Author: Brandie Minchew

Road Trip into Terror: Dark Detour Revs Up for a Week of Chills and Thrills


In the tarot card deck of Talbot Griffin’s life, the first card on the table would most likely be The Fool, that familiar vagabond traveler blithely setting out into the unknown. Scrolling through his social media accounts, Griffin’s audience can piece together a whimsical portrait of a happy-go-not-so-lucky young musician whose life has hit a few bumps in the road. After making a pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave in the Paris cemetery Père Lachaise, Griffin returned to New York City to find his life taking a sharp curve. His girlfriend leaves him. His boss fires him. And he’s got to find a new place to live. What’s a rising superstar musician to do? “Borrow” his grandfather’s ’67 Mustang and take a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles, where fame and fortune await him, of course!

As Griffin travels, elusive song lyrics distract and disturb him, a cut on his arm festers and refuses to heal, and the same creepy hitchhiker mysteriously appears in several stops along the way. Where is Talbot Griffin really going, and what waits for him at the end of the road?

Described by its creators as “a ghost story for the digital age,” Dark Detour, the tale of musician Talbot Griffin and his travels, is a comedy-horror tale that makes use of several social media platforms, allowing the audience to follow Talbot Griffin’s harrowing adventures in real time. The interactive ghost story will wrap up on Halloween, and comes with its very own safe word – MIMEKILLER – that audience members can use to opt out of the experience at any time if it becomes too intense.

This independent project is produced by a creative team led by Alison Norrington of StoryCentral and Steve Peters of No Mimes Media, along with creative consultants Brian Clark, Jan Libby, Blair Erickson, and Mike Monello. Peters and Norrington raised funds to produce the project through an Indiegogo campaign, with Clark, Libby, Erickson, and Monello added to the team through the campaign’s stretch goals. Perks for campaign backers included postcards, dashboard hula girls, project consultations, and “a personalized phone call to scare the crap out of you on or around Halloween night.”

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The Future is Fiction: Playful Future-Thinking About Climate Change with FutureCoast

Sometime in the near future(s), something will go awry with the voicemail system sending messages spiraling back through time, a phenomenon that is being referred to as “chronofall.” These messages take the form of small, elegant crystalline structures referred to as “chronofacts” that can be decoded to reveal a taste of life in the future. But these chronofacts aren’t just coming from “the” future: chronofacts carry voicemails from the cloud of all possible futures: happy futures, bleak futures, unimaginable futures. A new project called FutureCoast and its “Coaster” enthusiasts seek to collect as many chronofacts as possible, with the goal of cataloging and organizing them into coherent glimpses of the possible futures awaiting us. And when the next big chronofall happens in February, they’re going to need your help.

FutureCoast, set to launch on February 5th, 2014, is the latest project by veteran game designer Ken Eklund. Like its predecessors World Without Oil and Ed Zed Omega, FutureCoast aims to open the doors wide to a new kind of conversation about the world we live in. This time, the subject is one of the most polarizing topics, the kind of thing you don’t usually want to bring up in mixed political company: climate change and one of its key indicators, rising sea levels.

Climate change, its effect on polar ice, and rising sea levels are topics that spawn impassioned opinions and difficult discussions from many different scientific and political angles. The heart of the FutureCoast design seeks to create a playful, inclusive common ground where information and idea sharing happens, where everyone’s thoughts about the future have a place, and where a meaningful dialog and a common ground can be created to replace the animosity that these topics can evoke.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Columbia University’s Polar Partnership. Eklund dates the idea of FutureCoast back to a conversation with Dr. Stephanie Pfirman, Professor of Environmental Science at Columbia, in 2009. Dr. Pfirman, interested in the idea of World Without Oil, wondered what a climate change game look like, and Eklund began working on prospective ideas for a WWO-like game that would encourage conversation about climate change and rising sea levels. FutureCoast was accepted into the NSF grant, and work on the project began in earnest in 2011.

FutureCoast‘s structure is almost “retro” in its conception, elegant in its simplicity yet with the potential for powerful collaborative storytelling to take place. The premise of the overarching story hinges on voicemails that filter to our present from the near or distant future(s) that can be decoded, collected, and shared. FutureCoast invites its audience to pluck their personal vision from among all the possible futures and share it in a voicemail. The audience will also be able to create playlists – mix tapes, Eklund playfully calls them, and officially named “Timestreams” – by choosing amongst the voicemails and piecing them together into a kind of narrative of the future. Through FutureCoast, players have the ability to both create the future and to curate it in meaningful ways.

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Alt-Minds Serves Up Real-Time Mystery in Four Languages

Five brilliant young scientists collectively known as “MHD-6” disappear from Belgrade University. Shortly after, a video of the kidnapping makes its way to the foundation that sponsored them. A mysterious person known only as “The Donetsk Voice” feeds bits and pieces of information relating to the disappearance of the MHD-6. As the investigation progresses, the Alvinson Foundation puts out a global call for help solving the mystery. Players who respond to the call are thrown headfirst into the European-based transmedia experience Alt-Minds, an eight week long paranormal mystery that incorporates puzzles, websites, geo-locative content, and a Facebook game.

