Alternate Reality Games

I’ve recently gotten involved in a “new” type of game: The Alternate Reality Game. New, in that it’s still fairly niche. ARGs have existed for a while and are slowly gaining in popularity. I heard about them some years ago but never actually participated, and that’s changing now (well, within the limits that my time allows for).

An ARG is basically a mixture between a puzzle game and a scavenger hunt. The organizers – the so-called “Puppet masters” – invent a plot and leave a trail of clues and riddles for the players to unravel. By its nature, these games are “viral”, and players organize themselves on forums etc to work on the clues and riddles together. The ARG is used a lot as a viral marketing tool, most famously a campaign run for the Cloverfield move. Another was the “I love Bees” campaign to promote Halo 2.

ARGs are not the same as viral marketing, however. Alternate Reality Games do not try to trick consumers into believing a falsehood. While the ARG pretend that they are not games – “This Is Not A Game” is the ARG mantra and part of their design aesthetic – it will acknowledge its artificial and fictional nature, usually by using obviously fictitious elements. An Alternate Reality Game has more in common with Live Action Role Playing Games, except there is no set rules system, and people do not have to meet, dress up, etc. Also, where the Game Masters are quite obviously present in LARPs, they are hidden behind “The Curtain” in an Alternate Reality Game.

What makes an ARG so interesting, to me, is that they weave an interactive story to a possibly fairly large audience, limited pretty much only by how much money and effort is put in. They seem to be an excellent method to build a community. ARGs are fairly intense experiences, and even when they reach a smaller target audience, this audience has a much more intimate contact with the material in the game.

Links to get you started on Alternate Reality Games:

  • ARGNet – news source for ARGs
  • Unfiction – Community site for ARG players and organizers

I would love to run an ARG some day, though my location in Germany and the fact that I am not a native speaker are hindrances. The ARG scene in Germany seems to be very limited.

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