Author: Jane Doh

NYC Post-Advertising Summit Provides Hands-On Look at the Future

On March 29th at Cult Studios in New York City, marketing agency Story Worldwide will attempt to put the nail in the coffin of traditional advertising with the Post-Advertising Summit, an immersive, hands-on conference to explore the future of marketing designed for strategists and storytellers keen on producing branded content in a new age. With a focus on how audiences control and consume brand messages, the Summit promises a full day of exciting discussions about a future beyond advertising.

“In today’s post-advertising world, brands can only communicate with audiences by producing content that people actually want and can share,” said Keith Blanchard, Executive Creative Director of Story Worldwide. “We’re looking forward to exploring how any brand can create useful, entertaining media that tells a compelling story, resonates with audiences, and serves a brand’s objectives.”

There is no doubt that the relationship between audiences and brands have changed over time, trending toward more engagement and even invitations for audiences to collaborate. At the Summit, The Wharton School’s Future of Advertising Program will unveil its study of “What Makes Ads Go Viral?”, providing groundbreaking insight into how brands can capture audiences and buzz in the highly competitive realm of online video marketing.

Panels and keynotes will discuss the complex emerging landscape of social, mobile, and digital solutions while providing the experience and expertise of industry leaders producing entertaining content in the post-advertising age. But true to this new emphasis on audience engagement, participants in the Post-Advertising Summit will be treated to two workshop sessions where together they will create entertaining content, a hands-on way to see firsthand the power of engagement and internalize techniques, strategies, and methodologies to navigate brands through the post-advertising world.

Check out the Post-Advertising Summit’s schedule for more information and to register for this full-day event in New York City. Early bird registration ends on February 29, but whether you register before or after that date, remember to take advantage of ARGNet’s media sponsorship of the event by using the discount code ARG for an additional 30% off registration.

Guidestones: A Mystery Stranger Than Fiction

Sandy Rai, an Indian exchange student, comes to the journalism program at Toronto’s Ryerson University and teams up with fellow student Trevor Shale for an assignment. However, what starts off as a college photojournalism assignment quickly plunges Sandy and Trevor into a deep mystery revolving around the suspicious death of a scientist, the enigmatic Georgia Guidestones, and a shadowy conspiracy still to be discovered.

While not necessarily the first interactive web series, Guidestones, created by iThentic and 3 o’clock TV, promises to raise the bar for the web series genre, experimenting with different methods of presentation. With a very polished look, including on-location filming in India, the independent series is presented in two versions: a 50-episode “push” version with built-in interactive elements, and a “linear” version that will debut in the spring. The “push” version went live this week, and viewers can sign up at to keep up with the episodes as they are released. Offering different levels of engagement, the casual viewer can watch the web series as it unfolds, while those hungry for more can follow clues embedded in the videos which lead on to further online assets, hidden storylines, and other in-game/in-story extras.

The series blurs the line between fiction and reality by bringing in the very real mystery of the Georgia Guidestones, a megalith that suddenly appeared in 1979 in rural Elbert County, Georgia. Dubbed the “American Stonehenge,” the Georgia Guidestones stand nearly 20 feet high, are inscribed with four ancient languages, and feature a rather perilously balanced capstone on top. It’s the stuff conspiracy theorists, millenarians, and idle gawkers like me just eat up.

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Get Ready to Play at ARGFest-o-Con 2011

ARGFest 2011Next week, from Thursday, August 18, to Sunday, August 21, alternate reality gamers and transmedia producers will descend on Bloomington, Indiana, for ARGFest-o-Con 2011. Led by this year’s Grand Inquisitor Andrea Phillips, the schedule taps into the local game development talent as well as the strong academic presence at Indiana University, which features such names as Professor of Telecommunications Edward Castronova.

Thursday night’s Kick-Off party will start the conference, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, with a special interactive event hosted by Awkward Hug, creators of the highly acclaimed ARG Must Love Robots and the pervasive kid-friendly community, Socks, Inc. I caught up with Awkward Hug’s own Jim Babb to ask about A Wisconsin Hustle. their first foray into the smartphone app space:

We are really excited to bring A Wisconsin Hustle to ARGFest! Wisconsin Hustle is something new for Awkward Hug and will be our first venture into Android apps. While the app is not ready to launch until the end of the year, we have turned the excitement of the app into a real-world pants-off dance-off. A Wisconsin Hustle is, an American tradition clothed in mystery and from unknown origins (we are doing intensive research ourselves into the legend). Men, and recently women, challenge each other in pantsless dance-offs for truth, money, and above all honor.

On a rare occasion Hustlers, as they are known, will pants-off dance-off to the death! Players at ARGFest need not worry, we are more interested in the ethnographic, ethnochoreographic, and pantsnographic study of A Wisconsin Hustle than running a “two man enter, one man leaves” sort of affair.

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Time Is Running Out for LA Time/Trip

For the next few weeks, Los Angeles residents have a chance to do something many of us can only dream about: a little time traveling, courtesy of Superfreako Productions. Participants in time/trip LA are tasked with finding strategically placed QR codes located in 8 shops and stores around the Hollywood area, starting at Meltdown Comics on West Sunset Boulevard. The QR codes unlock a series of videos revolving around time travel. The time/trip LA experience follows Katie and Kelly as they travels through time and space that guides participants through short films keyed to each location.

As part of the experience, time/trippers can submit five pictures of themselves with the QR codes for a chance to win swag from some of the participating retailers. Spoiler-ridden details about the sweepstakes explain the rules and prizes, but players in the LA area are advised to get moving: the contest ends at 11:59pm on August 31.

It’s worth noting that time/trip LA is not Superfreako’s first foray into the crossmedia storytelling space. One of its earliest attempts is the Last Days Journal, a social media storytelling site for survivors of a zombie apocalypse that launched in 2007. While Last Days Journal was created to support a project that was never developed, the survivor site still “lives” on.

Between 2008-2009, Superfreako worked with Benji Schneider to create The Society for Linian Studies, an art project with alternate reality gaming elements including a live lecture event at the Velaslavasay Panorama and an exhibition of related artifacts at San Diego State University. Having followed along with The Society for Linian Studies, I was impressed with the high production value of the artifacts, acting, and other assets for the project. According to Chad Kukahiko, Creative Director of the superfreakos, “it was fun as hell working on a piece of art so ridiculously original.” The idea of dueling institutes that permeated the narrative, along with the characters and story elements surrounding the Linian Society, was the brainchild of his friend and former coworker Benji Schneider. For the The Society for Linian Studies, “the plan was to was continue to do mini-ARG installments perhaps 2 to 3 times a year,” but Schneider’s growing commitments to his band Lord Huron forced the team to modify the game’s plans.