French telecommunications corporation Orange joined the French game development studio Lexis Numérique to create the Alt-Minds experience, which launched on November 12th, in four languages: French, German, Spanish, and English. According to a press release by Orange, “Alt-Minds is a cohesive set of films, games, monitoring tools and web documentaries.” The story unfolds live over the game’s eight week span, using the web series format as the framework for players stepping into the role of investigator.

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Ed Zed Omega: A Serious Game Visualizing New Approaches to Education

“There’s this expression, “zed omega.” It means “so over.” When you go zed omega, you are done.”
Ed Zed Omega Revealed 

When it comes to public or private education, everyone has an experience, everyone has a story, and everyone has an opinion. The internet is rife with pointed discussions about the problems in education, and full of suggestions on how to solve them. While education issues vary broadly from state to state and nation to nation, they share at least one commonality: solutions tend to be easy to propose but difficult to implement. Education reform is an ongoing conversation amongst government officials, educators, and the public, and conversations between these groups are often politically charged and riddled with miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Andi McDaniel and Ken Eklund have brought something new to the conversation about education with their freshly-launched project, Ed Zed Omega. The project focuses on a set of voices that often gets lost in the cacophony that pervades the education discussion: the voices of those most directly affected by our education systems, the people currently subject to the state of “being educated.” Ed Zed Omega features the stories of six fictional teens who have decided that they are done with education, and that they’re not going back. Their guidance counselor, Mary Johnson, has convinced them to use the time they would have spent in school to complete one more assignment, exploring solutions to the problems they perceive in education. Ed Zed Omega launched on August 15, 2012 and will run through November 15, 2012 to follow their journey.

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Alternate History Serial “Balance of Powers” Launches

Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army“Think of it as an alternate world Cold War era spy adventure, if that kind of thing included stuff like blood sacrifices packed with dark beings.”
– Andrea Phillips, Balance of Powers Kickstarter campaign video.

Before Adrian Hon and Naomi Alderman took to Kickstarter to fund the mobile app Zombies, Run, there was Balance of Powers. The Kickstarter campaign sought to reunite Hon and Alderman with former Perplex City collaborators Andrea Phillips and David Varela to tell an “alt-history Cold War-era spy adventure.” Finally, almost a year after meeting its funding goals, Balance of Powers is ready to see the light of day.

An update to the Balance of Powers Kickstarter page on August 1st alerted backers to the opening of the story’s website. On the first of August, a short but intriguing prologue gave a quick glimpse into the beginnings of the story and the mind of Major Sonja Slade. The August 1st update also included details on an upcoming live online event, which is scheduled to take place on August 25th at 7pm London time (4pm EST, 1pm PST). Details about the live online event and how to participate will be announced in the weeks leading up to the event.

A few days later, the first chapter posted, introducing character John Noon, the insurance clerk, while providing readers some insight into the shape and flavor of the world. The story weaves together the lives and adventures of an ex-spy who asks too many questions, an insurance clerk who is out of his depth, the daughter of a man accused of terrible deeds, and a major in the Prussian Army pursuing an investigation of the Bulgarian ambassador’s murder. In a city called Midway, the characters will come together – but for what purpose?

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Miracle Mile Paradox Builds Bridge to the Past Through Time Switch

Something very strange happened to Rexford Higgs back in March. An aficionado of wondrous artifacts and things from bygone days, Rex uncovered by chance a set of blueprints for a strange device, hidden in a tin box in a construction site near LA’s Miracle Mile. Fascinated by his find, Rex launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the building of his Time Switch. This campaign was used by Transmedia L.A. to serve as the real-world Kickstarter campaign to fund Rexford Higgs’ story as an alternate reality game, The Miracle Mile Paradox. Transmedia L.A., a monthly meetup group of people in the Los Angeles area interested in transmedia storytelling, is using The Miracle Mile Paradox as an experiment in alternate reality game development for its members.

In late May, Rex succeeded in activating the Time Switch and received a transmission from the past sent by a woman, Jane Winthrop, warning him that he was likely being watched, but he must continue his work. Two days later, he received a cease and desist order from Agent Intellect Corp (AIC). This marked the beginning of a series of threatening messages warning Rex away from Miracle Mile. After being assaulted, presumably by AIC agents, Rex fled into hiding after securing the Time Switch device in a secret location, leaving his friends and followers to piece his clues together and help retrieve the rest of Jane’s message.

The Miracle Mile Paradox ARG officially kicked off on July 4th and will run through the first week of September, so there is still lots of time to get caught up on the story and participate. While the ARG is location-based in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, California, Transmedia L.A. has provided non-resident supporters with a number of ways to follow along with the story and help solve the mystery of the Time Switch, Jane Winthrop, and the powerful AIC. According to the game’s Kickstarter page, online players can follow the story through “Rex’s blog, websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, Pinterest boards, email accounts and much, much more. There might even be some hacking in to AIC employee accounts….” Local participants can unlock and retrieve Time Switch messages within the Miracle Mile itself – all under the watchful eye of AIC, of course.

