Of Coverups and Deaddrops

   Posted by: thebruce

Songwraith returns.
Earlier this year in April, the Unfiction community stumbled on a trailhead they called “What If The Game Is A Coverup?“. I’d helped out by getting to a “live drop” in Toronto to retrieve an artifact for the story. Later there was another ‘meet’ in Galt, closer to home. It stalled at this point, but it’s recently returned with renewed vigour, now coined “The Game Is A Coverup“.

Once again, its activities seemed centered around south-western Ontario. Once again, a deaddrop appeared at the location of the last one. Only this time, the context was a little less ‘shady’.  So, mustering up some determination, I headed out, again, to the same location, this time guided by GPS coordinates to retrieve, what is effectively a geocache (but for an ARG, and just a pickup – a ‘deaddrop’)

dead dropnoun
A drop used for the clandestine exchange of intelligence information

In the ARG world, deaddrops are a small bite of heaven — It’s a hunt. An excursion. A task. A Quest. Gold of virtual story-telling.

Below is my tale of the Coverup deaddrop – the first likely of a few others to come for other lucky ARGers at other locations.

(As a side note, another recent campaign that made heavy use of ‘deaddrops’ is the Gears of War 2 promotion, though it wasn’t for ‘information’, but rather for limited unique GOW memorabilia which also unlocked special content online – see more in the article Gearing Up)

Long version:

(skip to the end for the short version :)
I contemplated about whether I should make the trip or not on Monday – I had the choice to wait and go with a friend for the cost of gas later in the week, or just give in and go myself by bus that evening by bus, eating up the 2 1/2 hour travel time (round trip) with NaNoWriMo and other pressing matters. I decided with the latter, since I had no plans for that night.

Damaged Facsimile Encased in Glass
Shaded by Stone and Asleep on Grass
Unknowing Eyes, We Must Hope, Look Last
The Key is Found Looking Future to Past

It was a dark and stormy night… Well, dark, and stormy the night before.

I left right after work, hopping on the express bus for the 1 1/2 hour trip to the Galt coordinates. The last bus back out was at 9:15pm, so I had lots of time to search. Unfortunately, I had daylight savings backwards in terms of light, and mistakenly thought it would be brighter than it ended up being by 6:30pm. By the time I got to Galt and walked the 15 minutes to the drop, it was nearly pitch black. And because it had been raining for the past day, it was also muddy and squishy wet.


I was updating a friend via txt message, and we both had thoughts (simul-txted!) regarding the use of a flashlight… which I didn’t think to take. I had my cell phone, however it was at about half power by that time. I also had my camera with which I planned to video my excursion.

Being that dark, I proceeded with caution. There were few lights, if any, and none in the forest path and drop area. So I walked around and surveyed, quietly, watching for suspicious people, vehicles, and other signs of human life. The parking lot had a couple of cars, but the one at the far end, shrouded in darkness and shadow had me even more wary of my surroundings.

I went towards the rectangular clearing, walking quietly and listening for muffled voices or rustling. I was 99% sure there would be no one around, at least related to the game, since I never told anyone I’d be there at that time. In that clearing, it quickly went from total black to pitch black – If there’s even a difference. I had to give my time eyes to really adjust.

Around the back of the clearing, where the coordinates lead, I quickly noticed that the entire area had dramatically overgrown with bushes, branches, twigs, leaves, weeds… with pretty much everything you’d find in the woods since the last time I’d been there. It was hard even just to find things I remembered from last visit – it was pitch black, and a very different layout.

I managed to find a black post from last visit, half hidden and covered by low-hanging tree branches. But couldn’t find a thing. The post was exactly as I remembered. The ground in the area was soft and moist, so my kicking around for rocks and stones proved fruitless.

My cell’s screen did little good as a light – it’s not focused and it’s relatively dim for an area like this. With a couple of hours to spare, I fought off the nagging desire to give up and decided to push forward given how much time and effort I put into getting here. I went back to the GTO station to pick up a flashlight – any size, it didn’t really matter.

The attendant didn’t have any.
Not even a flashlight in the back to borrow.
Go figure.

I went back to the clearing to look around some more. Still nothing.
Giving up was becoming really enticing.

I looked in the other direction and saw some store lights, so decided to take a walk. Lo and behold, Tim Horton’s! And a Short Stop! woot!

Short Stop also had no flashlights. Well, actually… scratch that:
They had a TOY flashlight.

A halloween flashlight.

That made spooky sounds.

And it didn’t have batteries.

Not only that, the battery compartment for this thing was screwed shut.

AND SHORT STOP– well, they almost didn’t have a screwdriver either. But the cashier found one in a drawer. *tsk*  (I must have really messed up my karma before heading out :P)

So I bought the flashlight for $8, and headed back to the GTO for batteries.

Thankfully, GTO had batteries.

