The question of “Who Is Benjamin Stove?” has finally been answered after four months of intense speculation. Depending on who you ask, Ben Stove is: a tinfoil hat nut job; a teacher; a research; a shaman; an alien; hot-headed; a great guy; a man of vision; enigmatic; a scientist; a friend. In other words, just your average internet personality.
Players were first introduced to the mystery of Ben Stove in the form of a painting of a crop circle. From there, they found Ben Stove’s mentor, Dr. Martinez, and obtained copies of letters written from Ben to Dr. Martinez over the years. The letters were filled with secret codes that led to libraries all over the country at the same time as they caught the eye of some mysterious Men In Black. Eventually, Ben Stove himself was found, along with his website filled with research into crop circles. His research showed players that the crop circles were a warning to the people of earth about the dangers of fossil fuels and that using alternatives, such as ethanol based products, were the way to save humanity.
Over the course of the game, the players learned to decipher the secrets of crop circles, find hidden messages in personal correspondence and went on mini-missions all over the country looking for the next piece of a trail laid out by Ben over many years. Those lucky enough to solve a bit of the puzzle were often rewarded with some Random Heirloom Crap – probably the strangest items of swag ever given out during a game. Only ARG players would get excited about old snorkels, Christmas candles, unicorn statues, baseball gloves and the certificates of authenticity that went along with them. The “grand prize” of one tinfoil hatted coconut is being awarded to the most valuable player as determined by the rest of the players.
Who Is Benjamin Stove? broke new ground in the alternate reality gaming genre by keeping the sponsor of the game a secret until the final weeks of the campaign. Although many players speculated over who was behind it, very few hit upon the fact that WIBS was tied into General Motors “Live Green, Go Yellow” campaign until it was announced by the characters. At the end of the game, Ben Stove issued a manifesto to the world calling on everyone to forego fossil fuel and instead switch to renewable ethanol based fuel. One way to do this is to switch to flex-fuel vehicles made by GM. General Motors later responded to Ben Stove and his esteemed colleagues thanking them for their interest and inviting them to learn more about their E85 vehicles at their website. This was a bold step by the PuppetMasters, to hope that players would identify with a product when they had so long been without a clue as to what it was. It will be interesting to see if this structure is deemed a success and if any other games will follow suit in the future.
A post game chat with the Puppetmasters of Who Is Benjamin Stove? has been scheduled for “Stoveday” – Thursday, April 13th at 9pm EDT (6pm PDT). It will be a moderated IRC chat held on irc.chat-solutions.org in #benjaminstove. For help connecting to the chat, or to submit a question if you are unable to attend, please visit the thread at Unfiction. ARGN and the WIBS PuppetMasters hope to see you there.