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ARG Gaming: Reality Entertainment Guest Starring You

Jan 23, 2008
ARG gaming, or Alternate Reality Gaming, has been around for some time but has not reached much fanfare until recently. ARGs interact with the player directly and usually involves an array of entertainment mediums. The game is an interactive narrative that uses both virtual and real world interaction to play.

During play you are searching for clues with many other group members. The story planner, called the "Puppetmaster," will plant the clues for players to find. By example, one could be on the computer searching a website then stumble upon a clue, such as a phone number, that is out of place or peculiar on the site.

Calling the phone number could result in a live person on the other end, who is an NPC (non-playing character), who can give them a narrative with a riddle or another clue to follow that might lead them to search newspaper advertisements or other websites for answers to start another clue search, and so on a so forth. Players often help each other in an online forum, pooling their thoughts to solve each enigma or riddle.

The other two terms that should be known by the player is "the Curtain" and "TINAG" (This Is Not A Game). The Curtain is simply a metaphorical term referring to the separation of the players from the Puppetmaster (a little allusion to OZ working the controls behind the curtain while scaring Dorothy and her friends). TINAG is simply an attitude that many players want to adhere to, an attitude that the game is "real" so maintain that seriousness.

ARG Becomes Big Business

The sheer spirit of the game, although popular, has not found a direct means of gaining revenue. There have been a few launchings of pay-to-play ARG games, but they haven't really caught on with this traditional style of marketing.

However, by clever means of promotion television has caught on to the ARG experience and intertwined this with advertisers. Just as clues can lead you to view different locations, site pages, newspapers and other media, they can also lead to product placement and online traffic.

A good example of this was the recent "The Fallen Alternate Reality Game" conceived by Matt Wolf. This game coincided with ABC Family's show "The Fallen" as a means to promote the TV movie series. The game brings players through sites that include clues to help players solve the game, while at the same time dropping brand names and links to vendor pages. These vendors pay add revenue for placement, while the game players, who number in the thousands, gave them plenty of traffic.

The Fallen game was a landmark achievement that won an Emmy for Matt Wolf and his team in 2007. In his Emmy Speech, Matt Wolf describes during the proposal with ABC Family how, after his "mad scientist" story board explanation of the ARG design, most studios would have walked away from the idea, but they instead stayed with it. This may mark a shift in creative direction for TVs future after an Emmy success with a large production group achieving a hit.
About the Author
Art Gib writes for D20 (http://www.d20.com/matt-wolf.html) creators of interactive entertainment and content for a variety of platforms. Matt Wolf, former executive director at Sega Entertainment, founded D20 to break new gaming ideals using multi-platform interactive media.
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