Recently, I’ve learned that the author of a article here on ARGNet isn’t who he said he was. According to this post at the Unfiction forum, the person we thought was Martin Aggett isn’t really a person at all; it turns out that Martin Aggett is a persona, a character to be featured in an upcoming alternate reality game. Martin Aggett is, as the person responsible for creating him claims, “a complete work of fiction.” This caused me to take a step back last night, to take time to examine the situation and think about what it means here. This is what I’ve come up with:
- Although Martin Aggett isn’t real, the article will stay put. I’m going to trust that the person that wrote the article didn’t have a hidden agenda when he wrote the content, although submitting it in the guise of a future ARG character was… how do I say this… not the best option. The content is still a great read, and I have enjoyed the comments added after publishing it.
- Needless to say, I won’t be accepting any more articles from Martin Aggett. Our web site shouldn’t be regarded as “in-game,” and I’m disheartened to find out that we were deceived about the fictional nature of the author before publishing the article. I hope that our readers understand that our goal here at ARGNet is to deliver news and report on games, not to be used as a promotional device for any past, present or future campaign.
- We are going to change the byline on the article submitted by Martin Aggett. One of the troubling aspects of this situation is that I asked the person I thought to be Martin what name he wanted for the byline, he said, “Martin Aggett will be fine.” This was only two weeks ago. I had no idea that Martin was a fictional creation, and would have never published the article under that byline had I known.
Sunday night, after the ARG Netcast live recording, I received an article from the person who had created Martin Aggett. After reading the article (the text of which has been reprinted, word for word, in the aforementioned Unfiction forum thread), I had a lengthy conversation about this situation with the other panelists, most of whom had been previously made aware of the facts. During that conversation, I’ll admit that I felt betrayed, duped, and hoodwinked. However, I’ve since realized that despite my objections to the delivery of the article here at ARGNet, the content is still solid, worthwhile material for this web site. I still remember a heated discussion in 2004 in which I defended a person’s “right to state his/her opinion without having to out himself/herself.” I still believe that the message is often more important than the messenger, but that changes when the messenger is (or is going to be) a character in an ARG. To me, that’s trickery, not anonymity. For the record, not everyone on the conference call shared my opinion on that, and there’s certainly a point to be made that alternate reality gaming, by its very nature, often contains elements of deception, lies and mis-truths.
In my position as owner and senior editor though, I don’t appreciate having to reshape articles after publication because the author decided to credit the article to a character in a game. To me, that doesn’t seem fair to our readers, because it may lead some to question the veracity of our information. This situation has parallels to how video gamers have felt misled by PixelVixen707, who was revealed to be a character in the ARG for Personal Effects: Dark Arts.
While I would love to be able to guarantee to our readers that we would never again publish an article submitted by an in-game character, this situation shows how easy it is to game our system. We’re a news blog with a volunteer staff, and we often need help in reporting on particular games. Many times over the years, we’ve encouraged readers to submit their own articles. We love it when people help us!
Speaking personally, I’m not going to let this situation change things around here — we’re still looking for great content and we’re happy to publish submissions when authors are willing to share them with us. We don’t need or want to start asking for verifiable identification from our authors, because that would be ridiculous and tedious. To be honest, I think there will continue to be people out there who attempt to game web sites like ours and the Unfiction forum, where rules have been put in place to deter/prevent members from posting as an in-game character. History shows that the reaction from the community is rarely positive in those situations when it is discovered/revealed that someone is operating as a fictional character in a play space that is clearly out of the realm of the game play area.
In conclusion, I hope that there are lessons learned in this unfortunate incident, and I hope that this is the last we will need to hear about this particular circumstance. We’re still optimistic that the author of “Anatomy of an Implosion” will continue to submit articles for our readers, albeit under his own, non-ARG-character name. Finally, we hope that all our readers understand the position we were placed in and the reasons for our decisions.
Photo courtesy of nr49.