Monthly Archives: February 2012

Becoming Peter Parker

The Amazing Spider-Man does an ARG

One ARG that I’ve been hearing about recently is the one in connection to The Amazing Spider-Man which I believe is being dubbed The Mark of Spider-Man. I produce a student-run show at Trinity University and one of my hosts actually covered a story on this a few weeks ago. I was too busy directing the segment to catch her entire story, but I was so pleased that ARGs were getting some coverage even at a very local level.

Anyways, ARGNet wrote up a great little summary of what’s been going on in the game so far, so if you haven’t heard of it, make sure to check it out. They also point towards Unfiction for more discussion as to what’s going on with this game. In the coming days, I’m hoping to loop back to this and do a more detailed discussion on this game, because I really love the idea of it, especially the clue in the trailer, an homage I think to The Beast. But really, how awesome would it be to open up a backpack and find Peter Parker’s stuff in there? I can’t even imagine. I think superhero tie-ins to ARGs are always so cool because the people who are going to play these games are already invested in it because they love the story already. It’s a great way to promote the movie, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Chuck Klosterman and Narrative

Yesterday, I had the extreme privilege to meet and speak with author Chuck Klosterman, who has written things such as Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and The Visible Man. I’ll

Chuck Klosterman

have to say, he was pretty much exactly how he is in his books. Down to earth, very funny, and very conversational. Klosterman was in San Antonio at Trinity to give a lecture on pop culture and reality. It was really fascinating and it’s got me itching to ditch my homework and read all of his books. I thought that some of the things that he spoke about related quite nicely not necessarily to ARGs, but certainly to the idea of storytelling and media and technology, and how storytelling and narratives are changing with new media.

He talked a lot about television narratives and how television is at its peak– television has never been as good as it is right now. We had shows like Lost and right now we have really fantastic “high end” television shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and other AMC and HBO shows. He discussed how the way that television shows are structured, they allow for such depth and right now that is being taken advantage of in these “high end” television shows, shows that have the ability to spend more time on their characters and plots than say network television shows (even though shows like Lost did prove that was possible). Because television can show the subtle, slow character development due to its long, drawn out nature, television shows are replacing reading, especially reading deep literary fiction. This is a new storytelling medium that is finally being capitalized on. Television in the 70s and 80s was something to simply just be watched to pass the time; it has now evolved into this must watch phenomenon, where if you miss an episode, you actually catch up with it. Continue reading

Brief Review into my Research

Since I’ve decided to start a blog on alternate reality games, I thought it would be a good idea to explain what I think my credentials are in this field, since ARGs are a rather niche and complex beast (ahhhh, see what I did there?)

What does the TARDIS have to do with my research on ARGs? Read below the cut to find out.

I very first learned about ARGs about three years ago in my very first Communication class as a freshman. The final question of my Mass Media take home exam asked us to examine the work of Jane McGonigal and several other ARG design companies (their names escape me now, but I’m sure 42 Entertainment was among them). As soon as I started researching, I was entranced. Games played in real world space? Surely nothing that awesome could exist. But exist they did. I remember distinctly writing on my exam to my professor “THIS IS AWESOME” before turning it in.

In my subsequent Communication classes, ARGs kept cropping up here and there, especially in my class on Transmedia Storytelling. I studied them in more depth here, learning about The Beast and Perplex City, and eventually I worked in a group with two other students to actually create our own ARG for our campus. We put it together in less than three weeks, and it was the most rewarding, entertaining thing I think I’ve ever done at Trinity. The end result was less than satisfactory (students who were intended to be players couldn’t make the jump from the online clues to the real world clues despite our almost forceful guidance), but it was still an eye-opener into what I could do with my creative and logistical skills.

This year, as an undergraduate senior I am working on my year-long Honors Thesis, which is essentially a course in which I do independent study in a specific area of focus. I decided to focus on ARGs and their promotional uses, since most of the major ARGs have promotional tie-ins (The Beast for A.I.Why So Serious for The Dark KnightI Love Bees for Halo 2 , etc). I had actually studied this idea in my public relations class several semesters previously. However, what I also noticed was that ARGs were only being used to cater to a rather non-mainsteam audiences, usually ones that are already heavily involved in fringe gaming. Therefore, only a small demographic is being reached by ARGs. When I realized this, I decided that this was something that I could focus on– how could ARGs reach a larger demographic and therefore promote to wider range of people so that more people could experience the awesomeness that are ARGs?

Continue reading

Call for Favorites

In my past six months of intensely researching alternate reality games, several games keep popping up in my research because of their exposure levels or measure of success by players or other game designers. I think it’s obvious to guess that the three that have cropped up the most are The Beast for A.I.Why So Serious for The Dark Knight, and I Love Bees for Halo 2. The Beast was arguably the first ARG and has retained notoriety for that. Why So Serious gained its popularity seemingly from the sheer amount of players it amassed (over 10 million). I Love Bees seems to have become an ARG favorite due to one of its designers, Jane McGonigal, and its quirky way of delivering clues– geolocation and pay phones.

I think my personal favorite ARG that I’ve read and studied about, besides Why So Serious, is Perplex City. Unfortunately, I’ve found very little literature or press about this game, even though I think it is just a really awesome game concept. I’m actually using some of its elements in my own game design. If anyone has any literature or information about the game besides the YouTube video previously embedded, I would love to read about it. The reason I’m partial to Perplex City is because it is already doing something that I really am focusing on in my research– the idea of crossing casual elements such as the game cards with smaller puzzles and larger, story arch puzzle pieces. I think this is brilliant because it allows for both casual and hardcore gamers. I really think that this is a great model because it opens up ARGs to more than just the elite few of gaming. I’ll probably dedicate an entire separate post to this idea because I can already feel myself getting off topic.

Some of the other ARGs that I’ve read about include:

  • Last Call Poker
  • Year Zero
  • Free Fall
  • Ghost of a Chance
  • The Shadow War
  • Traces of Hopes (British Red Cross)
  • The Lost Ring

There is so little information about these games out there for public access that this is all of the games I’ve come across in academic research. I believe my next step is to immerse myself into player sites and sort through the current ARGs that are being played in addition to some of the standout games of the past.

I simply pose the question of what do you think some of the top ARGs are in the past decade? Why? What made them work? What didn’t? Because there is so little information out there on followup ARG design, I’m trying to compile as much information as I can so that I can look at ARG design as a whole from an academic and theorist standpoint. It’s eventually my goal to have this great source of knowledge about all kinds of ARGs, both successful and not, so that designers can really look at them and then build on them. That is the goal after all, isn’t it? To build a better ARG?

I’d like to discuss lots of different ARGs in all shapes and forms and so I’d love to hear about any ARGs that anyone thinks are super awesome or super weird.