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Interactive narratives played in the real world by groups who solve mysteries and puzzles to get to the end of the story

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Mike Minadeo



An alternate reality game (ARG)is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions.

The form is typified by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real-time and evolves according to participants' responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game's designers. Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and often work together with a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities. ARGs generally use multimedia, such as telephones, email and mail but rely on the Internet as the central binding medium.”- Wikipedia

The physical component of ARGs is similar in many ways to geocaching. Those who are familiar with this recreational hobby will be especially drawn to this storytelling method.

ARG breakdown

Components of an ARG

Trailhead/Rabbit Hole - A deliberate clue which enables a player to discover a way intothe game. Most ARGs employ a number of trailheads in several media, to maximizethe probability of people discovering the game. Some trailheads may be covert,others may be thinly-disguised adverts. These entry points are also referred toas “Rabbit Holes”.

The Curtain - The curtain is generally a metaphor for the separation betweenthe game runner and the players.This can take the traditional form of absolute secrecy regarding the identitiesof those involved with the production. In an educational setting, this would beteachers and support staff. Instead of talking about the game, game runnersinteract instead through the characters within the game.

Game Runner- Person who creates the ARG storyline and manages the progressionof the players towards the end of the game narrative.

Avatars – Certain characters will need tointeract with the players of an ARG when questions arise or they get stuck witha clue. Game runners usually create several avatars of online characters who enhance the plot and can helpguide the players. This keeps the illusion of the ARG intact, and allows ateacher to facilitate an ARG without admitting to being the game runner.

“In Game” Marker- This isa logo that signals players that they have discovered a part of the ARG. It isusually unobtrusive so as to be undiscovered by non-players. “In Game” Markers can take the form ofa secret symbol, word, portrait, or object and constantly reappear throughoutthe game.

 An example of an In-Game Marker  “The Occulus” from the ARG United Colonies


Teaching Resources

Suggested reading for teachers (books about ARG’s)

1. 39 Clues(series of books with transmedia/puzzle elements)

ARG’s inPopular Culture

Precursors to ARGs

· 1997 movie The Game

Some popular and groundbreaking ARGs

· In 2001, to market the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence . An elaborate murder mystery played out across hundreds of websites, email messages, faxes, fake ads, and voicemail messages. At the end of the trailer for the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence, the phrase“This Is Not A Game” flashed in red. A large and extremely active fan community called the Cloudmakers formed to analyze and participate in solving the game,and the combined intellect, tenacity and engagement of the group soon forced the puppet masters to create new subplots, devise new puzzles, and alter elements of the design to keep ahead of the player base.

· I Love Bees, departed radically from the website-hunting and puzzle-solving and instead wove together an interactive narrative set in 2004 with a War Of The Worlds-style radio drama set in the future. 30-60 second segments were broadcast over ringing payphones worldwide. The game pushed players outdoors to answer phones, create and submit content, and recruit others.

· ARG for 3rd Matrix movie

· Intel “The Chase” Adventure ARG- multiple digital platforms, successful ARG campaign for commercial campaign

· Flynn’s Arcade Tron Legacy promo at Comicon. By following an online mystery,successful players were invited to a recreation of “Flynn’s Arcade” from the original TRON movie.

· Th eLost Experience- 5 ARG’s were created for fans to play in between seasons of the television show LOST.

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