Whimsical French ARG and Transmedia Experience Supernatural Oddities Redefines Normal in ARGs

April 13, 2010 · By Jane Doh in Features, Game Launch, News 

faitsdiversparanormauxIn February, freelance graphic designer JC Dénarié started documenting paranormal experiences in France on his videoblog, but he’s been interested in the supernatural for 20 years, ever since his brother Fred disappeared mysteriously. In addition to writing an encyclopedia about aliens, demons, and other strange things, JC’s findings have since been picked up by a production company eager to produce a reality TV mini-series called Faits Divers Paranormaux, or Supernatural Oddities. JC’s findings in 26 short episodes will be broadcast Monday through Thursday evenings at 20:30 on Orange’s Cinéchoc.

Encouraged by JC’s investigations, since March, people all over France have been submitting their own experiences of the supernatural, in a kind of “paranormal urban hunt.” JC continues to delve deeper into the unnatural and the uncanny all around France, “assisted” by his wife Muriel and his mother-in-law Simone (who is also on Facebook). By signing on to the Faits Divers Paranormaux site with a Facebook account, players can earn points, badges, and prizes as they take quizzes, submit content, and engage in the online community. Other features, including the “paranormal urban hunt,” encourage people to capture and share evidence of the supernatural using their mobile devices. Prizes include True Blood and Harry Potter DVDs and a chance to win a trip to a film festival in Deauville, France.

Even though my French is rather rusty, what I understand is droll and entertaining. JC really tries his best to document the paranormal, and to him this is all very serious business, but the situations are absurd (including one involving an undead sausage). JC’s well-meaning wife Muriel is incredibly supportive but cannot help herself sometimes; for example, she interrupts a documentary video interview because she really wants Vietnamese food. (I, too, would drop everything for some bo bun—some things just transcend the barriers of language and culture.)

Written by Jean Christophe Establet, Faits Divers Paranormaux is an enchanting and humorous experience, created by transmedia production company Happy Fannie, with experience design assistance from Story Factory, for Orange, the mobile network and internet service subsidiary of France Télécom. Interestingly, this is not the first time Orange has dabbled in virtual worlds (Orange had a significant presence in Second Life), but this is the first time the communications giant has brought together television, internet, and telephony in a “first-life” transmedia campaign.

Currently Faits Divers Paranormaux is, by most definitions, an extended experience. But it will soon become more interactive with the launch of Finding Fred, an immersive and plot-driven alternate reality game that will include phone calls, emails, chat sessions, and live events. As JC investigates other people’s paranormal experiences, he sometimes thinks of his missing brother, and slowly more facts surrounding Fred’s disappearance are coming to light. Finding Fred launches on Friday Monday, April 19th.

The gradual build-up of the JC’s world, and the universe of Faits Divers Paranormaux, serves to broaden the audience for Finding Fred. According to Story Factory co-founder Julien Aubert, “ARGs are not famous in France. The community is very small, so we decided to not design it as TINAG but the opposite, more like a Q&A game with an interactive/immersive/fictional side.” Thus the gameplay, through the Faits Divers Paranormaux website, is set up to be very inclusive and approachable, designed to bring a transmedia/ARG experience to an audience that might not be comfortable with traditional ARG-playing tools such as hacking, cryptology, or esoteric languages.

Despite the language barrier I am experiencing, I find the overall project incredibly light-hearted and whimsical, characteristics often lacking in ARGs. The charming Muriel and cigar-smoking Simone are memorable, to say the least, and the videos can evoke laughter without comprehension (perhaps they defy comprehension). Further, the in-game presence of Happy Fannie producers in JC’s videos, and the fact that episodes of Faits Divers Paranormaux air on Orange’s Cinéchoc, don’t so much pull back the curtain as toy with the curtain.

With its catchphrase “The paranormal is normal!” Faits Divers Paranormaux is definitely worth watching and should inspire us to ask: really, what is “normal” about an ARG?

To catch up on the Faits Divers Paranormaux transmedia experience and prepare yourself for the upcoming ARG, log on to fdp-tv.com, and follow Simone Ferenczi on Facebook. For our readers in France, you can watch the series on Orange’s Cinéchoc website.

Comments

5 Responses to “Whimsical French ARG and Transmedia Experience Supernatural Oddities Redefines Normal in ARGs”

  1. juli3n on April 14th, 2010 6:46 am

    Hello Jane,
    It is nice to read you are appreciating the whimsical aspect of the story. You did an amazing job at making people hungry of adventure.
    Amazing how you understand French! We have to talk about it!!
    Just on thing : the game starts on Monday 19th.
    Cheerz

  2. Dan on April 14th, 2010 7:14 am

    Hi Jane,

    thank you for the great coverage you did.

    I just wanted to add one tiny correction: Story Factory is not an experience design agency per se, more a bunch of folks who’ve been involved in content & communities for a while.

    Juli3n, who worked on this project, is our ARG & interactive experiences labrat/expert, and also co-editor of faismoijouer, the major French blog about ARGs & emerging play, with Thomas Maillioux.

    Thanks for the attention ;)

    Dan Benzakein
    co-founder, Story Factory

  3. Jane Doh on April 14th, 2010 10:14 am

    Hi Dan and Julien,

    Ah apologies for the mix-ups. I’m somewhat surprised I didn’t mess up more things. :/

    I’m very excited to see how this all turns out, and what other crazy things Muriel will say! <3

    Good luck!
    Jane

  4. Un nouvel ARG en France : Retrouvez Fred ! « Fais-Moi Jouer ! on April 14th, 2010 10:19 am

    […] comme on dit chez les anglo-saxons est déjà entré dans l’histoire des ARG en étant le premier ARG français à avoir été publié sur ARGnet, la référence mondiale en matière d’ARG. Malgré la barrière de la langue, Jane […]

  5. Sandrine Girbal on April 15th, 2010 12:14 pm

    Dear Jane

    Muriel will be proud to learn she’s the first french character of an ARG ;-)

    Thanks for noticing the humourous and fantastic dimension, it’s not really usual for an ARG but it’s an important aspect for us and Jean-Christophe Establet, the Author, who spent 2 years for the writting ;)

    And last but not least we are happy to gather the first french creative team to set up this kind of project : Julien Aubert (Experience Designer), Renaud Boclet and Vincent Vimont (Game designers) Guillaume Ladvie (Community Manager) Nicolas Merouze (developer) and Mathilde Mallen (PR) !

    Cheers

    Sandrine GIRBAL
    Producer
    Co-founder of Happy Fannie

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