Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The alternative to Alternative Reality Games is Alternative Reality Locations

In my last post, I mentioned that there is a new library-based ARG (Alternative Reality Game) that is just getting underway. 

The game began when a noted ARG game-player received these overdue notices in the mail. A web search brought up this suspicious library website but there wasn't much to go on until someone found a phrase encoded in these four index cards:

The solution can be found here with a wee bit more explanation here.

I've been following the game/story rather than actually play the game and solve the puzzles involved because 1) I'm not very good at puzzles and 2) by the time I get to puzzle, it is already solved by someone better than I am.

And these reasons just happen to be two of the largest inherent limitations of "traditional" ARGs : they can only be played once and a relatively small percentage of those who play, end up actively contributing to the game. Now this doesn't mean that ARGs like Snowtown Library lack merit. I for one, am completely hooked on its mysteries so I'm following the game like its a story - through a discussion board called Unfiction, no less. 

The genre is developing and there seems to be a couple solutions to the design limitations of ARGs. The first, is to the make the game about making and documenting things. Two examples of these games would include and Urgent Evoke (if you missed its first run, you can apply to play a three month trial of the season one dark site).

There's another development that I'm particularly interested in. ARGs are now being developed to be played in a particular place. The most notable example of this new type of game is the Jejune Institute which I haven't played because you have to be in San Francisco to experience it. That's what's lost. But much has been gained. From an interview with Jeff Hull, one of the founders of the Jejune Institute:

One thing I really like about the Jejune Insitute is the fact that it’s a cross-platform interactive narrative that works a little bit like a gallery installation: it’s just *there*, online, on the air, and in physical space. This represents a very different approach to storytelling than that found in more “traditional” ARGs, which are typically structured around the gradual unveiling of story information leading up to a climax event of some sort. What made you pick this different path? What did you gain (and/or lose) by abandoning the unity of time?

You’re correct about the induction center as “gallery installation”. We wanted to create an immersive automated well-curated environment, and to have it exist semi-permanantly. We were outsiders to the ARG universe, and totally ignorant of it’s culture and customs. So when we finally appeared at the ARG Fest-o-Con in Portland, we learned that we had inadvertently solved one of the major stumbling blocks of earlier ARG’s; “replayability”. What we had produced could be experienced over and over again, and shared with friends, and so on. The big trade off was that it was local. People in other parts of the world are not able to experience it directly. But ideally we’ll be able to produce unique experiences in other cities in the future. Every city should have their own game!

I like the idea that every city should have its own game.

Maybe each library, museum, or school should have one too.

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