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ARGNet’s Michael Andersen to Present in StoryWorld Webcast

Digital Book World, an online community for publishing professionals and host to the StoryWorld Conference + Expo, will feature ARGNet owner and senior editor Michael Andersen in StoryWorld’s July 27th WEBcast. The webcast is titled What’s Possible with Transmedia: Case Studies in Successful Projects and will air at 1:00 p.m. EDT.

According to Digital Book World, the transmedia campaigns that Andersen will talk about during this roundtable webcast include HBO’s recent Maester’s Path experience; Chain Factor, the Numb3rs tv series’ episode tie-in experience (and addictive flash game) from 2007; and Valve’s Portal 2 ARG.

Attendees may register here for this free webcast. Registration is required to attend the free webcast and to access the audio recording.

For those interested in attending the StoryWorld Conference + Expo, ARGNet is pleased to offer our readers a promotional code. When registering for StoryWorld, use the code ARGN11 to receive $50 off the early bird price for StoryWorld’s conference registration.

Quick Facts

What: StoryWorld WEBcast featuring ARGNet’s Michael Andersen

When: Wednesday, July 27th at 1:00 p.m. EDT

Where: Register here

SXSW 2011: Andrea Phillips on Blurring the Lines

Andrea Phillips has excellent qualifications to talk about ethics in transmedia. In addition to designing a number of transmedia narratives, she, or rather, one of her transmedia campaigns, has been condemned by NASA. In 2009, Sony Pictures launched a website for The Institute for Human Continuity promoting  2012, their disaster movie for the year. Soon after the website’s launch Dr. David Morrison of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute began receiving emails about the site from people who failed to notice the references to Sony Pictures and the film in both text and logos, leading him to declare the site to be “ethically wrong.”

This was not the first time Phillips encountered ethical quandaries in transmedia. Her interest in this issue began in 2001, after finishing an alternate reality game called The Beast. Shortly after the game ended, a smart, empowered, close-knit group of players behind who call themselves “Cloudmakers” were faced with the events of September 11. In the aftermath, some of the Cloudmakers discussed the possibility of combining their skills again, this time to track down the perpetrators of the attack in the real world. This was a source of concern for Phillips. Following a breadcrumb trail of clues in a game does not equate to the skills for dealing with global terrorism. She and other feared that people trying to “solve” 9/11 would in fact be placing themselves and others in danger.

Phillips prefaced her talk with the disclaimer that, while she intended to share some cautionary tales from the history of alternate reality games and transmedia campaigns, her intent was to highlight concerns, not call anyone out on their mistakes or cast aspersions on the campaigns or the industry in general.

So, what are the ethical concerns that today’s transmedia creators should keep in mind? In her talk, Phillips took the audience through some history of attempts at blurring the line along with more than a few war stories, focusing on the risks and consequences of excessive realism in transmedia campaigns. She followed this up with some suggested solutions.

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Will Wright’s Bar Karma: One Step Closer to Collaborative Entertainment?

How often have you thought to yourself I could have written that better after watching an episode of your favorite television show that fell below your expectations? Game designer Will Wright‘s new television series may give you the chance to do just that.

Earlier this month, Current TV announced its new tv series, Bar Karma, scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2011. Created by game designer Will Wright, known for his popular video games including The Sims and SimCity,  Bar Karma‘s production model promises to provide a high level of audience involvement with the show, giving viewers direct control of the plot as the story evolves in 30-minute episodes.

Wright has designed interactive technology for Current TV’s audience-produced material that will be adapted to the production of Bar Karma. Current TV’s press release for the show lists four steps in the episode development process:

  • Step 1: Joining – viewers register and log on to the Bar Karma website.
  • Step 2: Creating – participants submit their own storyboards based on a basic outline provided by the producers, which all participants can then comment on, discuss, merge ideas, and hammer out a final plot.
  • Step 3: Voting – participants will vote on the finalized story proposals.
  • Step 4: Producing – Once voting is closed, the studio will produce the winning storyline, and the episode will then air. Episodes will be 30 minutes in length.

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The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers Bounds into the Limelight

At the stroke of midnight on July 7th, the first two videos of Jon M. Chu’s web series, The LXD, went live for viewing in the United States, and the international release should not be far behind. Beginning with its “Moments” trailer released last December, The LXD has been hard at work during the first half of the year promoting its dance team and raising awareness for the web series with performances at TED, the Oscars, and So You Think You Can Dance. Billing itself as “the world’s first online dance adventure”, The LXD promises a transmedia experience spanning multiple platforms, including instructional videos, live events, film, and television supplementing the web series.

In his talk at TED 2010, Chu described The LXD web series as “a living, breathing comic book series – but unlike Spiderman and Iron Man, these guys can actually do it.” The LXD shows a world where dancers are superheroes with powers and abilities related to body movement and dance. A great battle between good and evil looms on the horizon in this world of superdancers, encapsulated in an event known as “The Uprising.” “There is a legion,” the unnamed series narrator tells us: “a legion of bravery, of hope, of the extraordinary. They lie amongst us, preparing for battle, waiting to rise and change things for good.”