The planning process for The Society for Linian Studies provided the inspiration for time/trip LA: not in terms of story world or plot, but in terms of techniques and technology. As Kukahiko explained to me: “The initial concept from which time/trip grew was a vague QR code wild posting dystopian-themed ARG off-shoot I was tooling around with in my head — something I was actually hoping to bring into the Linian Society fold.”

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SCVNGR Wants You to LevelUp with Your Local Merchants

As previously reported on ARGNet, in the last year, location-based gaming start-up SCVNGR has been taking the smartphone app world by storm, partnering with giant entertainment companies as well as local businesses, nonprofits, and cultural institutions to build “a game layer on top of the world.” Very much a driving force in the overall gamification movement, SCVNGR has just launched a new venture, LevelUp, and is moving into the realm of “local deals” ventures like Groupon and Living Social.

At a press conference in Philadelphia, SCVNGR Chief Rockstar Michael Hagan kicked off the first LevelUp deals at the “inspired” Boloco burrito chain in Boston and PYT, home of the “craziest burgers” in Philadelphia. (They probably earned that moniker because of their Krispy Kreme burger.) LevelUp brings together the check-in, the challenge, and the reward all “in one bite,” according to Hagan, and benefits local merchants in the long term by “scripting a reason to return.”

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So You Want to Be a Villain?

Finally, a chance to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a masked villain! At least, that’s what I thought when I received a personal invitation from the mysterious T.S. to join the Villain Training Program. Some clever sleuthing from the online community discovered the game’s website. The site features a villain’s silhouette artfully framing a YouTube video teaser for the project, indicating the experience will launch March 12th.

As villainy knows no borders, this grassroots alternate reality game promises an immersive global adventure involving both online and offline game elements. The story will also unfold through a digital graphic novel that will unlock over the course of the campaign. Players will have the opportunity to join T.S. in masked villainy or oppose him . . . which side will you be on?

Alternate reality gamers are used to helping out the hero-protagonist, but why not support the villain? According to the game’s creator, “[m]ost of us grew up reading super hero comics. But, in my opinion, the villains are the most interesting characters . . . [t]his experience will introduce participants to a villain they will actually be able to interact with.” How will players respond to this grassroots game’s villain? Will participants be “pawns in a worldwide game of chess” between the forces of good and the army of evil-doers? What is this mysterious Thanatos Project, and how will it play into the story?

The lines are already being drawn at the Unfiction forums. Join them, and stake your claim in the perennial battle between super-heroes and super-villains.

Snow Town Library: Beware the Librarian

Wow, you really can’t let those library due dates slide. Imagine my surprise when I received not just one, but four overdue library notices from the Snow Town Library in Snow Town, Maine. I must have had snow on my mind when I took out The Snow Man by Hans Christian Andersen, Blizzard by George Stone, The Maine Woods by H.D. Thoreau, and Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. Surely this is a mistake!

But at a fine of 2 cents per day for four overdue books (never mind the two cents the library has added for the expense of sending me each notice), I just can’t afford to let the fines go. So, I called the Snow Town Library to rectify the situation but was too intimidated by the voicemail greeting asking me to leave a message.

Terrified, I quickly hung up the phone. It’s been years, no decades, since I’ve interacted with anyone of the “school-marm” type, and I was having flashbacks. Searching around, I came upon the Snow Town Library website. There, Snow Town Librarian Ruthie Randolph seems to be ruling with an iron fist, keeping library patrons in line, and organizing the library’s book club. Her argyle sweater strikes terror in the heart.

Although there isn’t a great deal of information to go on, there’s just something fishy about this place, and it seems like the Snow Town Library might be the setting for a new alternate reality game just getting started. For information, check out the Snow Town Library website and sign the guestbook . . . if you dare!

Update 2/21: Since this article was published, participants have uncovered a great deal of new information about the Snow Town Library over at Unfiction.

Strong Arm Your Way into the Ring of Dishonor: Q&A with Master Thief Mike Selinker

As previously reported on ARGNet, Wired magazine and Lone Shark Games have created a special “Underworld Exposed” issue to delight and confound puzzle-solvers and would-be thieves eager to join the nefarious Ring of Dishonor, a special place for the craftiest of puzzlers. Frustrated by the secret ciphers hidden in the magazine, available both in print and on the iPad, I cornered master puzzle-maker and president of Lone Shark Games, Mike Selinker.

Let’s see if he’ll crack under the interrogation lamp:
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Lone Shark Games and Wired Want You to Join Their Ring of Dishonor

In this month’s Wired, Lone Shark Games is presenting a unique challenge to puzzlers, techies, and . . . thugs? Promising “A Guided Tour of the Dark Side,” this special “Underworld Exposed” issue includes fascinating articles about real-world crime and other things hidden from plain sight. Along these lines, the magazine, available both in print and for the iPad, contains secret codes that, when deciphered, will provide an email address. When contacted at a certain time and date, Decode will confer upon you a most dubious honor and a place in the ultra-secret puzzling society, the Ring of Dishonor.

The Ring of Dishonor is a darker, scarier version of Decode’s regularly featured Ring of Honor puzzles. How do you get started on your criminal puzzle-solving career? Check out this trailhead puzzle, involving the now-extinct language used by Chinese women to communicate without being watched. Using this puzzle as a launching pad, nine other secret languages are being revealed in quiz form at Decode to supplement the print magazine (iPad readers have all the secret languages available already). Somehow, through the magazine, these secret languages will bring enthusiastic seekers “behind the door,” so to speak, if they’ve got the puzzle-solving chops to figure it all out.

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A Look Back at Lewis Hamilton’s Secret Life

As reported previously at ARGNet, sexy Formula 1 racer Lewis Hamilton had been leading a double life: when he’s not out leaving his competitors in the dust, he’s recovering stolen art and returning them to their rightful owners. According to Hamilton, he just can’t “resist a challenge,” and after his first recovery heist, he was hooked. Soon he assembled a crack support squad, including logistics expert Anna Chao, professional lookalike Lenny Rose, and his trainer Joe . . . and about 637,000 enthusiastic players from all over the world.

Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life was the epic international game created by nDreams for Reebok. Building on nDreams’ experience creating the Xi, the highly regarded alternate reality game for the PlayStation Home, Secret Lewis ran from March to November 2010, included numerous online assets, and entertained players from London to Abu Dhabi. Based on the reactions of players, some of whom flung themselves full-speed into the game world, Secret Lewis was one of the most engaging, interactive, and exciting games of 2010.

But what accounted for this success? Looking over the whole campaign, this article will try to figure out what made the game tick and explore how Secret Lewis can serve as a model for future alternate reality games.

