Second chances are hard to come by. But Jeromy Barber’s media design company 12th Street House decided to give his audience a second chance to save the characters Maddison Atkins and Adam Wilmott from their grisly deaths with the launch of Maddison Atkins 2.0, a reboot of the alternate reality game Maddison Atkins 1.0. Barber explained at ARGFest that he “tried to recreate the plot [of Maddison Atkins 1.0] so there are a lot of things that the players didn’t know but there are a lot of overarching story [elements] that are very similar.”
In April 2007, Maddison Atkins and Adam Wilmott were brutally murdered in the small town of Nacogdoches, Texas. Fifteen days prior to their grisly murders, Maddison received a pigeon with a note tied to its leg at her doorstep. Over two years later, many of the same players who watched Maddison and Adam die returned with equal parts anticipation and trepidation to witness five pigeons delivered to the house of one Ms. Maddison Atkins. The story, which played out over forty-nine YouTube videos and nearly as many video responses, focused on Maddison and Adam’s efforts to trust a community of players attempting to help them while chasing down letters scattered across the globe, from Tucson, Arizona to Sydney, Australia. Indeed, one of the main “puzzles” of the gameplay was winning over its two main characters. As Barber unapologetically explains, “My two main characters are really stupid, and don’t know anything. But they’re very attractive…part of the game is cracking Maddison, getting to know this girl.”
While the YouTube videos provided a strong platform to make the game accessible for newcomers, much of the game’s story advanced through a series of postcards that led to envelopes in locations ranging from a public restroom to a storage center. The envelopes contained heavily redacted letters that revealed information in a variety of ways. By exposing the letters to heat, secret messages appeared, presumably written with lemon juice. By soaking the letters in isopropyl, players were able to read the redacted text. Further messages were hidden in the letters by embossing musical notes onto the paper’s surface, or hidden within the text itself. These clues revealed that a pharmaceutical company was kidnapping young girls to harvest their spinal fluid in order to create a drug that allows the consumer to implant thoughts into someone’s mind by staring them in the eyes.
The game came to a head with Maddison and Adam, still very much alive, raiding the testing facility with the help of private detective George Sloan and the local police department. In the process, they were able to extract the girls from the testing facility, along with Abby, one of the researchers who sent the postcards to Maddison. The ending was bittersweet: while Maddison and Adam survived, someone removed the kidnapped girls from police custody, leaving the possibility for a sequel or another “reboot” open.
Maddison Atkins 2.0 presented a potential solution to many of the problems plaguing alternate reality games: by relying on YouTube as a central platform for gameplay, casual players can follow along with the more interactive actions of the more dedicated fans, allowing for more scalable games. And by offering players a second chance to direct the course of the story, players can take a greater sense of ownership in the game’s conclusion. The game elicited a strong outpouring of user-generated content as the players became invested in seeing the largely oblivious Maddison and Adam through potentially deadly situations.
And if television shows like Day Break are any indication, just because you think you know what’s coming doesn’t mean you can’t be surprised.
You can watch Maddison Atkins 1.0 here, Maddison Atkins 2.0 here, and visit the Maddison Atkins forums here. Jeromy Barber and the 12th Street House team will be speaking with Martin Aggett, the fictitious figurehead of Remix Fiction on Thursday, August 27 at 9PM EST on the Remix Fiction ustream channel.