The initial two videos offer a troupe of tropes from the “good vs evil” archives. There is Trevor, quiet and repressed but possessing secret powers of dance, a secret crush, and a demanding father. There is Illister, the villain, and the Observers, who are with the good guys and who protect “the son of the Drift.” There is also the conspiracy theorist reporter, determined to unlock the secrets of the LXD, and two best friends who will be torn apart by jealousy. Yet, in the story are some intriguing elements that rise above the tropes: what bestows these powers of movement on the dancers? what is really in the warehouse, who put it there, and why? And who is the Illister, my current personal favorite, described in the site’s character biographies as having “no side but his own”? (Except that his mission is to kill Trevor, so it sounds to me like he has a side – an evil side.)

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On April 23rd, London Becomes the Game Board for Nike Grid

nikegridUK runners will take to the streets in less than a week to compete with other runners across London in Nike’s new interactive street game, Nike Grid. The urban game will launch on April 23, 2010 at 8pm and will last 24 hours. No more, no less.

Nike is no stranger to developing interactive programs for runners. In 2006, Nike and Apple teamed up to produce Nike+iPod, a sports kit that records data over the course of a walk or run and allows the user to upload that data to the Nike+ website. Unlike Nike+iPod, Nike Grid does not require runners to possess any items of technology to track their run. Instead, the game uses payphones across the city of London as check-in points before and after each run. All runners need to play are their fastest shoes and a free player’s account with Nike Grid.

In order to play, runners must register at the Nike Grid website. Once registered, each runner receives a 4-digit game code that they will use to check in and out of each run at designated phone boxes. Maps will be available on the website to allow runners to prepare their routes and find the location of the phone boxes. Four maps have already been released: North, South, East, and West London. The Grid covers 40 postcodes, and runners can choose to run only in their own postcode, or they can steal others’ postcodes to rack up points.

Rules for running the Grid are posted on the Nike Grid website: no walking; no buses; don’t run through walls or walk on water; and don’t even think about cheating! “The Grid will know,” says a comment on the Facebook page, in response to one question asking how Nike can keep people from claiming points after riding bikes or taking the bus between pay phones. “If we reveal how we know, people will try to get around it. It is never foolproof, but we have ways of monitoring,” states a follow-up comment.

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Recap: DIYDays Fireside Chat with Jan Libby and Steve Peters

DIYDaysFreshly triumphant from their most recent transmedia projects, Steve Peters of No Mimes Media and Jan Libby, recently of Levi’s G.O. IV Fortune campaign, took the stage at DIYDays LA to talk about their experiences designing Alternate Reality Games.

Steve and Jan began as players in the emerging genre that we call ARGs. Both made the transition from player to puppetmaster through their work on independent games, which led to careers for each of them in the newborn industry of transmedia entertainment. And both acknowledge that their roots in the player side of these games and experiences now inform their choices as designers. “Sure, we do this for money,” Jan said, “but our hearts are indie.” Whether they are designing an ARG for a client or for an indie game, they consider not only the story and its characters, the protagonists and antagonists, but also the audience. Jan views the audience as a character, one that will interact and possibly shape the story as it plays out.

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Zombie Truth: Preparing for the Z1 Pandemic

h1n1Since news of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus broke this past March, the world has been watching and waiting for signs of the next devastating pandemic. But what if H1N1 is only one mutation of a human-engineered virus more deadly and infectious than any that has yet emerged? One group of researchers has turned to the internet to alert the world to the terrible possibility of a new biological threat – Z1, the Zombie Virus.

According to, in 2001 a medical research team died at the hands of their patients, who had succumbed to a “viral-induced psychosis”. Researchers in the rescue teams tasked with retrieving the victims managed to salvage some of the data gathered by their dead colleagues. After several years of subsequent study, the troubling characteristics of the virus have worried researchers enough to go public with some of their findings and their continuing progress in order to help the world prepare for a possible outbreak.

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The Architect – Israel’s First Alternate Reality Game


A few weeks ago, the biggest mystery in Yoni Grishman‘s life was why the people of Tel Aviv so despise the members of his chosen profession – that of a parking attendant writing tickets for the hapless drivers of Israel. Now, he’s got a lot more to worry about. His girlfriend has disappeared, suspiciously soon after he started the Facebook group “Real Estate is Not a Game” to protest the purchase of her apartment building and impending eviction by a rich real estate developer.

After receiving threats from a mysterious group, Yoni, with the help of the people of Tel Aviv, has been attempting to uncover the group’s secrets, determine their connection with the mysterious Architect, and find his girlfriend.

Called “The Architect” and billed as Israel’s first alternate reality game, the story has attracted several hundred players across Israel. Two live events have already taken place in Tel Aviv’s Sarona district as players took to the streets to protest the building of My Sarona, a luxury spa featuring an anti-gravitation room in addition to other more typical spa offerings. (The My Sarona promotional video has English subtitles.)

Israeli ARGers meet to discuss the game in an Israeli gamer’s forum and have set up a wiki to keep track of their information. Most of the game content and discussion is in Hebrew, but don’t let that stop you from having a look around!

Although the game is set to end on March 31st, take a peek at the websites and video. Once the game wraps up, we’ll have a follow-up article for you on the puppetmasters behind the scenes of Israel’s first – but hopefully not last – alternate reality game.