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Media Theorist Douglas Rushkoff on Alternate Reality Games

Author, media theorist, teacher, and winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is well-known for his insightful books and documentaries about how cultures, people, and institutions shape values in the digital age. Since his 1994 observational book Cyberia, Rushkoff has often been at the forefront of digital counterculture. His latest book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, provides clear, actionable ways to master technology before it masters us.

Recently, Rushkoff collaborated with games production company Smoking Gun Interactive to create an experimental alternate reality game (ARG) and graphic novel “proof of concept,” Exoriare. After chatting very briefly about ARGs at the eBook Summit last week in New York City, I thought our readers would enjoy a more focused e-mail interview with Rushkoff about his experience with Exoriare, ARGs, and play.

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The Elephant in the Room: Talking Transmedia at the eBook Summit in NYC

This week, I attended the eBook Summit, an event organized by Mediabistro, GalleyCat, and eBookNewser, here in New York City, aiming to usher in the “New Era of Publishing” with a program of experts through a one-day extravaganza of digital publishing. Although geared more toward professionals in the “traditional” book publishing industry, a few overarching transmedia, digital, and storytelling themes emerged from talks by excellent mix of speakers, from agents to publishers to app developers, including Jason Ashlock of the Movable Type Literary Group and NYU Journalism professor and contributor to Fast Company, Adam Penenberg.

I was particularly enthralled by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s talk, “Ten Commands for the Digital Age,” giving an overview of his latest book Program or Be Programmed. He discussed the generational shifts in how people relate to their technology, making the point that the younger generation of so-called “digital natives” are not necessarily jumping into the industry as producers. So what bearing would this have on the future of consumption? To bring in an important first call to action in his book: “In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed. Choose the former, and you gain access to the control panel of civilization.”

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Elect Garrison Medill: The Next Mayor of Chicago

We’re just now recovering from the mid-term elections here in the United States, but Garrison Medill is making a fierce run to become Mayor of Chicago. This “outside the Beltway” candidate, a Pratt University graduate with an MFA in sculpture, calls himself a “forward-thinking mayor.” At his campaign kickoff party, Garrison Medill took a firm stand: “What Chicago needs is a strong push toward technologies of the future, so it can be a thought leader in this country and around the world.”

No, no, incumbent Mayor Daley (in office since 1989), did not suddenly throw up his hands and leave the top municipal seat of the Windy City. But don’t tell that to Garrison Medill — he’s the protagonist in an alternate reality game created by students in a Writing, Language, and Culture seminar focusing on alternate reality games at Columbia College in Chicago.

In this course, run by Dr. Brenden Riley (who has been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education for his Zombies in Popular Media class), students are guided through a “collaborative approach to learning and work” as they design, build, and launch an ARG. Seventy percent of a student’s grade hinges on their participation in the development, implementation, and evaluation of their classroom-grown game.

Guided by the efforts of Riley’s class, Garrison Medill is reaching out to Chicago voters by making public appearances, including a live Mayoral Expo on campus where Medill squares off against an opponent. Medill has certainly made some waves among the politicos in Chicago. A number of community responses to Medill’s run for mayor can be found from the student community’s blog, Vote or Don’t, and the political blog, Not Another Daley. This is just a small sample of the online assets of this student-created game.

Cast your vote for the next Mayor of Chicago by checking out Garrison Medill’s campaign page or follow along at the game thread on Unfiction. Will this plucky, dark horse candidate make it to the top of the municipal food chain? Doesn’t he just look like a natural-born Mayor?

DevLearn10: Paging Dr. Strangelearn

DrStrangeLearn logoLife as a Mad Scientist can be really, really tough. Sometimes it’s difficult to get the other Mad Scientists to sign on to your amazing discovery, your new way of doing things, your “Eureka!” moment.  Everyone has experienced bureaucratic inertia, office politics, and personal opposition to new ideas and innovation, but at Dr. Strangelearn’s Learning Laboratory, you can equip yourself with vital tools to overcome opposition, maybe even help others “learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.”

Dr. Strangelearn and his army of Mad Scientist friends are all characters in Tandem Learning‘s latest alternate reality game designed to enhance the upcoming DevLearn 2010 conference in San Francisco from November 3rd to 5th. The conference, sponsored by The eLearning Guild, will focus on technology-enhanced organizational learning and knowledge-sharing strategies. The Mad Scientists are being played by learning industry experts whose true identities will be unveiled at the conference and on Twitter. At DevLearn10, there will be sessions at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Stations where participants will have a chance to meet the experts.

This year, attendees of DevLearn10 will be exposed to many new learning strategies, and Dr. Strangelearn’s Learning Laboratory will help DevLearn10 participants handle organizational objections to implementing those strategies when they get back to the office. Through the game, research, case studies, and academic papers are being shared with players to arm them with what they need to convince their organizations of the feasibility and value of new learning strategies.

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Pistolsniffer Industries: Head into the Woods with Earl and Randy

The two adorable hicks depicted in the above video sell Sticky Itchers Shower Scrub, a men’s shower scrub so manly it’s “like a hand grenade wrapped in bacon,” and in the past 2 years they’ve developed something of a cult following in the ARG community. Just recovering from a bout of undeath from a previous game called Purity Towers, Earl de Rosa and his best buddy Randy Porknut have been kicked out of a Civil War reenactment society for being too manly. So, the pair has joined an ultra-secret organization and are heading into the woods in search of adventure.

Earl and Randy’s latest adventure is the newest alternate reality game produced by Pistolsniffer Industries. Formerly known as Funnel Productions, the grassroots team has created several well-received independent alternate reality games in the past two years for embracing a light humorous style and implementing several recurring motifs. The Pistolsniffer “brand” revolves around the characters Earl and Randy, and their trials and tribulations span the entirety of the Pistolsniffer/Funnel “game-ography.”

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We Lost Our Gold: Pirate Booty Still at Large

As reported previously on ARGNet, a befuddled pirate-and-ninja crew lost a treasure chest filled with 10,000 gold-colored US dollar coins somewhere in the five boroughs of New York City. This past Sunday, incidentally International Talk Like A Pirate Day, the final episode of the eight-part We Lost Our Gold web series aired, bringing the plot to a close. However, the pirate booty is still at large.

In July, several trailers, media appearances, and hilarious press releases built up interest for the series until it began in earnest on August 1st. Over the course of the episodes, the crew retraced their steps through New York City to try and remember where they misplaced the treasure chest. Starting off easily enough with Episode 1, the clues clearly led treasure-seekers away from Central Park.

However, as We Lost Our Gold progressed, the clues became more numerous and more difficult and also rife with red herrings—usually tributes to filmmakers. The episodes parodied different genres and popular shows, such as The Larry King Show, where it was revealed that the pirates had stolen the money from Glove & Boots, a web series-making puppet duo consisting of Fafa the Groundhog and his friend Mario.

