A week before a much publicized appearance at SXSW, Lonelygirl15 creators Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried, and Glenn Rubenstein, the Puppetmaster for the official Lonelygirl15 ARG, OpAphid, appeared at ARGfest-o-Con to talk about the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon and their introduction to the alternate reality of fame, fans, and the internet community’s dogged pursuit of information.
The Creators (as they label their forum posts on the Lonelygirl15 website) never intended to get into ARGs at all. Miles said they just wanted to “tell an interesting story on YouTube.” There were no puzzles at first, just the mystery about whether Bree was real, and if not, who was behind it all. They didn’t count on the fan community’s voracious appetite for information–“Is this a game, and if so, what are we supposed to solve?” Since there weren’t really any clues in the story itself, the community focused on finding the people behind the story, trying to figure out who they were.
In Greg’s case, this meant a surprising amount of information about his personal life was dug up and posted online. The first thing found was the registered trademark Greg’s father had applied for as the team’s lawyer. Then within a few weeks, it was his father’s name, his mother’s name, his sister (who superficially has a lot in common with the character of Bree), and eventually even his wedding pictures became the stuff of internet posts. “It became frightening,” he admitted. “I’d wake up wondering what was going to be on the website next.” His wife, who was the person answering Bree’s email, was caught in an online trap and revealed to be an employee of Creative Artists Agency.
Around this time the team “realized there’s something out there called an Alternate Reality Game” and decided to give the community the content they were craving, to refocus the goal of the hunt on the story’s mystery, not on digging into the lives of the production team. Miles felt this fit in well with their goal of creating a new show with as many interactive elements as possible. “We have this community that has kind of come to us, we should engage them more. And we should give them more things to do…rather than stalking us.” The problem at the time was they didn’t have the experience, resources, or the time to do it themselves. Luckily, the community again provided an answer.
Glenn was watching Lonelygirl15 as a fan, and also following CassieIsWatching, which was the first fan attempt at an online ARG. When the Creators posted a disclaimer about Cassie, Glenn realized that if no one was doing anything officially, then anyone could do it if the quality was good. He got sucked into the role of Puppetmaster by launching his own fan fiction ARG, OpAphid, and “the rest of my life pretty much ground to a halt.” While CassieIsWatching eventually faded away because it tried to follow the Lonelygirl15 plot too tightly, and made some wrong assumptions about what direction the producers were going in, Glenn tried to keep OpAphid flexible by having several different possible ways its story could go, depending on what Lonelygirl15 did with her story. And the watcher was being watched. The Creators were following OpAphid as fans, and they were impressed with the quality of what they saw. Greg decided to send an email to Glenn, in character as Bree, to express the team’s admiration of OpAphid, and to discuss working more closely with him. Eventually Glenn was invited to story meetings and given scripts. OpAphid became the Official ARG of Lonelygirl15, and Glenn has even written and directed new Lonelygirl15 videos. He has moved from being a fan, to writing fan fiction, to becoming a full-fledged member of the Lonelygirl15 creative team.
So what’s in the future for Lonelygirl15? While no one is telling what’s going to happen to Bree, Daniel and the rest of the characters, the production team has many ideas about how they want to expand her universe and give fans more opportunities to create content. Miles feels that while Lonelygirl15 will never be an ARG in a strict sense, there is the opportunity to incorporate more ARG elements in the storytelling. “Our narrative isn’t unlocked by the puzzle solving, the puzzles are a component of the narrative.” He wants to make sure there is enough content to keep the ARG fans happy while still building the wider, general audience for Bree’s story. To that end, the team is working on a “massive rebuild” of their website, and will introduce tools to allow people to produce their own stories in the Lonelygirl15 universe. He envisions other directors producing videos as well as fans, and hopes to find more talented people to work on all the projects the team has ideas for. Yes, that’s right folks–Lonelygirl15 is hiring. They need more help to expand, and they don’t discount the possibility of finding more talent in the fan community. “We have lots of ideas and not enough people.” Greg added that if they see something good submitted by fans, they will contact those fans to discuss working together.
One thing that will definitely continue is fan participation in the Lonelygirl15 universe. Besides looking for talented people to bring on board in an official capacity, the Creators include live events in their plans, along with character meetings and putting fans into the storyline as characters themselves. The intensity of the fan base has not diminished at all with the revelation that Bree and her cohorts are inventions and not real people. 35,000 people showed up on the website when Bree mentioned she would be online there in a recent video, and fans continue to email her and comment on her videos in character. Greg is quick to point out that those fans influence what they do with the story that unfolds. “If Bree were a 16 year old living her life on the internet, and she had 35,000 people sending her messages, writing text comments, making videos, that would affect [her].”
At the end of the panel, Glenn expressed his appreciation for Unfiction, and the online resources of the ARG community. He took to heart especially two key pieces of advice: “I understand why one person should never do an ARG” [by themselves] and “don’t implode.”