Deepwell: Tell It to Someone Who Cares


The Institute for the Future once again opens a window into tomorrow’s world, this time letting us peer into 2010 where in the town of Deepwell a woman’s mysterious will has the townsfolk in an uproar. On December 7, 2009, the citizens of Deepwell learned that a woman named Ruby Wood left a “substantial” sum of money to their town, but with one condition – that the townspeople learn to take better care of each other. Who is Ruby Wood? No one in the town seems to know. The town will learn more when the last will and testament of Ruby Wood is opened on March 9, 2010.

In order to get a little outside help and advice on caring, the citizens of Deepwell have launched a website called Ruby’s Bequest, along with a town blog, Deep Into Deepwell, where citizens can discuss the bequest and other town interests. Accusations of being “the town that doesn’t care right” and the tragic death of an elderly citizen have upset many of the townspeople and sparked a debate about caring.

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Alma’s Back? Armacham Corporate Website Goes Viral

ArmachamLogo2.jpgSomething wicked is stirring at Armacham Technology Corporation, a well-known organization from Monolith Productions’ survival horror title, F.E.A.R. With just a few months until the release of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin in February, it appears that a viral campaign is being launched to promote the new title. For the past two weeks, Armacham Corporate has been experiencing website malfunctions that allow visitors to take a peek into the inner workings and upcoming activities of the company.

The Armacham site appears to be a perfectly normal website showcasing its new line of sub machine guns, and also a new item regarding “Level II Recruitment”. Clicking on any part of the page causes the screen to dissolve in a flood of critical errors. (During the distortions, sharp eyes may notice the distortion of the error link from to, a currently unregistered domain. Watch the link on the 404 page very closely, just before the distortion begins.) Next, what appears to be an auto-login sends site visitors into the account of Dr. Richard Findes, a biomechanical specialist at Armacham who has expressed concerns over ethics breaches occurring within the company.

A camera feed embedded in the site interface shows disturbing footage from inside Armacham. Dr. Findes apparently has good cause to worry over something going badly wrong within the corporation.

Although it seems that the hapless Dr. Findes has been locked out of many of his account permissions (many of the links result in “Access Denied” errors), his email is still accessible, revealing communications from W. Reid, K. VonScriptor, J. Karsberg, and W. Wallace, some with attachments that may contain vital clues. Findes has apparently missed a lunch meeting with Reid. Is he missing or on the run?

The corporate calendar indicates that Armacham has initiated a recruiting program centered around “virtual evaluation and testing of potential candidates via gaming community”. Armacham recruiters were spotted testing attendees at Wizard World Dallas on November 7-9 and at Atlanta Supercon on November 21 and 22 in Atlanta, Georgia. The next marked calendar date is December 3, for meetings and tours located in Orlando and Tampa, Florida to sites including Walt Disney World, Sea World, Andrews Air Force Base, and CentCom.

Someone is keeping an eye on Armacham’s recruiting movements and warning others not to participate in their tests and so-called FEAR Labs. A letter accompanying a briefcase sent to Geeks of Doom instructed the receiver NOT to participate in FEAR Labs under any circumstances and to watch for the combination to open the briefcase. The handwritten letter was signed “R” – for “Richard”, perhaps? Kotaku also received a letter that contained a key and directions to a storage unit where another briefcase was found. Kotaku’s letter included a DVD, the contents of which are posted in the above-linked entry. Phillip DeFranco of PhillyD TV was also mystified at receiving the spooky briefcase and videoed its retrieval from the storage unit. Everyone who received a briefcase is on a “list” at Armacham, according to the mysterious Mr. R, who wants to make sure word gets out about these suspicious Armacham tests. Mr. R will log in to the Project Origin community site as “Case Man” on December 5th.

Join in the Unfiction discussion here. If you’re approached by anyone wearing the Armacham logo, proceed with caution.

Dr. Jane McGonigal Featured in BusinessWeek’s “Innovation” Section

janemcgonigal.jpgBusinessWeek’s November 10th “Innovation” special report features none other than Dr. Jane McGonigal, the Institute for the Future‘s Director of Games Research and Development. Dr. McGonigal is known for her work on Microsoft’s Halo promotion, “I Love Bees”, the award-winning “World Without Oil” game, “Find the Lost Ring” and her current project, “Superstruct”. In her article, “Jane McGonigal’s Brave New Worlds”, BusinessWeek’s Innovation Department editor Reena Jana gives an overview of Superstruct and its goals, as well as insight into how information gathered through Superstruct’s scenarios will be used once the game is concluded.

In a short video embedded in the article, Dr. McGonigal answers five questions about Alternate Reality Games. The questions:

  • Can you define exactly what an ARG is?
  • Can you give more insight into the collaboration skills of “signal/noise management” and “multicapitalism”?
  • Are ARGs more affordable and more efficient than expensive digital graphics and virtual worlds?
  • How will “Superstruct” serve as a real-world tool for companies and individuals?
  • Are you still working on promotional games?