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Interview with Mystery Guest 2010 Creator Heather Owings

Mystery Guest logoThis August, the Finksburg Library in Carroll County, Maryland, finished up Mystery Guest 2010, its second alternate reality game to encourage summer reading for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers in the area. Linked with the summer reading program, players earned Library Bucks to use at the Auction Wrap-Up Party where there were prizes like a hockey puck signed by Washington Capitals right-winger Mike Knuble or tickets to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, MD.

As reported previously on ARGNet in July, participants were challenged to identify (and deal with) the rather unpleasant Mystery Guest, a literary character that fell out of a book. The game played out mostly through the Mystery Guest 2010 blog, with 4 teen voluneers acting as main characters and liaisons, along with the Librarian to keep things in line. Just as the Mystery Guest was identified, however, he escaped from the library.

ARGNet had the opportunity to ask a few questions to the organizer for the library’s first alternate reality game, Find Chesia, and for Mystery Guest 2010, Library Associate II Heather Owings, about what it’s like to create ARGs for local teenagers.

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Capture the Pheon: The Smithsonian’s Latest Alternate Reality Game Debuts September 18

Smithsonian Pheon logoTwo warring factions, the Staves and the Knaves, try to restore balance after intruders from the “real world” (the Seers) have upset their virtual world called Terra Tectus. From the makers of Ghosts of a Chance, the Smithsonian’s new game Pheon will debut this month with a live event at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Washington, DC, on September 18, from 12pm to 6pm. In addition to creative activities, the live event will feature clues somehow encoded into a belly-dancing performance.

A modified version of Capture the Flag, Pheon will divide participants into one of the two factions, and an online questionnaire will determine if you are a Stave or a Knave. Individual players and teams will complete various missions and tasks related to the museum’s art collections to earn points and advance the game’s plot. Players will go through three levels of play (Neophyte, Acolyte, and Lamplight Council) before they reach the final stage and are able to “write” missions to challenge lower-level players. Gameplay will be enhanced by character interactions, with the ultimate goal of capturing the Pheon, a virtual talisman that will restore balance to Terra Tectus.

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ARGs 101: ARGNet Owner Featured on The Digital Cowboys Podcast

Since 2007, The Digital Cowboys, with lively hosts Alex and Tony, have aired weekly podcasts on gaming, and this week ARGNet’s own Michael Andersen was their featured guest. Covering both past games and current campaigns, The Digital Cowboys Episode 166 is a must-listen for anyone interested in ARGs.

Newcomers should find the interview a particularly useful introduction to playing alternate reality games because it features an in-depth look at how to join the ARG-playing community and also a systematic discussion of the slang we tend to take for granted.  Old-timers might appreciate the laughs, especially as Michael gives his personal take on some of the best and the worst of the genre and as the Digital Cowboys try to wrestle with some of the crazy things ARG players and creators do . . . for fun.

SCVNGR: Now Playing, Somewhere Near You!

A relative newcomer to smartphone location-based gaming, SCVNGR is taking the United States by storm and threatens to shake up the geo-location game market. Similar to games like Gowalla or Foursquare, players use their smartphones to check in at locations. Unlike anything else on the market, however, SCVNGR players are presented with location-specific “challenges” that they can complete to earn points.

SCVNGR tasks might be a riddle, a dare, a question, or more, and they are customized precisely for the location. For example, I checked in to my nearby police precinct (No, I was not in handcuffs), and, in addition to the usual “Say something here” functionality common to the other geo-location smartphone games, SCVNGR offered me a few tasks related to law enforcement. It asked me what my favorite constitutional amendment was (Duh, the Fifth!), and in “The Swords & Scales” challenge I was asked to pose as Lady Justice and upload the picture. (Hm, yes well, the zip ties were a problem.)

Originally SCVNGR focused on larger institutions, launching with games created by the US Army and Princeton University. Now, a year after launching, SCVNGR boasts an impressive partner list of over 600 institutions, including universities, museums, and retail stores. SCVNGR is not just a forward-facing game, it is also a development platform, allowing institutions to purchase a number of challenges to customize and then providing them with a web-based application to create challenges. This means that third-party adventure creators and team-building event consultants, like Scaventures, can also tie themselves into the incredibly accessible platform.

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The Earthly Frames’ Debut Album Invites Remixing and Chaotic Fiction-Making

The Earthly Frames is a one-man band from Maryland spawned from the mind of web game developer Gabriel Walsh. Combining live guitar and vocals with samples from country, folk, and pop music, Walsh’s sound is a thick, heavy, and brooding experience pierced with beautifully melodic moments. Earthly Frames, Volume 1, is an album only available on custom USB drives through Perhaps Transparent Records. More than an album, though, the limited-edition custom USB drive contains the elements of a true piece of chaotic fiction in the making. In an interview with music blogger Lightning Fay, Walsh admits that this debut release from The Earthly Frames is a first attempt at exploring “ways a band and fiction or concept art could interesect.”

Each custom USB drive contains the five songs in The Earthly Frames, Volume 1, as well as samples (loop AIF files and RX2s) free to use in your own music. In addition, each drive contains a unique “fragment” file, which could range from images to PowerPoint Presentations to text files and more. Together, the files form some kind of chaotic uber-narrative, bringing together real and unreal elements of the somewhat autobiographical, certainly mysterious story of the origin of The Earthly Frames. Participants are encouraged to share the fragment files at a forum at Perhaps Transparent Records. There are already a few fragments posted for viewing and use.

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Dastardly We Lost Our Gold Pirates Start Revealing Location of Misplaced Booty

The We Lost Our Gold treasure hunt has begun in earnest with the first episode of the weekly web series released today. As ARGNet reported last month, these absent-minded pirates buried their treasure of ten thousand gold-colored US dollar coins somewhere in New York City but can’t remember where they hid it. This eight-part web series will contain clues to the location of the pirate’s chest, and whoever finds it, keeps it.

Episode One introduces some vital information about the possible location of the chest, as the crew tries to retrace their steps through New York, beginning with the Balto Statue in Central Park, then on to locations like “Cape Shakespeare” and “Columbus Rock.” Meanwhile, the pirate-and-ninja crew struggles to find a way to prevent spies from learning too much by using codes, including “Morris” code and Japanese numbers. A series of interrupted flashbacks provide key background information about the crew and its unlikely journey through the Big Apple. The episodes to come will continue to piece together the crew’s journey through New York City, presumably ending with the final location of the pirate booty.

