Now it’s personal…

   Posted by: thebruce

A.R.E. Rabbit HoleYou 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.

Save Even SmithWikibruce 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.


A.R.E. Address
A.R.E. Group Photo

A.R.E. Cryptex

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.


Categories: ARGs General, Grassroots, Puppetmasters, Rabbit Hole

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 at 1:26 pm. 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.

6 comments so far


I’m really not sure if I could get into a personal ARG… there’s part of me that would say YES… Then there’s part that doesn’t feel safe. I’m intrigued… I’d prefer to get involved with an ARG and then they do personal stuff I guess.

February 25th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Yeah, I guess the question is: how personal is too personal? Obviously if you have no public record of your location/address/contact info, and something like this appears on your doorstep, there may be greater cause for alarm, but some may even consider that an enticing part of the mystery!

February 25th, 2009 at 2:29 pm
Wallace O Wright

“What are your feelings towards ARGs specifically targeted at individuals? Single players? Just for you and exclusively for you?”

– As soon as you share it with the world, then it’s no longer personal – it involves us all…

“Do you think this particular style of ARG will catch on?”

– ARGing is still a very new concept in the evolution of gaming, and most of what is experienced in these small circles will not be experienced by the world. Will it “catch on”? Till you can find boxed ‘do-it-yourself’ ARGs at Toys R Us, the general public exposure will really mostly limited to scavenger hunting treasure finding games put on by big companies like Dr. Pepper.

“Would you play it if it happened to you?”

– It happened to someone else and I am playing it, so yes, it has, and I am…

“Would you ignore it?”

– Now that would be rude.

“Would you take it public?”

– Always take it public. If you love games, that’s the only way for them to grow and evolve.

“Or would you straight up call the authorities for harassment?”

– A game is a game – it’s supposed to be fun (perhaps even make you crazy, but fun none the less) – calling the authorities for harassment is necessary if someone is forcing someone to play against their will. Free will should be the cardinal rule for life, and for gaming, meaning, play or not – the choice is yours – just like in life!

“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.”

– Resigned? No no no, oh contraire, by my posting here, that in itself actually makes you now a part of this story good sir, not merely an observer. Naturally, the choice is yours, to play or observe, but don’t think for a moment that you are resigned to simply being the observer. As soon as you commented on this game, you became a participant, and therefore are now drawing the attention of all the players… (I’m enjoying your blog by the way, and very much like your writing style.)

“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.”

– I couldn’t agree with you more! Respect and safety is extremely important, especially when opening up things to the outside world. But if you play safely, not only will it be rewarding, but with every game played and shared with the world will push the evolution of gaming forward to places we cannot even conceive of yet…

Happy gaming!

Mr. Wrong

February 25th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Thanks for this thebruce! Maybe it is the fact that most of my life exists in one way or another online, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging etc… but I have no issues with feeling unsafe or threatened. This whole experience has been absolutely amazing and I would not trade it for the world! :)

February 25th, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Here’s what happened to Star…

A hijack of the hijack of the hijack!!!

Star went to Dundas Square, but was quickly ‘abducted’ and was whisked away from all the various pending hijack attempts – basically, the ultimate hijack… Here’s a video of what happened:


Star will post about what specifically happened in the next day or so…

But she’s safe and sound, and luved every minute of it. There were unmaskings, unexpected surprises, tremendous brilliance, and tremendous lameness (looking your way William)…

March 3rd, 2009 at 12:27 am

I think that would be fun, but one of the things I really love about ARGs is the collective effort and the connections you make through shared experiences.

March 5th, 2009 at 6:28 pm

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