Always looking for ways to turn real-life tasks into games, Dr. McGonigal set her video camera to stop recording at the six minute mark in her attempt to answer all five questions in five minutes. At the end of her video, she asks viewers to give her feedback on the interview and help her earn level-up points for her personal gamer stats by visiting

Report from Austin Game Developers’ Conference 2008: In ARGs We Trust

magnets.JPGEditor’s note: Brandie was ARGNet’s press presence at this year’s Austin Game Developers Conference. This is the first in a series on her experiences at the conference.

At the Austin GDC‘s only session devoted exclusively to Alternate Reality Games, Elan Lee of Fourth Wall Studios shared his thoughts on trust between ARG designers and players along with anecdotes from some of the most well-known cross-media experiences like AI and I Love Bees. In an interactive, real-time game-story experience, the level of trust between the designers (Puppet Masters, if you will) and the players can have a profound effect on the outcome of the game and the memories the players carry away at the end. “ARGs: Fake Websites, Invented Stories, Automated Phone Calls, and Other Methods to Earn the Trust of a Community” examined the building of trust as an integral part of the game-story experience.

Elan Lee opened the session with a look back at “The Beast” the promotional experience designed for the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Steven Spielberg came to Microsoft and said he wanted to do something promotional that would familiarize his audience with the A.I. world before the movie opened. What evolved from this was a series of websites, puzzles, and events that attracted thousands of dedicated players – who, incidentally, solved several weeks worth of content in a matter of hours. The designers had to scramble to keep adding content, altering the storyline as needed, and even responding to their audience by taking an initially unimportant but player-beloved character (The Red King) and promoting him to the character A-List.

After “The Beast” ended, Elan was surprised to receive three wedding invitations from players who had been deeply affected by their experience with the game. He realized, he said, that something magical was happening, when an audience felt close enough to a total stranger to invite him to participate in their real-life celebrations. “The Beast” and its designers had evoked a trust that transcended the anonymity of the internet and crossed over into the real world. What builds this intense sense of trust? According to Elan, one of the keys to trust is… a magnet.

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Superstruct: (Re)Building Our Future

structure.jpgOur world is in deep trouble, and as the danger mounts, the Institute for the Future‘s Ten-Year Forecast team and Dr. Jane McGonigal have a new mission for you! IFTF recently announced Superstruct, “the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game.” Scheduled to begin on September 22, 2008, Superstruct is expected to run for six weeks. The human race has only 23 years left, and it’s up to you to save us! The countdown begins in 2019.

Dr. McGonigal is no stranger to games that use future forecasting as a design element. She helped develop World Without Oil, a game that asked players to imagine and document their lives during an oil shock. Like World Without Oil, Superstruct will ask players to project themselves into the year 2019, at a time when a supercomputer simulation dubbed “GEAS” has predicted that the human race has a survival horizon of 23 years. GEAS, or the “Global Extinction Awareness System,” has pinpointed five “super-threats” that may bring about the collapse of human civilization as we know it. (Perhaps incidentally, a “geas” is also a vow or binding, often magical or supernatural, that is difficult or impossible to ignore or cast off.)

What does the name “Superstruct” mean, and what does it tell us about the goals of the game? According to the game’s FAQ, “superstructing” refers to the building of new structures on top of old structures. The problems uncovered in 2019 indicate that the existing structures – social, commercial, environmental, etc. – are not enough to support the survival of the human race. Superstruct asks players to work towards building new structures and finding new solutions to overcome the “super-threats” identified by the GEAS.

“This is a game of survival, and we need you to survive” states IFTF’s mission briefing. Rather than simply projecting or predicting the future, Superstruct aims to “invent the future” through player contributions, survival stories, strategies, and more. “Bring what you know and who you know,” IFTF’s Superstruct FAQ invites, “and we’ll all figure out how to make 2019 a world we want to live in.”

While we wait for September, IFTF has invited players to get a head start on the game by sending a description of their future selves and their lives in 2019 to [email protected]. Players’ responses will be posted on the Superstruct blog throughout the summer.

Progress Report: The Sky Remains

badge.jpgA couple of weeks ago, ARGN received a witty recruitment letter from The Sky Remains 6th Dimension Detective Agency, kicking off “The Sky Remains,” a much-anticipated game by Licorice Film.

If you haven’t had a chance to jump in on “The Sky Remains”, don’t worry! The game is still “in progress,” and Licorice Film has designed it in a way that allows players to follow the story at their own pace. In addition to the website, the player-maintained wiki is a good place to start, as is the “Useful Info” post for the game.

Currently, the 6th Dimension Agents of The Sky Remains Agency are working to solve Case #1: the case of Wendy Skinery, a pregnant woman living alone in an isolated house in England’s West Country. Wendy’s grandfather left her the house and everything in it, including some strange photographs. Agents on the case work under the supervision of agency director, Ms. Poliakov. Players of MeiGeist, Licorice Film’s first interactive project, may run into some familiar faces around the agency, as well!