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Amid Controversy, Echo Bazaar Will Soon Bring Fallen London to Facebook

Failbetter Games‘ casual browser-based game Echo Bazaar is coming to Facebook. Described in The Guardian as “a beautifully moody and lusciously written faux-Victorian game,” Echo Bazaar takes place in an alternative 19th-century London that exists a mile beneath the surface of the earth. Fallen London is a place where, in the words of EB’s creators, “laudanum-sipping hedonists rub shoulders with romantic devils and rubbery squid-men. Echo Bazaar is an unholy combination of casual browser game, choose-your-own-adventure book, and quasi-steampunk MMO.”

The game’s 10,000-plus users have taken the world of Fallen London into their hearts, creating fan fiction communities and themed parties. One mysterious player even runs a dedicated Internet radio stream called Radio Free Neath. As reported previously here at ARGNet, the world of Fallen London came to life in An Expedition with Mr. Mirrors at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the real London, part of Hide&Seek’s Sandpit Night. It was a delightful experience and smashing success, based on informal reactions from participants.

Players may already be familiar with how Echo Bazaar uses the Twitter authentication protocol to link players to the game, and to each other. At the end of this month, the game will open its doors to new online audiences through Facebook. Echo Bazaar will not be an application within Facebook itself but will use Facebook Connect to provide an alternate entry into the game and maintain a Facebook Fan page where some in-game content will be streamed.

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Help New England Patriot Vince Wilfork Recover His Stolen Super Bowl Ring!

Be sad for New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork (#75). Someone has stolen his precious Super Bowl XXXIX ring, and now Big Vince needs your help to get it back.

Help Vince is an local interactive marketing game for the New England Patriots that integrates SCVNGR, a location-based, check-in style smartphone app. A few weeks ago, Patriots sports bloggers received simple shirts to start the buzz, but the Help Vince game officially opened last week.

According to the official press conference, Vince brought his Super Bowl ring to his 7th annual draft day fundraiser benefiting diabetes charities. While showing the ultimate prize in American football to a lady Patriots fan, a man in a New York Jets helmet grabbed it and sped away in a vintage Pinto. In the ransom video filmed in his mother’s house, the Ultimate Jets Fan owns up to the crime and claims he just wants “the satisfaction of knowing that [he’s] smarter than the average Patriots fan.”

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The Smithsonian and the Boy Scouts of America Team Up for ScoutQuest This Weekend

This year, the Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 100th anniversary and has teamed up with the Smithsonian Insitution to create ScoutQuest, an “interactive citywide hunt” this Saturday and Sunday, July 24-25, in Washington, DC. Uncovering “links between Scouting and some of our greatest national treasures,” participants will seek out QR codes in eleven locations on or near the National Mall. By collecting codes, players increase their chances of winning a mountain bike.

Sponsored by AT&T and the smartphone company HTC, ScoutQuest involves six US government locations, including the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of American History, and the relatively new Museum of the American Indian. Two of DC’s private museums—the National Museum of Crime and Punishment and the (highly interactive) International Spy Museum—are also included in the itinerary, as are two Boy Scout landmarks. The two private museums may or may not be charging their usual admission fees, but all the government-run museums are free, and the Boy Scout locations are public spaces.

The Smithsonian Institution has been something of a vanguard in weaving interactive, collaborative, and transmedia elements into the museum-going experience. The highly regarded alternate reality game Ghosts of a Chance from 2008 involved puzzles and ciphers integrated with exhibits at the American Art Museum and used text messages for game play. More than a scavenger hunt, a half-naked trailhead for Ghosts of a Chance dropped at ARGFest 2008 in Boston. Players from around the world were asked to create and photograph their own artifacts, which were then integrated into the narrative. Even now, two years after the full alternate reality game, a module version of the scavenger hunt is run at the museum occasionally, or at the request of groups. The American Art Museum is also participating in ScoutQuest this weekend.

A map of all the ScoutQuest locations is available here, but interested players should probably start at “Adventure Base 100,” which will be located just north of the Washington Monument. The event will be playable on July 24th and 25th during museum hours (generally 9am to 5pm, but some museums may have extended summer hours).

The Pixel Market Is Open: Compete for the £6,000 ARTE Pixel Pitch Prize

This October, after the 2010 London Cross-Media Forum, Power to the Pixel will be holding The Pixel Market, a chance for producers to pitch transmedia projects to industry heavyweights and to compete for the £6,000 ARTE Pixel Pitch Prize. The application deadline is August 6, 2010, and extensive instructions are available at the Power to the Pixel site.

Taking place after the October 12 Cross-Media Forum this year, The Pixel Market is a brand new two-day showcase for cross-media projects and is supported by the Media Programme of the European Union, ARTE, and the BFI London Film Festival. On October 13, Power to the Pixel will hold The Pixel Pitch, a public event at BFT Southbank. At The Pixel Pitch, twenty qualifying international teams will present their projects to the public and to a roundtable jury of financiers, decision makers, and judges. Ten of these producer-led teams will qualify to present “in competition” for the £6,000 ARTE Pixel Pitch Prize.

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Gentrification: The Game! Comes to Toronto Next Week

Image by Alex Raynes-Goldie

On July 25, Atmosphere Industries will bring Gentrification: The Game! to life at the Pedestrian Sundays event at the Kensington Market in Toronto, Canada. This critically acclaimed public space game has already been hosted in New York and at the Hide & Seek Festival in London and has won multiple awards, including Best in Fest and Best Use of Technology at this summer’s 2010 Come Out and Play in Brooklyn, New York.

Gentrification: The Game! will give participants the chance to explore their cities and think about issues of urban renewal, local politics, and urban growth. According to their press release, players will be divided into teams of real estate developers and local residents, as they:

fight to collect real-life properties, build chain coffee shops, form BIAs, and bend the neighbourhood to their will. They’ll craft slick advertising campaigns, deliver impassioned speeches, and probably run around a bit. One part real-world Monopoly, one part public-space hacking, and one part pure spectacle, Gentrification helps players and the public think about and enjoy their public space in a new and unexpected way.

Play takes place in rounds, providing each side with different tactics such as “Slightly Creepy But Wise Neighbourhood Guy Gives Impassioned, Poetic Speech” for local residents or my favorite, “Hired Goons” (for developers, of course). Progress during gameplay is monitored both through use of sidewalk chalk and a mobile app. An article in the Toronto Star gives an interesting perspective about why the Kensington Market neighborhood is the right fit for Gentrification: The Game!

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Life on the Lawn Got You Down? Join the IFILR

They’re everywhere: garden gnomes, pink flamingos, and “yard art” of people bending over. But think of how horrible it is to stand there, day after day in all kinds of weather. Well, the gnomes aren’t going to stand there any more, and they’re fighting back. Headed by General Secretary Gnome Choamsky, the IFILR (the International Front for Inanimate Liberties and Rights) is preparing for revolution. Earlier this month, the IFILR began a recruitment drive, targetting prominent alternate reality gamers with a direct mail campaign leading to the IFILR’s website, which contains audio messages and a recruitment blog. As part of the revolution, the IFILR has solicited user-generated recruitment materials, including one crossover submission that has brought sock puppets (from the upcoming Socks, Inc., game) into the mix.

