertainment."[7]

The conspiracy in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 may be an ARG set up by Pierce Inverarity to bedevil Oedipa Maas.

[edit] Basic design principles of ARGs

ARGs are sometimes described as the first narrative art form native to the internet, because their storytelling relies on the two main activities conducted there: searching for information, and sharing information.

  • Storytelling as archaeology. Instead of presenting a chronologically unified, coherent narrative, the designers scattered pieces of the story across the Internet and other media, allowing players to reassemble it, supply connective tissue and determine what it meant.
  • Platformless narrative. The story was not bound to a single medium, but existed independently and used whatever media were available to make itself heard.
  • Designing for a hive mind. While it might be possible to follow the game individually, the design was directed at a collective of players that shared information and solutions almost instantly, and incorporated individuals possessing almost every conceivable area of expertise. While the game might initially attract a small group of participants, as they came across new challenges, they would reach out and draw in others with the knowledge they needed to overcome the obstacles.
  • A whisper is sometimes louder than a shout. Rather than openly promoting the game and trying to attract participation by "pushing" it toward potential players, the designers attempted to "pull" players to the story by engaging in over-the-top secrecy (e.g. Microsoft did not acknowledge any connection between the company or the movie and the game, the game did not acknowledge any connection to Microsoft or A.I., the identities of the designers were a closely-guarded secret even from other Microsoft employees, etc.), having elements of the game "warn" players away from them, and eschewing traditional marketing channels. Designers did not communicate about the game with players or press while it was in play.
  • The "this is not a game" (TINAG) aesthetic. The game itself did not acknowledge that it was a game. It did not have an acknowledged ruleset for players; as in real-life, they determined the "rules" either through trial and error or by setting their own boundaries. The narrative presented a fully-realized world: any phone number or email address that was mentioned actually worked, and any website acknowledged actually existed. The game took place in real-time and was not replayable. Characters functioned like real people, not game pieces, responded authentically, and were controlled by real people, not by computer AI. Some events involved meetings or live phone calls between players and actors.
  • Real life as a medium. The game used players' lives as a platform. Players were not required to build a character or role-play being someone other than themselves. They might unexpectedly overcome a challenge for the community simply because of the real-life knowledge and background they possessed. Participants were constantly on the lookout for clues embedded in everyday life.
  • Collaborative storytelling. While the puppetmasters controlled most of the story, they incorporated player content and responded to players' actions, analysis and speculation by adapting the narrative and intentionally left "white space" for the players to fill in.
  • Not a hoax. While the TINAG aesthetic might seem on the surface to be an attempt to make something indistinguishable from real life, there were both subtle and overt metacommunications in place to reveal the game's framework and most of its boundaries. The most obvious was that the story itself took place in the year 2142, and the websites ostensibly existed in the future (visitors to some of the sites would trigger a pop up warning that their browser was obsolete and unrecognized). The designers also outlined the borders of the game more subtly, e.g. through the names on the site registrations.

[edit] Development and history

[edit] Early examples

The first example of an ARG style game was Dreadnot[8], a (non-commercial) web game produced with a grant from the San Francisco Chronicle and published on in 1996. It included most of the techniques above that would, in upcoming years, become the standard for most ARG games. The game included working voice mail phone numbers for characters, clues in the source code, character email addresses, off-site websites, real locations in San Francisco, real people (including then Mayor Willie Brown), and of course a fictional mystery.

The marketing for the 1999 movie The Blair Witch Project resembled ARGs in many ways (and some of its makers went on to create the 2005 Audi promotional ARG The Art of the Heist), expanding the world of the movie online, adding backstory, and treating the fiction as reality through real-world media such as fliers and a fake documentary on the Sci-Fi Channel. However, perhaps in part due to the subject material and the absence of overt metacommunications that this was fiction, it also resembles an internet hoax or attempt to create an urban legend.

Pervasive play games like the Go Game and the Nokia Game also incorporated many elements similar to ARGs (although they tended to lack the narrative element central to ARGs) and prefigured the public play components of large-scale corporate ARGs like I Love Bees, The Art of the Heist and Last Call Poker.

