This is the part of the story where I start fulfilling some of the promises I made to you ages ago. First, let’s talk about ARGs.
ARGS are “Alternative Reality Games,” a fancy word for multi-channel (Transmedia) storytelling. Hm, there were a lot of fancy words in that last sentence. At its core, an ARG is game where the setting is the real world, think Personal Effects but more expansive. There are often a bunch of clues strewn about, websites to visit, puzzles to solve, and fake phone numbers to call, all for the sake of unlocking the story and finding out what’s going on.
One of the first commercial ARGs was a game called Majestic. It was released by Electronic Arts in 2001 and it was a story of conspiracies and aliens and all sorts of other interesting sci-fi tropes. Players would be able to “chat” with characters in the game on AIM, and they would even receive phone calls and faxes guiding them through the storyline. Unfortunately, it never picked up enough steam and after being stalled post-9/11 it was completely discontinued in 2001.
Since then, there have been a number of ARGS – I Love Bees promoted Halo, Lost Experience was built around the show Lost and Perplex City was an ARG used to drive interested for a collectible card game. Each of these games has met with varying degrees of success, as game designers try to balance the complexity of “real-world” gaming against good storytelling.
Before you get too excited about building your own ARG, I wanted you to read this article, which was written by Dan Hon of Six To Start, a successful developer of ARGs including, “We Tell Stories” an ARG commissioned by Penguin Books to promote some of their up and coming authors.
No single quote does this post justice, what I will say is this: the greatest crime a storyteller can commit is to forget his audience. We had an entire segment on this and what Dan is pointing out is that the reason so few people have heard of ARGs and so many of them die on the vine is because their creators are so wrapped up in the medium that they forget the point.
If you’re still not sure what an ARG is, maybe these will help.