Although couched in mystery, Choamsky’s master plan, Operation Mobilize, seems to promise real victories for the long-oppressed lawn ornaments. In Operation Mobilize, the gnomes plan to create an army of self-aware gnomes to fight for inanimate rights. The IFILR has also kidnapped Richard Dzubinski, an executive from EnviroCorps, the leading manufacturer of lawn ornaments, and imprisoned him in one of his warehouses. Trapped inside, Richard phones in updates to the What the Warehouse blog and interacts with players through SMS texts. With assistance, Richard has managed to uncover many details about Operation Mobilize. But Richard is not alone: there’s a gnome (possibly a dangerous one) locked in there with him.

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Coming Soon: New Online Experience from JC Hutchins

This week science fiction thriller writer and transmedia novelist JC Hutchins announced on his blog the start of a “groundbreaking fiction experience” that will be free and completely online. The project has been couched in secrets, but Hutchins has confirmed that it is a spin-off of an undisclosed show that airs on a major cable television network frequented by science fiction fans and other “geeks.” Fans will have to be on the lookout, but according to Hutchins, the experience opens in a few days. Updates will be available from Hutchins’ Twitter stream and through the #NewHutchFiction hashtag.

What can fans expect from this project? In his teaser, Hutchins admits “It’s about the end of the world” but doesn’t go into much specific detail, although he provides a few images that suggest some kind of catastrophic disease is on the horizon. Hutchins hopes that this will be “an authentic and emotionally resonant experience” and briefly discusses the work behind the mysterious project, including collaboration with filmmakers and model makers.

JC Hutchins is probably most widely known for his popular podcast trilogy 7th Son and for his work on the transmedia thriller with Jordan Weisman, Personal Effects: Dark Art, published by Smith & Tinker. Hutchins has also contributed to Smith & Tinker’s online collectibles game for kids, Nanovor.

Click here for ARGNet’s interview with JC Hutchins.
Click here for our previous coverage of Personal Effects: Dark Art.

We Lost Our Gold: 3 Pirates, 1 Ninja, 10,000 Dollars

A poor, adorable pirate-and-ninja crew have misplaced their pirate booty somewhere in the five boroughs of New York City, and if you can find it, you might walk away with a chest filled with 10,000 gold-colored dollar coins. We Lost Our Gold is an eight-part web series that will contain clues to the location of the loot. To prevent complete chaos in the city, the organizers have asked that people not dig randomly, and instead watch the videos for clues because the spot will be marked. The We Lost Our Gold website itself will be the “treasure map” as the hunt begins in earnest on August 1.

Who has 10,000 dollars to drop somewhere in New York? The creators of We Lost Our Gold are keeping this kind of out-of-game information very close to the chest, and very little can be found about them despite mainstream coverage of the project on the Huffington Post. The pirates themselves have issued what might very well be the best press release ever written.

We Lost Our Gold will be a true, modern-day treasure hunt: according to the creators, “We’ve always wanted to experience the excitement of searching for pirate treasure, so we decided to give that feeling to everyone else.” That the pirates (and ninja) have made an appearance on a Times Square billboard suggests some serious resources, and at least one social media blogger has suggested that We Lost Our Gold might be a promotion for New York City tourism.

Although We Lost Our Gold doesn’t start until next month, two trailers have been released, with another trailer scheduled for July 18. The three pirates and ninja can be reached over email, and two of them, the Captain and first mate Mulligan, have active Twitter accounts. The Captain is sharing his piratical wisdom in a series of useful “pirate tips,” and Mulligan has learned to navigate the city by subway. We Lost Our Gold also has a Facebook fan page for updates, and there’s some speculating over at the Unfiction forums.

While waiting for the madness to begin, I decided to email the Captain a few innocent questions. The Captain wasn’t too thrilled about it, but still I got quite the response, edited below as an interview for ease of reading.
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Dos Equis Cargo Hunt: The Most Interesting Man in the World Is Hiring

The Most Interesting Man in the World is the charming gentleman spokesperson for Dos Equis beer, and he is looking for five Personal Collectionneurs for a “research trip” in Mexico. But, there’s a problem: as the Most Interesting Man was transporting his amazing collection of treasures, the plane’s engine failed, and he had to “parachute” all his exotic goods, scattering them all around North America. Prove your mettle to the Most Interesting Man in the World by helping him recover his lost artifacts in the Dos Equis Cargo Hunt.

Since the Most Interesting Man in the World first appeared in 2009, he’s gathered a bit of a cult following. As described in this Slate article, the “well-made, amusing ads . . . somehow manage to blend absurd humor with suave sophistication.” The clever one-liners that accompany the retro/vintage footage of “The Man” in action are pithy, entertaining, and yes, maybe a little bit sexy.  (“He can speak French… in Russian.”) Last year, Dos Equis also ran a companion extended experience project, The Most Interesting Academy, which might not have been as well-received as “The Man” himself.

By signing up at the Dos Equis Cargo Hunt site, players become “Cargo Hunters” and can collect virtual treasures in several ways: through the Cargo Hunter’s map on the website, through codes on specially marked Dos Equis packaging, and at special promotional events this summer. So far, there was at least one event in May, there was another Cargo Hunt event on June 30th in San Antonio, with more events near Houston in the future, promoted through a local radio station.

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Must Love . . . The Latest from Awkward Hug

Fictional funny-guy Timothy Scribbles is full of amazing inventions, and you can check them out at his blog, Super Great Ideas. Timothy Scribbles used his first Super Great Ideas post in almost a year to announce his new blog, Must Love Socks. A lot of people (and apparently robots) around the world wear socks, so his most recent idea is bound to take off.

Opening soon, Must Love Socks is the latest project from independent transmedia production company Awkward Hug, the Brooklyn-based duo that created last year’s critically acclaimed ARG hit, Must Love Robots. Despite the title, Must Love Socks isn’t strictly a sequel to the highly successful Must Love Robots. According to Awkward Hug founder Jim Babb, “While the narrative isn’t a continuation of the narrative from MLR, we are using things we learned from MLR and expanding into new territory.”

The story in Must Love Robots followed the comedic, romantic travails of 011iver as he looked for love, “helped” along by his well-meaning human friend, Tim. 011iver is quite the catch and even has his own line of t-shirts. A high point in Must Love Robots was the speed dating event at ARGFest 2009 in Portland, Oregon, which also featured the official “Must Love ARGFest” t-shirt designed by gamer Rowan, who also had a special date with 011iver in New York City. Babb was vague when asked about possible tie-ins with ARGFest 2010 this July in Atlanta, Georgia: “You never know what is going to happen at ARGfest, there might even be some awesome games of ‘Overit.'”