Electronic Arts' Majestic began development in 1999, although it didn't launch until after the Beast had concluded, in 2001. Featuring phone calls, emails and other media that involved players in a multiplatform narrative, the game was eventually cancelled due to lack of players. This was due to many factors, ranging from the monthly subscription fee (as part of Electronic Arts' EA Online venture) to Majestic's unfortunate timing and subject matter in relation to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Many players also criticized the absence of the TINAG principle (e.g. in-game phone calls were preceded by an announcement that they were part of the game).

[edit] The Beast

In 2001, in order to market the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Stanley Kubrick's unfinished project but also a planned series of Microsoft computer games based on the film, Microsoft's Creative Director Jordan Weisman and another Microsoft game designer, Elan Lee, conceived of an elaborate murder mystery played out across hundreds of websites, email messages, faxes, fake ads, and voicemail messages. They hired Sean Stewart, an award-winning science fiction/fantasy author, to write the story. The game, dubbed "the Citizen Kane of online entertainment" by Internet Life,[9] was a runaway success[10] that involved over three million active participants [11] from all over the world during its run and would become the seminal example of the nascent ARG genre. An early asset list for the project contained 666 files, prompting the game's puppetmasters to dub it "the Beast," a name which was later adopted by players.[12] A large and extremely active fan community called the Cloudmakers formed to analyze and participate in solving the game,[13] and the combined intellect, tenacity and engagement of the group soon forced the puppetmasters to create new subplots, devise new puzzles, and alter elements of the design to keep ahead of the player base.[14] Somewhat unusual for a computer-based game, the production engaged equal numbers of male and female participants,[15] and drew players from a wide spectrum of age groups and backgrounds.

Although the Beast ran for only three months, it prompted the formation of a highly organized and intensely engaged community that remains active[16] years after the game concluded. Perhaps more significantly, it inspired a number of its participants to create games adapting and expanding the model, extending it from an anomalous one-time occurrence to a new genre of entertainment and allowing the community to grow even after the Beast itself concluded. Members of the Cloudmakers group went on to form ARGN, the primary news source for the genre, and Unfiction, its central community hub, as well as designing the first successful and widely-played indie ARGs, such as LockJaw and Metacortechs, and corporate efforts such as Perplex City.

[edit] Community and genre growth

The years immediately after the Beast saw independent developers who had played it extend the form from a one-time occurrence to a new genre of gaming, and the formation of an ever-growing community devoted to playing, designing and discussing ARGs.

[edit] Grassroots development

Influenced heavily by the Beast and enthusiastic about the power of collaboration, several Cloudmakers came together with the idea that they could create a similar game. The first effort to make an independent Beast-like game, Ravenwatchers, failed,[17] but another team soon assembled and met with greater success. With very little experience behind them, the group managed, after nine months of development, to create a viable game that was soon seized upon eagerly by the Cloudmakers group and featured in WIRED Magazine.[18] As players of the Beast, members of the Lockjaw development team were extremely aware of the community playing the game and took steps to encourage the tight bonding of the player base through highly collaborative puzzles, weekly Euchre games, and the inclusion of player personas in the game. While the numbers never rivaled those of The Beast, the game proved both that it was possible for developers to create these games without corporate funding or promotion, and that there was interest in the ARG form beyond a one-time audience for a production on the Beast's scale. Lockjaw marked the start of the ARG as a genre of gaming, rather than simply a one-time occurrence.

Shortly before Lockjaw's conclusion, players discovered a game that seemed to revolve around the movie Minority Report. Despite speculation to the contrary, the game (known as Exocog) was not an official promotion for the film, but an experiment in interactive storytelling by Jim Miller.[19] Inspired by the independent Lockjaw effort, Dave Szulborski introduced ChangeAgents, a spinoff of EA's failed Majestic ARG, to the ARGN audience, then followed it with two additional installments. During this time, Szulborski also created a successful grassroots game not based on the Majestic universe, called Chasing the Wish. Just before the release of the third and the final Matrix movie, the team that developed Lockjaw launched Metacortechs, an ARG based on that universe. The fan fiction effort was very successful, reached a larger and more active player base than many professionally produced games, and was at first assumed by many to be an officially-sanctioned promotion for the movie. Metacortechs was followed by an ever-increasing number of grassroots ARGs.