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GMD Studios Stalked by Cricket; Eldritch Gifts Prompt Response from PuppetMaster

On April 16, 2007, mysterious packages began finding their way into the hands of unsuspecting people about to be lured into a world of dreamscapes, nightmares, madness, and death. The contents of the packages led to a network of dreamers, reaching out for help to dwellers in the mundane world. The Dreamers found willing listeners and clever helpers in several internet communities. Together, these Good Samaritans became Sentries; became Providence; watched helplessly as several friends left them, one by one; embarked on a journey together to find answers; and then waited together in the darkness when, at the last, all contact with their friends was lost as the signal faded out nine weeks ago.

The Eldritch Errors ARG, produced by GMD Studios, gathered a strong following of players from its launch in 2007 into its third “book” in 2008. In February, at what was supposed to be the climax of the game’s third installment in February, the game’s momentum faltered. The day for the promised climax passed in silence. After realizing that the game was on hold indefinitely for reasons unknown, frustrated players created a space for venting and even “uncovered” an obituary for one of the game’s characters, in hopes of eliciting some comment from GMD.

On Monday, April 14, two days before the game’s one-year anniversary, a person using the alias of Mr. Cricket visited the GMD Studios offices, leaving a drawing of a cricket taped to the door. On Tuesday, Mr. Cricket visited again, this time leaving a dog collar – with the nametag of “Providence” – hanging from GMD’s doorknob. On Wednesday, the game’s anniversary, Mr. Cricket returned a third time to draw a familiar mark in colored chalks upon GMD’s doorstep.

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The Sky Remains

skyremains.jpgThe Licorice Film team, creators of 2007’s popular MeiGeist game, has a finger on the launch button for their newest project, The Sky Remains, due to begin in April. In partnership with HP Labs, The Sky Remains combines interactive ARG elements with GPS technology and the thrill of geocaching and treasure hunting using mscape (short for “mediascape”), HP Labs’ experimental mobile gaming platform. A list of compatible hardware for mscape is provided on the mscaper site. The game’s FAQ section states that players do not need these devices to participate.

Players of MeiGeist may have spotted some familiar faces in the trailer for The Sky Remains. (ARGNet also has a brief cameo!) The main story arc centers around the “6th Dimension Detective Agency” – with the players taking on the role of the 6th Dimension Agents, of course! The game breaks away from the one-time ARG experience by introducing a “re-playable” narrative. It also offers players the option to follow some parts of the story as a single player. However, collaboration and cooperation among players will be necessary to “discover the deeper subplots,” according to the FAQ. The Sky Remains also invites user-generated content, and the game’s website will serve as a social networking site for players to create and publish their own case files and stories after the initial case file has been solved and closed.

Video Games and ARGs – What Can they Learn from Each Other?

Note: This article covers two SXSW Interactive 2008 events: Cross-Media Cross-Pollination: Mashing Up Video Games and ARGs (Saturday, March 8th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.), and its follow-up, Core Conversation: What Can the Video Games Industry Learn From Alternate Reality Games? (Monday, March 10th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.).

A last-minute change in programming on Saturday, March 8th, at SXSW Interactive 2008 brought together familiar faces from the Alternate Reality Games development community: Dan Hon of Six to Start, Tony Walsh of Phantom Compass, and Dee Cook, a freelance writer and designer who has written and developed content for games such as “The 4400” Extended Reality, World Without Oil, Unnatural Selection, and many others. Hon, Walsh, and Cook presented the panel “Cross-Media Pollination: What Video Games can Learn from ARGs”. The follow-up conversation on Monday afternoon with Steve Peters from 42 Entertainment, and input from Jane McGonigal, Ken Eklund, Hazel Grian, and others, rounded out Saturday’s panel.

Currently one of the most popular past-times world-wide, video games have an audience both extensive and diverse. Gamers are consistently asking for more from game designers – better AI, more content, more interaction, more story and narrative, more immersion. What can Alternate Reality Game designers learn from video game design and the needs of video game players (many of whom also play ARGs), and what elements of ARGs might video game designers consider when making games for gamers in a world of rapidly-evolving technology and techno-culture?

The panel opened with the question: what elements of ARGs might interest and engage video gamers? “I Love Bees”, a well-known ARG, tapped into the fan base of Bungie’s Halo video game by providing a glimpse into Halo’s (and its predecessor, Marathon’s) detailed backstory. Many Halo players enjoyed ILB because of the opportunity to explore more of that game’s mythology. The puppetmasters presented a Halo story that the players could interact with in a different way, affecting the game not by moving the controller but by problem-solving with other players, answering payphones, emailing the Sleeping Princess, and convincing an AI that they were, in fact, human, and one of her crew.

Perhaps, Steve Peters pointed out in Monday’s follow-up conversation, cross-media is one answer to a demand for more interaction and individualized response. A player’s progress through a game could be tracked, with content delivered not only through the console but also through SMS, phone calls, or even the post office! Similarly, Tony Walsh raised the idea that ubiquitous computing, the imperceptible integration of computing systems and functions into every day life, might indeed be the next game platform, heralding the end of the “couch-potato” gamer.

