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