In the wake of these successful, low-budget independent ARGs, an active "grassroots" development community began to evolve within the genre. While the quality of the grassroots games varies wildly, amateur storytellers, web designers, and puzzle creators continue to provide independently-developed ARGs for the active player community.

[edit] Community development

The term Alternate Reality Gaming was first used by Sean Stacey, one of the moderators of the Lockjaw player community, in the Trail for that game. Stacey and Steve Peters, another of the moderators, created the two websites that have become the central hub of the ARG community: ARGN and UnFiction. Due to their efforts, when Lockjaw ended, the players had a new community resource allowing them to assemble to play the games that were soon to follow. Unfiction now boasts over 13,000 members, and ARGN employs a staff of 15 volunteer writers to report on new games and other topics of interest to the community, as well as producing a weekly netcast.

[edit] Massive-scale commercial games and mainstream attention

After the success of the first major entries in the nascent ARG genre, a number of large corporations looked to ARGs to both promote their products, and to enhance their companies' images by demonstrating their interest in innovative and fan-friendly marketing methods. To create buzz for the launch of the Xbox game Halo 2,[20] Microsoft hired the team that had created the Beast, now operating independently as 42 Entertainment. The result, I Love Bees, departed radically from the website-hunting and puzzle-solving that had been the focus of the Beast. I Love Bees wove together an interactive narrative set in 2004, and a War Of The Worlds-style radio drama set in the future, the latter of which was broken into 30-60 second segments and broadcast over ringing payphones worldwide.[21] The game pushed players outdoors to answer phones, create and submit content, and recruit others, and received as much or more mainstream notice than its predecessor, finding its way onto television during a presidential debate,[22] and becoming one of the New York Times' catchphrases of 2004.[23] A slew of imitators,[24][25] fan tributes[26] and parodies[27][28] followed. In 2005, a pair of articles profiling 42 Entertainment appeared in Game Developer magazine and the East Bay Express, both of which tied into an ARG[29] created by the journalist and his editors[30] .

The following spring, Audi launched The Art of the Heist to promote its new A3. Developed by Audi ad agency McKinney+Silver, Haxan Films (creators of The Blair Witch Project) and GMD Studios, the Art of the Heist took live events to a new level[31] and received extensive media placement.[32] GMD Studios followed up by producing Who is Benjamin Stove?, a promotion for GMC's ethanol campaign.[33]

Roughly a year after I Love Bees, 42 Entertainment produced Last Call Poker, a promotion for Activision's video game Gun. Designed to help modern audiences connect with the Western genre, Last Call Poker centered on a working poker site, held games of "Tombstone Hold 'Em" in cemeteries around the United States -- as well as in at least one digital venue, World of Warcraft's own virtual reality cemetery[34] -- and sent players to their own local cemeteries to clean up neglected grave sites and perform other tasks.[35]

At the end of 2005, the International Game Developers Association ARG Special Interest Group was formed "to bring together those already designing, building, and running ARGs, in order to share knowledge, experience, and ideas for the future." More recently, An ARG over at was created by THQ for the game Frontlines: Fuel of War around peak oil theories where the world is in a crisis over diminishing oil resources.

[edit] The rise of the self-supporting ARG

As the genre has grown, there has been increasing interest in exploring models that provide funding for large-scale ARGs that are neither promotions for other products or limited by the generally small budget of grassroots/indie games. The two major trends that have emerged in this area are support through the sale of products related to the game, and fees for participation in the game. A third possible model is one using in-game advertising for other products, as in The LOST Experience, but at this time no large-scale game has attempted to fund itself solely through in-game advertising.

The first major attempt (other than EA's failed Majestic) to create a self-supporting ARG was Perplex City, which launched in 2005 after a year's worth of teasers. The ARG offered a $200,000 prize to the first player to locate the buried Receda Cube and was funded by the sale of puzzle cards. The first season of the game ended in January 2007, when Andy Darley found the Receda Cube at Wakerly Great Wood in Northamptonshire, UK. Mind Candy, the production company, has also produced a board game related to the ARG and plans to continue it with a second season beginning March 1, 2007. This model was delayed till June 1, and has again, been delayed to an unspecified date. Mind Candy's acceptance of corporate sponsorship and venture capital suggests that the puzzle cards alone are not enough to fully fund the ARG at this time.