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The Elder Gods Listen… to Providence Radio

theylisten.jpgTwo enterprising players of Eldritch Errors, Denny Vaccaro (endercoaster) and Jake Sapir (unknownwarrior33) launched an in-game radio broadcast last Sunday, reviewing significant game events of the week and inviting players to call in to the show. Providence Radio will be on the air every Sunday morning from 10 – 11 a.m. CT on Grinnell College radio, KDIC 88.5. Listeners out of the broadcast area can tune in via the internet at Players – and characters – can call into the show at 641-269-3328 to share their experiences, speculations, and observations about the uncanny affairs of the Eldritch Errors world. Providence Radio is completely in-game, so no Meta discussion allowed, folks! We’ll bseeingu on Sunday!

Catching Up with Jan Libby

Jan_Libby.jpgWhen we last spoke with Jan Libby in episode 35 of the ARG Netcast, she gave us exclusive news about two projects: a television show that she successfully pitched to a production company, and a new game of her own that she planned to launch sometime this winter. Fans of her last two games, “Sammeeeees” and its sequel, “The Wrath of Johnson“, have been watching and waiting for the first sign of Jan’s latest work.

Curious about the effect of the Writer’s Guild of America strike on Jan’s television project, I emailed her to ask about the strike and how things were going. Her cheerful reply gave me some information that I’m thrilled to be able to pass along. The television show has been put on hold due to the strike. However, just before the strike, Jan also pitched her alternate reality idea to the same production company, and, “…they loved it,” Jan said. “And because the web is not yet under the rule of the WGA, I can still launch this project without crossing any picket lines.” With the backing of the production company, Jan also notes that the project and its story world can expand beyond the plans she originally laid out.

Describing her next alternate reality project as “more experimental” and set in a different world from Sammeeeees, Jan revealed that the story “deals with time, space, and memory.”

“It is very interactive but designed so that you don’t have to interact to enjoy the ride,” she says.

We can expect to see the launch sometime in early spring of 2008, so keep your eyes open for whatever surprises Jan has in store for us because spring is just around the corner!

Image courtesy of the LGPedia.

Launching Into ’08: New Games and New Beginnings

newyear.jpgAs our planet careens into yet another lap around the Sun, puppetmasters are waiting gleefully in their lairs, cackling behind their respective curtains, fingers poised to hit the big red LAUNCH button at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2008. All around the world, ARG players will be clinging to their F5 buttons or obsessively checking their email for the new year’s first hint of activity in the world of chaotic fiction. January’s schedule is crowded with launches, relaunches, and continuations of new and ongoing games and experiences.  We’d like to give you a quick peek at what’s in store for you in 2008.

The Lost Experience – Relaunching 12/31/07
A press release on the ABC media website declared that on December 31, Oceanic Airlines would be resuming flights service to several cities. Contact your travel agent now!

What is this Game? – Launching 1/1/08
What is this Game?, an ARG and contest promoting What is this Movie? by Staff of the Magi Productions, begins on 1-1-2008 at midnight. Players may register here to participate (must be 18 or older by January 1, 2008). According to Magi’s press release, “What is this Game requires player interaction, quick thinking, puzzle solving skills, countless hours of dedication, and in the end a journey to the Grand Prize.”

Last Halloween, QU13E rose from the grave. A few members of unFiction began exchanging emails and receiving clues from QU13E’s shadowy inhabitants. After solving a puzzle in the source code of the QU13E website, players noted that 1/1/08 was set to be the launch day of this mysterious game.

The Dark Knight
Who knows what the Joker’s next prank will be? This time, it might be PIE! The next phase of The Dark Knight kicks off early in the new year, so keep your eyes peeled and your forks at the ready.

ZOMG! 1-18-08 is less than three weeks away! Avid followers of Cloverfield’s viral marketing will finally get to experience the Cloverfield monster on the big screen.

Eldritch Errors: Book 3
What lies ahead for the Sentries and the Dreamers in a post-Scream world? No exact date has been hinted at for the opening of Book 3, but players speculate that new activity on Eldritch Errors will begin sometime in the new year.

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Game Launch: Silver Ladder

TwoOfHearts.jpegDid you have your alarms set for today at 11:11 a.m? After all, this date has been circled on the calendars of many alternate reality game players as the day the rabbit hole at opens. While the site is currently down (temporarily, we assume and hope), this gives us a good opportunity to catch up on what’s happened so far.

On September 21st, a playing card with a MySpace page contacted unFictologist Satims. Satims alerted the unFiction community to the message from “2 of Clubs” that directed their attention to and a video on YouTube. Later that week, after entering their phone numbers into a form found on the SilverLadder website, several unFiction members began receiving phone calls from “The Deuces”, who described themselves as drones sent out to alert people of SilverLadder’s existence and its soon-to-be-opened rabbit hole. Other characters, identified by their place in the 52-card deck, revealed themselves to players through phone calls, IMs, postings on MySpace, and videos.

The SilverLadder website has deep roots in internet history. It has existed in one form or another since around 1999 as an interactive art project and has been referred as “The Bad, Scary Place.” A mirror of the “Bad, Scary Place” can be found on the SL Team website. A visit to the SilverLadder website currently reveals an clickable web of images, quotes, pages from a travel journal, videos and soundclips. Scattered through this hyperlinked maze are references to Alice and Wonderland, the Beatles, the Bible, nuclear war, and global warming.

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