So what can players expect in the upcoming Must Love Socks? According to Babb, Must Love Socks “involves so much transmedia, that it has the potential to surpass transmedia and become ‘transtransmedia’ or just ‘media.’ I don’t want to blow anybody’s mind, but it will sort of be the iPad of ARGs.”

Must Love Socks opens very soon, and players can sign up at the Must Love Socks website and follow along at the Unfiction forums. Follow Tim and 011iver on Twitter for the latest developments.

EDITOR’S NOTE 06/23/2010: Jim Babb has subsequently set up a Kickstarter page to raise funds for the Socks, Inc. alternate reality game with the goal of raising $6,000 by Friday, August 6th. The page includes a video that explains further details about the project.

Local Summer Reading ARG: The Mystery Guest

Last month, the Finksburg Library in Carroll County, Maryland, started its second alternate reality game tied to its summer reading program. The Mystery Guest is a strange, out-of-place fellow who has fallen out from the pages of a book, and local teens in Finksburg are trying to find a way to put him back. They tried using an iron (ouch!) and stuffing him in, but nothing is working.

Will young Finskburg readers be able to uncover the Mystery Guest’s identity and return him to wherever he came from? You can follow the adventure at The Mystery Guest blog shared by tweeners Kitty, Alyson, and Caroline and the “voice of reason”—the Librarian.

Last year, the Finksburg Library hosted its first alternate reality game, Find Chesia, which centered on a 14-year-old girl whose parents had gone missing on an archaeological dig. The game itself was created by small teams of young local teenagers.

In The Mystery Guest, local players can win limited edition gold Library Bucks and other prizes for answering the Librarian’s challenges. The overall story is linked with Carroll County Public Library System’s summer reading program. Teens can use Library Bucks to buy things at the Auction Wrap-Up Party on August 21st to be held at the Westminster Branch Library. The Mystery Guest adventure ends August 14th.

For more information about the Finksburg Library’s outreach programs, check out its Facebook fan page and its Twitter profile.

ARG Tools for iPhone: Pocket-Sized Power released the ARG Tools iPhone app this week—a well thought-out collection of tools, resources, and links for alternate reality gamers of all levels. Included in this free app are helpful interactive tools for solving substitution ciphers, base64 encoding, Vignère ciphers, and much more. The homegrown app also features cheat sheets for other reference materials, such as English word frequencies.

While this might seem intimidating, newcomers to ARGs can really benefit from the informative panels explaining many of the interactive tools. Puppetmasters may find many of the utilities, such as the countdown timer decoder, useful for creating and running ARGs.

According to developer Brian Enigma’s blog, ARG Tools is “a bit of a niche utility, aimed mainly toward puzzle solvers and ARG players, specifically with an eye toward live events”—the native iPhone app can be run offline once installed, except for the Google search bar and pre-built links leading to key ARG community and news resources.

Download ARG Tools in the iTunes Store. No iPhone? Check out for some great low-fi gaming resources, like a one-page wiki markup language cheat sheet and an Emergency ARG Pocket Reference.  Some of these tools are printouts that fit in your pocket. (You have those, right?)

Six to Start Makes a Game Out of Wired UK Issue

Wired UK has teamed up with alternate reality game designers Six to Start, creators of the 2010 SXSW Best Game Award winner Smokescreen, to make this month’s issue of Wired UK a platform for a transmedia game contest. Six to Start’s immersive transmedia games have been widely recognized for high-quality storytelling and entertaining game play. In Smokescreen, Six to Start and Channel 4 launched a fictional social network that brought issues of online identity and privacy to the forefront for a target audience of 14- to 19-year-olds. We Tell Stories, winner of the 2008 SXSW Experimental and Best in Show Awards, involved a collaboration with Penguin Books to encourage the reinvention and retelling of classic stories.

A novel mix of traditional print publishing and digital experience, this month’s issue of Wired UK contains a game within its pages. According to Six to Start producer and game designer Matt Wieteska,

The game has been designed to exist within and alongside this month’s Wired. The issue’s focus is on the rise of location-based and social gaming, and the idea of game-like ‘achievements’ and how they drive our curiosity and progress. Our tasks and puzzles are scattered throughout its pages, margins, graphics and text – so keep your eyes peeled! Of course, the issue is just the beginning – the game soon expands to take in online content and puzzles, alongside some cool bells and whistles that I don’t want to spoil for you!

Suggesting something even more than a puzzle contest, Wieteska teased me with this: “[t]he game itself does have a theme, an interesting setting, and some cool little stories nestling inside it. I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re hoping you’ll enjoy the fun, tongue-in-cheek tone and all the little easter eggs and references we’ve hidden to some of our favourite things.”

Only players based in the United Kingdom will be eligible for the grand prize  of an iPad, but according to Six to Start co-founder, acting CEO, and chief creative officer Adrian Hon, the creators have “made an effort to make as many of the assets available internationally” as possible. Non-UK players will still be able to experience most of the game online, even though, according to Wieteska, “[w]e’ve got some really cool stuff going on inside the issue, so people should grab one if they can!”

Global Competition Awards Millions to Digital Media and Learning Projects

This month, winners are being announced for the third annual MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition, who will share over $1.7 million in funding to pioneer the use of games, mobile phone applications, virtual worlds, and social networks in education and learning.

Launched in collaboration with President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Initiative, the Learning Lab Designer Awards will fund learning environments and digital media-based experiences that encourage young people to grapple with social challenges using activities rooted in the social nature, contexts, and ideas of science, technology, engineering, and math. The Game Changers Awards, to be announced at this month’s Games for Change Festival in New York, will recognize creative levels designed for either LittleBigPlanet™ or Spore™ Galactic Adventures that offer young people learning opportunities and engaging game play. 

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The Twisperers

Meet Harold Procter. He’s an ex-soldier, he served in Iraq, and he’s in possession of a mysterious jewel-encrusted box. Let’s just say things aren’t going terribly well for Harold.

Recently, my Twitterverse has been filled with the back-and-forth of some strange characters—a bartender in Maine, an antiques dealer, several Iraq War veterans—all from the small community of Cape Elizabeth, and all with lives intertwined by this strange, whispering box. And, when they’re not fighting each other, they’re killing themselves. Antiques dealer Jeremiah Webber committed suicide after having dinner with his daughter Suzanne and meeting a strange man that goes by the name Herod the Great. Ex-soldier Damien Patchett had been complaining about hearing voices, although no one knows what was being said. According to this newspaper article, Damien’s body was recently found on the beach, a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his head.