In March 2006, Elan Lee and Dawne Weisman founded edoc laundry, a company designed to produce ARGs using clothes as the primary platform. Consumers decipher the codes hidden within the garments and input the results into the game's main website to reveal pieces of a story about the murder of a band manager.

Reviving the pay-to-play model, Studio Cypher launched the first chapter of its "multiplayer novel" in May of 2006. Each "chapter" is a mini-ARG for which participants who pay the $10 registration fee receive earlier access to information and greater opportunities to interact with characters than non-paying participants. VirtuQuest, a well-known corporate team, also attempted a pay-to-play model with Township Heights later in the year, but despite initial enthusiasm on the part of the ARG community, the game was not well-received due to the design team's use of player Hybrid-Names based on their real life names. Also the short run time frame was not appreciated by some seasoned players.

In June 2006, Catching the Wish launched from an in-game website about comic books based on its predecessor, 2003's Chasing the Wish. 42 Entertainment released Cathy's Book, by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, in October 2006, shifting the central medium of this ARG from the internet to the printed page. The young-adult novel contains an "evidence packet" and expands its universe through websites and working phone numbers, but is also a stand-alone novel that essentially functions as an individually-playable ARG. Neither the cost of creating the book nor sales figures are available (although it made both American[36] and British bestseller lists) to determine whether the project was successfully self-funded.

It is difficult to judge the efficacy of self-funded ARG models at this time, but it seems likely that exploration of ways to fund large-scale ARGs without using them as marketing for other products will continue as the genre grows.

[edit] The Serious ARG

In a 2007 article, columnist Chris Dahlen (of Pitchfork Media) voiced a much-discussed ARG concept: if ARGs can spark players to solve very hard fictional problems, could the games be used to solve real-world problems?[37] Dahlen was writing about World Without Oil, the first ARG centered on a serious near-future scenario: a global oil shortage.[38] Another ARG, Tomorrow Calling, appears to be a testbed for a future project focused on environmental themes and activism. [39]

Serious ARGs introduce plausibility as a narrative feature to pull players into the game. People participate to experience, prepare for or shape an alternative life or future.[40] The games thus have the potential to attract casual or non-players, because ’what if’ is a game anyone can play.[41] Serious ARGs may therefore be sponsored by organizations with activist or educational goals; World Without Oil was a joint project of the Public Broadcasting Service's Independent Lens and its Electric Shadows Web-original programming.[42]

Their serious subject matter may lead Serious ARGs to diverge from mainstream ARGs in design. Instead of challenging collective intelligence to solve a gamemastered puzzle, World Without Oil’s puppetmasters acted as players to guide the “collective imagination” to create a multi-authored chronicle of the alternate future, purportedly as it was happening.[43] By asking players to chronicle their lives in the oil-shocked alternate reality, the WWO game relinquished narrative control to players to a degree not seen before in an ARG.[44]

In October 2008 The British Red Cross created a serious ARG called Traces of Hope to promote their campaign about civilians caught up in conflict.[45]

There are possible future Serious ARGs described in fiction. In his novel Halting State, Charles Stross foresightedly describes a number of possible ARGs, where players engage in seemingly fictional covert spy operations.

In 2008 the European Union funded an ARG to support Multilingualism within European secondary school students called ARGuing . This project will be completed during 2009 and will be producing a Methodology and Teacher Training guides to help educators reproduce the project.

In 2008-2009 the MacArthur Foundation supported an ARG The Black Cloud to teach US high-school students about indoor air quality. The project is active and allows teachers to rent sophisticated air quality sensors to run the game locally.

[edit] New developments

2006 produced fewer large-scale corporate ARGs than past years, but the ARG form continued to spread and be adapted for promotional uses, as an increasing number of TV shows and movies extended their universes onto the internet through such means as character blogs and ARG-like puzzle trails, and as an increasing number of independent/grassroots games launched, with varying levels of success.[46] One of the more popular indie ARGs to launch in the fall of 2006 was Jan Libby's dark yet whimsical "Sammeeeees". Lonelygirl15, a popular series of videos on YouTube, relinquished an unprecedented amount of control to its audience by recognizing a fan-created game as the "official" ARG.

