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Alternate Reality Games

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Slides on Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) from a guest lecture at the IS Research on Games course. The lecture introduces the concepts behind ARGs, reviews the related history and inspirations, and …

Slides on Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) from a guest lecture at the IS Research on Games course. The lecture introduces the concepts behind ARGs, reviews the related history and inspirations, and poses questions about the current state of ARGs.


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  • 1. JOUNI SMED – UNIVERSITY OF TURKU A LT E R N AT E R E A L I T Y GAMES
  • 2. PLEASE, FOLLOW ME…
  • 3. INTRIGUED?
  • 4. A LT E R N AT E R E A L I T Y G A M E ( A R G ) • interactive narrative which uses the real world as a platform • utilizes often different media and game elements • intensive player participation • the story happens in real time • can change according to the players’ ideas and choices • game designers create characters that can be controlled by a human or an AI
  • 5. T H E P L AY E R S • interact with the game characters • solve challenges and puzzles related to the plot • work often as a community to analyse the story and to co-ordinate events in the real world and in the net
  • 6. ARG TERMINOLOGY • puppetmaster(s) • the curtain • rabbithole • trailhead
  • 7. TINAG AESTHETICS • “This is not a game” – TINAG • the game does not behave as a game • anything in the game really works (e.g. email addresses or phone numbers) • the players are not provided with an over-designed game environment or a strict set of rules
  • 8. DIFFERENCES TO OTHER GAME FORMS • computer games: ARG can reside outside of computers and does not require any game-specific software • RPGs and LARP: the players do not assume any role but are themselves • MMOGs: no avatars nor specific software required • viral marketing: does not hide real products but implicates indirectly its fictitious nature
  • 9. HISTORICAL EXAMPLES AND I N S P I R AT I O N S I N L I T E R AT U R E ‣ G. K. Chesterton: “The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown”, 1905 ‣ John Fowles: The Magus, 1966 (revised edition 1977) ‣ Thomas Pyncheon: The Crying of Lot 49, 1966 ‣ Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson: The Illuminatus! Trilogy, 1975 ‣ Samuel R. Delany: Triton, 1976
  • 10. HISTORICAL EXAMPLES AND I N S P I R AT I O N S I N O T H E R M E D I A • movies ‣ The Game, 1997 • urban legends ‣ “Paul is dead” (The Beatles) • conspiracy theories • others ‣ Pink Floyd: Publius Enigma
  • 11. E A R LY E X A M P L E S O F A R G S • 1996: Dreadnot: a web game by the San Francisco Chronicle • 1997: Starlight Travel: a web site promoting Douglas Adams’ computer game Starship Titanic • 1999: the marketing of The Blair Witch Project • 1999–2005: Nokia Game
  • 12. THE BEAST & MAJESTIC • Majestic ‣ produced by Electronic Arts and EA Online ‣ development began 1999; launch 31.7.2001; discontinued 30.4.2002 • The Beast ‣ produced by Microsoft ‣ connected to the Steven Spielberg movie A.I. ‣ lasted 12 weeks in the spring/summer 2001
  • 13. THE BEAST • a murder mystery • comprised hundreds of web pages, e-mails, faxes, fake commercials and voice mails • gathered over 3 million active participants • the players formed Cloudmakers community to collect and co-ordinate the solution efforts
  • 14. THE TRAILHEAD
  • 15. THE RABBITHOLE • Jeanine Salla is a character in the ARG taking place in 2142 (in the world of the A.I. movie) • the players could find Jeanine's biography at the website of a fictional university and personal sites of some of her family members and friends • from the material the players could find Jeanine’s phone number and email address • contacting Jeanine returns a message revealing that her friend Evan Chan has died in a boating accident aboard an AI-enhanced vessel • the players also found evidence that Evan was actually murdered
  • 16. THE GAME • featured characters like anti-robot activists, rogue AI trackers and robot sympathizers • game development happened at the same time as the players explored it • the developers incorporated many of the players’ actions into the plot • in the climax, players were invited to Anti-Robot Militia rallies in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles • online players co-operated by solving special puzzles (e.g., keywords being shouted by rally leaders or an email address found on a bathroom mirror) • at the end, news broke of the passing of legislation that recognized the civil rights of robots
  • 17. I LOVE BEES • developed by 42 Entertainment (the creators of The Beast) • July–December 2004 • promoted the Halo 2 video game • trailhead: Video • rabbithole: http://www.ilovebees.com/
  • 18. I LOVE BEES (CONT’D) • 5½ hour radio drama divided into one minute segments that were being sent to public pay phones • the players had to answer the phone in the right place at the right time • the drama was reconstructed from the segments by the player community
  • 19. OTHER ARGS • The Art of Heist (2005) • Last Call Poker (2005) • World Without Oil (2007) • Why So Serious (2007) • Year Zero (2007) • Traces of Hope (2008)
  • 20. D E C O N S T R U C T E D N A R R AT I V E • begin with a story with interesting characters and setup • decompose the story into pieces • analyse the pieces and create evidence that would exists had the story happened • hide the evidence into puzzles • when the players find a piece and share it with the community, the community reconstructs the story
  • 21. ARG OR HOAX? • in-content clues (e.g. takes place in a fictive world or has unrealistic claims) • around-content clues (e.g. rabbithole through a fictive world, registrations, disclaimers)
  • 22. THE STRUCTURE OF ARGS • exposition • interaction • challenges
  • 23. S E A N S T E W A R T: T H R E E I N T E R A C T I O N S T R AT E G I E S • how the players can affect the narrative ‣ power without control: give the players the control over the narrative only in specific situations; give up the power but not the control ‣ voodoo: let the player to create “raw material” where you create the story components ‣ jazz: build in enough empty spaces and leave yourself enough time and resources to go towards the players
  • 24. N O W, W H AT E V E R H A P P E N E D T O A R G S ? • the reality-TV trap: each new production must outdo its predecessors? • not a mass entertainment: more successful as a subculture? • elitism: ARGs are getting beyond the skills of average players (cf. Cicada 3301)? • funding: too costly to create a globally spread game? • monetization: players willing to pay or to crowdsource for the ARG? • lack of developers: “traditional” game genres are more interesting (and lucrative)?