The Rise of the ARG

by Dave Szulborski on August 18, 2007

in ARG, ARGs, ARGTalk

The Rise of the ARG

Alternate Reality Games are Everywhere!

Dave Szulborski

If you haven’t been lucky enough to experience the unique thrill of immersing yourself in an Alternate Reality Game (or ARG) yet, you couldn’t pick a better time to do it than right now. ARGs are literally popping up everywhere, from major marketing campaigns for cool new movies and books, to social awareness campaigns designed to educate people to the perils of global warming, over-dependence on oil-based energy, to innovative and experimental games sponsored by universities and academic organizations, exploring the possibilities inherent in this new form of digital storytelling. Even my step-daughter’s college is holding a mini-ARG as a way of introducing new students to each other, the campus, and the nearby town. For a genre that is still really only in its infancy, ARGs are quickly spreading throughout the marketing, entertainment, and academic worlds, and stand on the verge of breaking through to the awareness and consciousness of the general public.

01-18-08 ARG for new J.J. Abrams movieSo, like I said, now is the perfect time for YOU to discover the wonderful world of Alternate Reality Games, and I am going to use this entry to run through some quick introductions to a few ongoing campaigns in hopes that you do just that.

There are two potentially huge ARGs going on right now, both for MAJOR entertainment properties, one proven and one brand new. The first has been nicknamed IRIS and is a promotion for the upcoming release of Halo 3, the latest entry into one of the biggest-selling video game franchises of all time.

Besides the official Bungie game site linked above, the ARG also includes a weird and intentionally amateurish site called The Society of the Ancients, and the gameplay involves accessing hidden information locked away on the various servers on the Halo 3 site. There’s a great Wiki produced by one of the game’s fans to help catch you up on what’s happened before here, so you’ve got no excuse to dive right in and experience the Halo universe like you never have before.

Bungie's Halo 3 website

The second new ARG campaign that has everyone buzzing, both in the existing ARG fan communities and on many of the entertainment news and trend-watching web sites is called 01-18-08, named after the trailhead site that was found from a mysterious movie trailer played at the end of the recent popular Transformers movie. This article has a great description of the trailer itself and an explanation of how he ARG has been linked to the new J.J. Abrams movie project codenamed Cloverfield.

01-18-08 movie poster

For those who don’t know, J.J. Abrams is a film and television producer, the man responsible for the hit show Alias and the mega-hit LOST. His latest creation is a yet-to-be-named (at least officially and publicly) monster movie, whose Blair Witch style trailer has the Internet abuzz.

Slusho - You Can't Drink Just Six!The puzzling web site at 1-18-08.com doesn’t reveal too much and neither does an odd companion site called Slusho, but those, along with seven MySpace pages for characters from the upcoming film, have been more then enough to fuel hundreds of pages of speculation about the campaign at the Unfiction Forums, the largest active ARG fan forum site on the Net. There’s also a very good Wiki with everything that’s been discovered about the game here.

Besides major film and video game properties, ARGs are currently being used to promote everything from perfume – a recently launched campaign featuring Sarah Jessica Parker’s new perfume Covet called The Case of the Coveted Bottle – to books – Christopher Forrest’s new release called The Genesis Code.

One of the great things about Alternate Reality Games is that you don’t necessarily need a large budget or any advanced computer programming skills to create one. Consequently there are always at least a handful of smaller independent ARGs running at anyone time which can be just as well done and entertaining as the larger commercial campaigns. Some of the games that look to be the work of such amateur creators going right now include Tomorrow Calling, Tom Tooman, Adam Worsley, and Brent’s Destiny.

One recent indie game deserving of special mention, for all the wrong reasons, is being called The Red King Project, the premise of which is a direct rip-off of a plot arc I did in one of my earlier games, Urban Hunt, over 3 years ago. For that game I created a web site called Dream Projector, featuring a fictional device that supposedly read and recorded people’s dreams, so that they could be played back and watched as video clips. And guess what the premise of the new Red King Project is? That’s right – a device that can read and record dreams. Sheesh. Sometimes you just can’t win. I really couldn’t tell you if the Red King game itself is good or bad, because it’s rubbed me in such a wrong way that I refuse to spend much time with it at all, although I can honestly say that Urban Hunt pulled off the concept of the actual device and its videos much more convincingly than what I’ve seen of the new game’s assets.

There are many other ARGs of all sizes and flavors running currently as well, so there’s a real good chance you can find one that both tweaks your interest and has a theme, execution, and subject matter that draws you in even further. You can find out about the latest ARG news and game launches at a site called ARGN so there’s no excuse not to get started discovering an alternate reality that suits you now.

{ 2 comments }

Uncle Humpasaur August 18, 2007 at 7:57 pm

The gee-whiz tone of this left me pretty unimpressed. ARG is a lot more than “neat fun” — there’s probably more dark undertones than there are bright, shiny overtones. ARG inevitably model themselves after actual conspiracy-theory rabbit-hole experiences, like the Mucho-Disturbing game El Centro, which was steeped in some really gruesome shit, like the Monarch mythos and of course, MKULTRA.

It’s not just countercultural ARG’s that do this, even Campfire’s ad campaign for a football video game was build on gradually unraveling a hidden conspiracy involving electronic mind control and video game addiction — Fast Company did a dope profile on Campfire that starts with a discussion of that ARG:

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/110/open_rabbit-hole.html

There’s also the question of wether or not the recent death/suicide of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake was part of an ARG — or perhaps co-opted by one after the fact. The always-interesting site Dreams End has been devoted to that lately:

I guess the biggest reason this article hit me as “why is this on Alterati” is that it reads, top to bottom, like an ad. An ad for what are, essentially, corporate sponsored wastes of precious time.

Fi August 19, 2007 at 7:45 am

“An ad for what are, essentially, corporate sponsored wastes of precious time”

Exactly the same could be said for ARG’s!

And I very much doubt it was Dave’s intention that this article read like an ad, afterall he is one of the highest regarded puppermasters in the ARG community and has created some fantastic games, many without corporate sponsorship at all.

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