In August 2006, Hoodlum produced 'PSTRIXI' for Yahoo!7 Australia. PSTRIXI was designed around a young DJ Trixi and her boyfriend Hamish. Players were engaged across all of Yahoo!7's platforms and asked to help solve the mystery of Trixi's missing sister Max. The multiplatform ARG ran for 12 weeks and used websites, email, Yahoo!360 forums, Yahoo Radio and viral television to engage the audience in the game. PSTRIXI was a major success with the Yahoo!7 community; players spent an average of 16 minutes per session on the websites and returned more than once a week.

2007 got off to a strong start immediately, with Microsoft's Vanishing Point to promote the launch of Windows Vista. The game was designed by 42 Entertainment and, due in part to many large-scale real world events, such as a lavish show at the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas as well as a prizes of a trip into space[47] and having a winner's name engraved on all AMD Athlon 64 FX chips for a certain period of time,[48] received large media attention.[49] It was followed almost immediately by another 42 Entertainment production for the release of the Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero, in which fans discovered leaked songs on thumb drives in washrooms at concerts,[50] as well as clues to websites that describe a dystopian future. Monster Hunter Club, a promotion for the U.S. release of the movie The Host, launched by sending action figures and other items to prominent members of the ARG community.[51] Perplex City concluded its first season by awarding a $200,000 prize to a player who found the game's missing cube.[52] They plan to continue the ARG into a second "season" under the name Perplex City Stories, although they have said that there will not be a large grand prize this time around. [53] Meigeist, produced by a new professional puppetmaster team, garnered a great deal of community attention and affection with a light, humorous storyline and numerous references to past ARGs. The teaser site for World Without Oil, the first major "Serious ARG," was unveiled in March 2007; the game itself launched on April 30 and ran through June 1, gathering over 1500 videos, images, blog entries and voice mails to document the "Oil Crisis of 2007."[42]

In May 2007, 42 Entertainment launched Why So Serious, an ARG to promote the feature film The Dark Knight. Hailed as being the single most impressive viral marketing campaign of all-time [54], it played out over 15 months, concluding in July 2008. Millions of players in 177 countries participated both online and taking part in live events, and it reached hundreds of millions through internet buzz and exposure,[55].

In March 2008 McDonalds and the IOC launched Find The Lost Ring (game official site), a global ARG promoting the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. The game was run simultaneously in six languages with new story lines developing in each, encouraging players to communicate with residents of other countries to facilitate sharing of clues and details of the game as a whole. American track and field athlete Edwin Moses acted as a celebrity Game Master, and McDonalds Corporation promised to donate $100,000 (USD) to Ronald McDonald House Charities China on behalf of the players.

[edit] Television tie-ins and "Extended Experiences"

Even before the development of the ARG genre, television sought to extend the reality of its shows onto the web with websites that treated their world as real, rather than discussing it as fiction. An early example was Fox's Freakylinks, developed by Haxan/GMD Studios, creators of The Blair Witch Project, who would later go on to develop the well-known ARGs The Art of the Heist and Who Is Benjamin Stove. Freakylinks employed a website designed to look like it had been created by amateur paranormal enthusiasts to generate internet interest in the show, which gathered a cult following but was canceled after 13 episodes.[56] In September 2002, following a successful initial foray into ARG-like territory with 2001's Alias web game,[57] ABC brought alternate reality gaming more definitively to the television screen with the show Push, Nevada. Produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the show created a fictional city in Nevada, named Push. When advertising the show, they advertised the city instead, with billboards, news reports, company sponsors, and other realistic life-intruding forms.[58] During each episode of the show, highly cryptic clues would be revealed on screen, while other hidden clues could be found on the city's website. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled mid-season, and all of the remaining clues were released to the public. Clever watchers eventually figured out that the show would still be paying out its $1 million prize during Monday Night Football. The last clue was revealed during half-time, prompting those fortunate enough to have solved the puzzle to call a telephone number. The first person to call received $1 million.[59] In October 2004, the ReGenesis Extended Reality game launched in tandem with the Canadian television series ReGenesis. Produced by Xenophile Media in association with Shaftesbury Films, clues and stories from the series sent players online to stop a bioterrorist attack.[60]

