You stumble on a blog, one created by a high school student a few days ago who received a mysterious package in the mail and videoblogged it on Youtube. The package contains a small memory card with some pictures and mp3s, and a crumpled paper on which is written a scratchy message to this person by name, saying that something’s coming – something big. ‘Cool! A new ARG rebbithole!’ you think. You pass the link around to some friends and let your immediate ARG community know about it… some even secretly wonder what it would be like to get a hold of this note to add to their ARG swag collection at some point.
Yes, this is an ARG, and the blog creator is a puppetmaster; the student is an actor.
Now what if this person were real? What if the creator of the blog were a real person who received this real package, which was sent to them, and no one else, which even mentioned them specifically by name? What if this were you? Is that still cool? Many would reflexively say yes!
Over the years I’ve been in the ARG scene, I’ve seen a few mysteries like this crop up occasionally. Anywhere from personalized contact containing mini puzzles like secret santa riddles, to friends pranking friends or creating special birthday experiences. It’s rare that a lot of time and effort are actually put into producing a complex, deep experience, drawing them ever deeper down the rabbit hole, with no other target audience than a single individual. Actually, the only other example I can personally recall to that extent is fictional – depicted in the movie The Game, with Michael Douglas.
To a much lesser degree, recently there was a game I became involved in where I was actually concerned about the context and nature of a particular live meeting nearby: late at night in a shady forest in a dimly lit secluded area of a city next to mine. Naturally, I wouldn’t want to promote such iffy live events, considering the enormous range of players and ages that might be following certain ARGs (even if the PM is known and trusted, simply due to that environment). So I was reluctant in this case. Shortly, the PM altered the event slightly to become a dead-drop that wasn’t time-of-day dependent. Much better.
Wikibruce has also been the focus of communication for a game we called Save Evan Smith, where a mysterious character ‘mothernature’ left personalized comments, to me by name, through Wikibruce, leading to a rather ARGish blog at saveevansmith.blogspot.com, and a person named Cunningham (and his blog) who was investigating the mysterious disappearance of this Evan Smith. I naturally took the happenings to the community, and it continued from there. I still occasionally received personalized messages during the course of the game, but the game now involved and became playable for the community.
Forward to today, we come to a new occurance – a fellow blogger and local ARG friend, Star Spider, who runs a small business Alternate Reality Events out of Toronto, recently received a package in the mail addressed to her by name (well, the package was received at her mother’s house), containing a CD, old photo, and a number of random songs.Further communication from a person named W.O.W. (William O. Wright), who has since appeared on Facebook, is now communicating specifically and exclusively with her, and even offering challenges of trust, and puzzle solving with twists. It’s been speculated that this (a personalized ARG) could be a smart way to sell one’s skills as a game developer to a team or company you hope to be employed at in such a capacity.
In my opinion, Star is wisely making this turn of events quite public and open, hoping others will join her in the adventure. But mainly it’s for the enjoyment of analyzing the game and production itself, a subject matter to discuss first-hand. She’s decided to treat it very seriously (fun in itself) as an exchange between two game creators engaging in a fluid, dynamic mystery experience. She began blogging about it on the 17th, and continues to do so. Whoever is behind this is doing a good job of stirring up interest, even though it’s targeted for Star.
So, my question is this: What are your feelings towards ARGs specifically targeted at individuals? Single players? Just for you and exclusively for you?
Given the ‘unknown’ and mysterious nature of the ARG in its traditional sense - blurring the line between reality and fiction - do you think this particular style of ARG will catch on? Would you play it if it happened to you? Would you ignore it? Would you take it public? Or would you straight up call the authorities for harrassment? I say this a lot, but I truly hope these don’t lead to a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. The movie “Untraceable” hit too close to home.
For now, I’m happily resigned to reading Star’s ongoing reports of her personal ARG experience with this W.O.W. person, and intrigued to find out how it will play out for her. And I’m certainly not saying this style of personalized gameplay is bad or will bring doom on us all! When done right, reliably, and respectfully to privacy and safety concerns, these personalized ARGs can certainly be entertaining and enjoyable, and for more than just a single individual.
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