Or, they would have, if they ACTUALLY HAD FREAKING BATTERIES. Which they did not. Not even in the back. Even their cordless phone used a proprietary battery.

Thinking, desperately to myself, I remembered that my camera used four AA’s. However, if I used those, I wouldn’t be able to video while searching.

Oh well. Small price to pay.

So I headed back to the forest, sat down under a street light, and attempted to get the batteries in the flashlight.

It didn’t work.

I took the thing apart to check the light. It was fine.
I looked at the battery contacts. They appeared fine.

See, I recently bought a set of rechargeable batteries for home, but quickly found these had more of a recessed (+) contact, and with added battery padding in the remote Wii sensor I wanted them in, would not fit.

Well this flashlight had little plastic guards by the (+) sensor, which made these batteries not quite make contact.

So out came the keys, followed by a lot of prying and twisting to get rid of those little plastic protrusions that hindered the batteries from doing their job.

YAAAAY! The flashlight finally worked! Now… back to the hunt.

What a difference a real (toy) flashlight made!
And to think, all that could have been avoided if I’d taken a flashlight. *sigh*

Anyway, back at the coordinates, I swept the area with the flashlight. I was worried I might look suspicious, and see a police car pull up at some point, but that never happened.

I still couldn’t find anything outside the clearing at the coordinates, and with how overgrown the area was, it was hard to compare to the satellite view.

I re-entered the clearing, and contemplated the poem for a bit. “Shaded by stone” — the clearing was bordered by large cement blocks. So I leaned over to check the outside of the blocks by the coordinates.

But, I noticed a couple of very overgrown flat boulders, which really blended nicely into the ground (ironically, precisely where the GPS coordinates appeared to indicate). And they were jutting out a bit. So I went back around, had to maneuver my way around under that low-hanging tree again, shove aside some tall grass and bushes, and made it to those stones. And really, clear as day (to the toy flashlight), was a glass jar sitting under the jutting edge of the closer of the two stones.

It probably would have been spotted quickly during the day, but likely passed over as garbage by “unknowing eyes”, if they did see it.

Before retrieving it, I took replaced the batteries into my camera and took all the pictures shown in the article, then got my grubby hands on the artifact.

Short version:

Spooky. Clearing. Flashlight! Clearing. Batteries! Clearing. Stone. Clearing. Jackpot!

I’m seriously never going back to that freaking clearing again! :P


Now, with certainty I can say: it was a fun adventure that was well worth the trip :)

I wouldn’t recommend going to a deaddrop at a similar time or place (pitch black, in a forest, in a shady area, away from nearby civilization) at least alone – it’s simply not the safest thing to do. If I’d have thought beforehand , I would have gone earlier or another day. Seeing as how I had already arrived, I took extra precaution to look out for strangers or people out in the bush, just in case. And also if the road wasn’t as busy as it was, I likely would have put it off. My first look at the clearing I was slightly tense and nervous. I did hear voices, coughing, a bit of hacking, echoing through the forest, coming from the water’s edge. A couple of times late bikers passed nearby coming back to their vehicles. It was a very shady (as in suspicious and potentially dangerous) setting. I also wouldn’t have stayed any later than 9:00pm or so given these conditions.

Dead drops are a great way for players to feel connected and “own” a game.

As an ARGer, make sure you go to them prepared with taking sufficient safety measures for the environment – given the ‘unknown’ nature of ARGs, you can never be too careful, especially with evil/horror/spiritual/negative themes games.

As a puppetmaster, just make sure that it’s a fun, safe, and memorable experience. And realize that (depending on your playerbase of course) there may be children or youth playing.

But in the end, deaddrops = gold.  And GPS coordinates are the rainbow tauntingly leading to the treasure.

Oh, and a flashlight can save your life!

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Categories: ARGs General

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 at 10:44 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 comments so far


Hiya Bruce,

How do you come across all these awesome ARG’s? I have to dig and dig to find one and then wait and wait for them to get moving…To top it off, you get swag packages mailed to you by the puppetmasters of some games?!?!

Lucky. Very, very luck.

Rob (Robbie @ SHH!/RobbiedaKid @ Unfiction)

November 12th, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Just keep your eyes open *shrug*
And for the record, I really don’t get a lot or get involved a lot. San Fran, New York, other population hotbeds tend to get a lot. Occasionally a PM may be closer to your location. Occasionally a PM may decide they’d like you involved from the getgo, or feel you’d be a good method to get word out (more often than not bloggers, reporters, and owners of websites get rabbitholes because it gets the word out to a greater audience).
Otherwise, just like you – I’m at Unfiction and ARGN, so those are my resources (but certainly not the be-all and end-all of resources :). Sometimes specific communities are targeted because they related to the story/product/etc. So there’s really no surefire way of getting more involved. Ye just gotta watch and listen ;)

November 12th, 2008 at 3:57 pm

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