In 2006, the TV tie-in ARG began to come into its own when there was a surge of ARGs that extended the worlds of related television shows onto the internet and into the real world. As with Push, Nevada, ABC led the way, launching three TV tie-in ARGs in 2006: Kyle XY,[61] Ocular Effect (for the show Fallen)[62] and The LOST Experience (for the show LOST).[63] ABC joined with Channel 4 in the UK and Australia's Channel 7 in promoting a revamped web site for The Hanso Foundation. The site was focused on a fictitious company prevalent in the storyline of the TV series, and the game was promoted through television advertisements run during LOST episodes. The Fallen Alternate Reality Game was launched in tandem with the Fallen TV movie for ABC Family and was originally conceived by Matt Wolf and created by Matt Wolf (Double Twenty Productions) in association with Xenophile Media. "I am humbled by this honor..." said Wolf when accepting the Emmy for The Fallen Alternate Reality Game at the 59th Annual Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, live at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on September 8th, 2007.

NBC followed suit in January 2007, beginning an ARG for its hit TV series Heroes[64] launched through an in-show reference to the website for Primatech Paper, a company from the show, which turned out to be real. Text messages and emails led players who applied for "employment" at the site to secret files on the show's characters.[65]

In May 2007 the BBC commissioned Kudos and Hoodlum to produce an interactive ARG for their flagship drama series Spooks, "Spooks Interactive." The game enlists players to become MI5 agents who join the Section D team on missions crucial to the security of the UK, and launched on September 26th. In 2008 it won the Interactivity Award at the British Academy Television Awards and the Interactive Innovation -Content Award at the British Academy Craft Awards.

The November 9, 2007 episode of Numb3rs entitled "Primacy" featured alternate reality gaming, and launched the ARG Chain Factor, which centered on players using a flash-based puzzle game to unknowingly destroy the world's economy on the whim of one of the characters from the "Primacy" episode.

In January 2008, BBC launched "Whack the Mole" [1] for the CBBC show M.I. High in which viewers are asked to become M.I. High field agents and complete tasks to capture a mole that has infiltrated the organization.

