ARGFest 2008 in Review: Long Live Unfiction (Sean Stacey Learns to Whistle)
This article is the fifth in a series, providing summaries of the panel presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston
In 2004, Sean Stacey was traveling through France with a friend. Walking along the Champs Elysees, he encountered a man on the street making the most incredible whistling sounds he ever heard. For the next few days, Sean diligently practiced his whistle, contorting his face in new and unfamiliar ways, attempting to duplicate the sound that fascinated him so much. Finally, his friend explained to him that the man on the street was selling bird whistles. He didn’t say anything before because, “well, you were getting pretty good.” Unfiction is kind of like that. The moral of this story is that Sean C. Stacey is one heck of a good whistler.
The story also helps explain the twists and turns in the evolution of Unfiction.com, the largest discussion board devoted to alternate reality games on my bookmark list. When Sean created the website during the alternate reality game Lockjaw in 2002, running a forum was the last thing he wanted to do. He still harbors hopes that Unfiction will not live forever, because the genre will expand beyond needing a single resource.
Sean credited Adrian Hon, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Six to Start, with creating the first alternate reality gaming wiki. He followed that up by noting that no one actually used the wiki. Using wikis, he claims, augment community rather than create it. Thus, the only way you can get Sean to create a wiki on his new website, Despoiler.org, is by requesting one. People like to teach others, and wikis can lower entry barriers for complex topics: but only if a community exists to develop it. One of the true pleasures of the Unfiction community, Sean explains, is that reputation is not an issue in how discussions are handled. Everyone, no matter how well known or well liked, must rely on persuasion to justify their thoughts and opinions.
Sean explained that the Unfiction community operates under very few rules. Play nice, don’t be a dick, the forums function outside the game, and do your own thing. This point was later challenged by Evan Jones of Stitch Media, who claimed the forums were peppered with a plethora of rules such as when to hide information behind spoiler tags, how to deal with redundant information, and when and how meta-information should be revealed. Sean clarified that these, rather than being hardline rules included in the Terms of Service, were merely rules of etiquette adopted by the community of their own volition.
Considering the fact that many advertisers and marketers utilize alternate reality games to reach potential consumers who are resistant to more traditional forms of advertising, it is fitting that Sean is a trifle leery of advertising. He noted that Unfiction has never actively advertised, and only published one press release upon receiving a generous donation from Andy Darley, at Darley’s request. Unfiction does not charge players, nor does it host advertisements, and that will not change in the forseeable future.
The biggest challenge Sean says Unfiction moderators face is resisting the temptation to tell people what to do. Back at the Champs Elysees, if Sean’s friend had told him to stop all that infernal whistling because the sound came from a silly little bird whistle, Sean would never have perfected his whistling skills. And maybe, just maybe, a little chaos in the discussion can be a good thing.
Disclaimer: Sean C. Stacey denies being an Agent of Chaos