CBS made an ARG for Jericho to promote the series in 2007.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ "SCANDINAVIA LEADS INTERNATIONAL INTERACTIVE EMMY AWARDS AT MIPTV". International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 2008-04-08. Retrieved on 2008-08-25. 
  2. ^ Stacey, Sean (10 November 2006). "Undefining ARG". Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  3. ^ McGonigal, Jane (2003), "A Real Little Game: The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play" (PDF), Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) "Level Up" Conference Proceedings, 
  4. ^ Cloudmakers. "Puppetmaster FAQ". Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  5. ^ Stacey, Sean (22 September 2002). "Unfiction Terms of Service". Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  6. ^ Hanas, Jim (25 January 2006). "The Story Doesn't Care: An Interview With Sean Stewart". Retrieved on 2007-02-20. 
  7. ^ Stewart, Sean. "Alternate Reality Games". Retrieved on 2007-02-20. 
  8. ^ "Dreadnot". SFGate. 
  9. ^ Dena, Christy (22 May 2006). "Designing Cross-Media Entertainment" (PDF). 27. Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  10. ^ "TIME Best & Worst of 2001". TIME Magazine. 2001-12-24.,9171,1001509,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  11. ^ Dena, Christy. "Top ARGs, With Stats". Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  12. ^ "The Buzzmakers". East Bay Express. 2005-05-18. Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  13. ^ "Signs of Intelligent Life: A.I.'s mysterious and masterful promotional campaign". Slate. 2001-05-15. Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  14. ^ Stewart, Sean. "The A.I. Web Game". Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  15. ^ Lee, Elan (2006), "Check Your Joystick At The Door", Montréal International Game Summit 
  16. ^ "Cloudmakers Yahoo! List". Retrieved on 2007-02-13. 
  17. ^ "Testing the Waters". Unfiction. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  18. ^ "A Conspiracy of Conspiracy Gamers". WIRED. 2001-09-19.,1284,46672,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  19. ^ Miller, Jim (November 2004). "Exocog: A case study of a new genre in storytelling". Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  20. ^ " Link to Halo 2 Release Confirmed". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2004-07-23. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  21. ^ "42 Entertainment: I Love Bees". Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  22. ^ "I Love Bees Game A Surprise Hit". WIRED. 2004-10-18.,65365-0.html. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  23. ^ "2004: In a Word; The Year of (Your Catchphrase Here)". The New York Times. 2004-12-26. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  24. ^ "Metroid Prime ARGishness". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2004-10-20. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  25. ^ "I Love Bees Two". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2006-03-07. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  26. ^ "Ilovebees-Inspired Artwork to Raise Money for Charity". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2004-12-09. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  27. ^ "I Love Beer". 2004. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  28. ^ "We Love Beef". 2007. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  29. ^ "Where's Handy?". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2005-05-18. Retrieved on 2007-07-22. 
  30. ^ "The Buzzmakers". The East Bay Express. 2005-05-18. Retrieved on 2007-07-22. 
  31. ^ "The Art of the H3ist Wrap-up and Review". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2005-06-30. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  32. ^ "Audi's Art of the Heist Captured Leads". iMedia Connection. 2005-07-26. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  33. ^ "Who Is Benjamin Stove?". iMedia Connection. 2006-05-15. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  34. ^ "Last Call Poker PM Chat Transcript". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2005-11-30. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  35. ^ "'Last Call Poker' celebrates cemeteries". CNet. 2005-11-20. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  36. ^ "Bestseller List". The New York Times. 2006-11-12. Retrieved on 2007-02-20. 
  37. ^ "Surviving A World Without Oil". Pitchfork Media. 2007-04-13. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  38. ^ "Slick Way To Address Oil Thirst". San Jose Mercury News. 2007-04-30. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  39. ^ "It's Tomorrow Calling: Do You Accept The Charges?". ARGN. 2007-08-02. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  40. ^ "WWO: Serious Games For Lower-Consumption Practices". Future-Making Serious Games. 2007-05-02. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  41. ^ "Game Friday: Aftermath of the ARG World Without Oil". Museum 2.0. 2007-07-27. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  42. ^ a b "World Without Oil: The Post-Game Press Release". ARGN. 2007-07-13. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  43. ^ "World Without Oil Launches". O'Reilly Radar. 2007-04-30. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  44. ^ "The Real Reason World Without Oil Is So Interesting". RE:TEXT. 2007-04-30. Retrieved on 2007-09-07. 
  45. ^ "Internet game for victims of war". BBC News. 2008-09-29. Retrieved on 2008-10-01. 
  46. ^ "2006 In Review: Alternate Reality Gaming". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2007-01-06. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  47. ^ "Beam me up, Bill: Network technician wins Vista 'rocketplane' ride". Computer News. 2007-02-12. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  48. ^ "First the Wait for Microsoft Vista; Now the Marketing Barrage". The New York Times. 2007-01-30. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  49. ^ "Playing Now: A game that wants you". Mercury News. 2007-02-12. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  50. ^ "Nine Inch Nails Sparks Web Marketing Conspiracy". Adotas. 2007-02-16. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  51. ^ "Dude, Where's My Monster?". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2007-02-01. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  52. ^ "£100,000 prize for digital hunter". BBC News. 2007-02-08. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  53. ^ Post-Game PM Chat Logs Accessed 2/21/2007.
  54. ^
  55. ^ Reuters
  56. ^ "A Brief History of the Alias v1.0 Web Puzzle". Unfiction. 2002-10-01. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  57. ^ "Push, NV". Unfiction. 2002-09-01. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  58. ^ "ABC Primetime: Push, Nevada". Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  59. ^ "ReGenesis: Relaunch and Award Nomination!". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2005-09-12. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  60. ^ "Kyle XY: Why, why, why?". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2006-07-30. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  61. ^ "It's Staring at Me, Mommy! Make the Oculus Stop!". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2006-08-03. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  62. ^ "Running the Really Big Show: ‘Lost’ Inc.". The New York Times. 2006-10-01. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  63. ^ "NBC Launches Digital Extensions for Heroes". Mediaweek. 2007-01-22. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 
  64. ^ "I Need a Hero! NBC ventures into ARGish territory with Heroes 360". Alternate Reality Gaming Network. 2007-01-24. Retrieved on 2007-02-19. 

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