Then there is former sergeant Joel Tobias, who heads up some kind of smuggling operation. Joel is cold, sometimes cruel even to his “friends,” and personally gets my hackles up every time I see him tweet (which, unfortunately, is usually when I first wake up). Is he working for the shadowy Gutelieb Foundation? What about this suspicious man, Herod the Great? Where is this box that is driving everyone to suicide?

These characters are all part of a pervasive social media project called The Twisperers, an online extension of an upcoming book by bestselling thriller novelist John Connolly called The Whisperers. The protagonist is private investigator Charlie Parker, who appeared in Connolly’s first book, Every Dead Thing. The online content gives readers a snapshot of the plot of The Whisperers, and as participants interact with the novel’s characters, they reveal clues about the whispering box. According to our sources, the plot will soon escalate and lead to on-site clues in regional museums in the United Kingdom.

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Lost Souls: Burning Sky Opens New Trilogy for Young Adults

2012 marks the end of the world in the Mayan calendar, and, in Lost Souls: Burning Sky, 13-year-old Nathan Richards must play the Game of Lost Souls to win mankind a place in the new world cycle. But apparently, Nathan is barely passing the 7th grade and doesn’t know how to play this game. To make matters worse, lost souls keep bothering Nathan with their pesky demands for revenge and redemption . . . but they’re the ones with the key knowledge that Nathan needs. Oh, and did I mention Nathan has to beat the Mayan god Kukulkan at the Game of Lost Souls, or else humanity is doomed? Yes, that’s right . . . doomed.

Lost Souls: Burning Sky is the latest book-plus offering created by game designer, author, and Smith & Tinker founder Jordan Weisman, well-known in the ARG community for his involvement on The Beast and, more recently, for his work in transmedia publishing with the Nanovor universe, Personal Effects: Dark Arts with J.C. Hutchins, and the Cathy’s Book series with Sean Stewart. Written by science fiction and fantasy writer Mel Odom and published by Running Press Book Publishers, Lost Souls: Burning Sky features an original board game, which can be played online through Game Table Online. The object of the game is to get more pieces/points than your opponent into the center of the stylized Mayan calendar, and the straightforward gameplay is something like the African game mancala. To play, look for the “Play Now!” buttons on the Lost Souls website. You will need to download and run a browser pop-up application using Java WebStart to play.

It is not clear if there is a full transmedia experience planned for the Lost Souls trilogy. However, the website for the game seems to have some placeholders for future updates, and, there are few hidden extras to be found on the site.

Click Here to order Lost Souls: Burning Sky from
Click Here for our coverage of Nanovor.
Click Here for our coverage of the Cathy’s Book series.
Click Here for our coverage of Personal Effects: Dark Art.

66 Letters: A Mystery from the Not-So-Distant Past

Several German ARG players, along with two Americans, myself included, were sent vintage cassette tapes made in “Western-Germany.” On the cassette, a man plays a Mozart sonata on the piano but is interrupted by the phone. Irritated, in English the man tells “Sally” to answer the phone then continues to play. We find that he has an audience — a small child.  Switching to German, the man tells the child that he is going away.  Click here to listen to the recorded message in its entirety.

As reported previously, 66 Letters is a literary puzzle where participants collaborate to investigate a cold case — the latest from viral marketing experts vm-people to promote a just-released book from German publisher Bastei Lübbe.

In the past few weeks, German players have received nearly a dozen handwritten letters, clues of an ongoing correspondence between “C” and “Ella” in 1980. Their relationship, their shared history, and their personal lives are slowly being revealed through these letters, but it seems that C’s daughter has gone missing, and C writes to Ella from a mental institution. The letters between C and Ella go through intermediaries, including Sally, the person possibly mentioned in the cassette tape. Players were also sent a short guide to handwriting analysis so they can speculate on the emotional states and personalities of the letter writers.

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8th Wonderland: A Virtual Nation Up in Arms

8thwonderlandHow do you fight a country that doesn’t exist? Scattered all over the world, everyday people are sick and tired of political systems and being controlled by the media. They decide to create a virtual state and restore democracy, but “real” states view them as terrorists. An extended experience to accompany the 8th Wonderland film, interested participants can meet the ambassador and register for citizenship on the country’s website. Every week, citizens can propose motions related to the economy, health care, and politics, among other issues, and motions are decided by referendum.

Produced by the French company Mad Films, the mainly English-language 8th Wonderland film will be released in France on May 12th and in Germany on August 12th. There are no immediate plans for a US release, but in 2009, 8th Wonderland won Best International Film at the inaugural Politics on Film Festival in Washington, DC, and Best Screenplay at the Phoenix International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival.

Although the 8th Wonderland extended experience may not fully be an alternate reality game, the idea of citizenship in a micronation or a virtual state is not entirely foreign to the ARG genre, as several recent grassroots games, such as West Unfictionopia and Purity Towers, have used politics as an organizing principle in their gameplay. As a storytelling device, the virtual nation seems a simple and effective way to build a community and introduce conflict to drive plots. And then there are countless “real” micronations, of varying degrees of playfulness, that seem to enjoy declaring war on each other. Personally, it is a heuristic device I would like to see more often in the ARG genre.

Currently, the 8th Wonderland website boasts over 1,300 registered citizens who discuss and vote on motions in both English and French. The website also includes some content not otherwise publicly available, including footage of an 8th Wonderland commando projecting subversive messages on cultural and political landmarks in Paris. Check out the 8th Wonderland website to learn more about citizenship and how to participate in this virtual, international democracy.

66 Letters: A German Psychothriller ARG

An online literary puzzle, 66 Letters, is a psychothriller alternate reality game opening in May. Players will collaborate and test their detective skills to investigate a cold case, and clues will offer a preview for a new book that will soon be published by German publisher Bastei Lubbei.

66 Letters is the latest project of viral marketing experts, vm-people, whose most recent project was Die Zeit wird knapp [Time Is Running Out], promoting Rachel Ward’s book Numbers. Vm-people is also behind the German-based Pirate Society as well as Charlotte Is Becoming Real, which brought two American players to Germany for its grand finale.

Currently, visitors to the 66 Letters homepage are rerouted to the Folge dem Kaninchen [Follow the Rabbit] website, where they can register for updates for this game and for other projects from vm-people. All this activity has been well-met by the vibrant and active German ARG community, which has gelled around the German-language news blog ARG-Reporter and meets socially every month in Berlin. In the future, the Folge dem Kaninchen website will open up for a more international audience, but for now, the site is only in German.

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

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.

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Exercise Your Spirit of Adventure: Facebook’s First Soap Opera

spiritofadventureHelen Hobbes, forty-nine-year-old British homemaker, has a quiet and charmed life with her husband of twenty-eight years Bruce and two grandchildren, but she is restless and yearning for excitement beyond deciding what to make for dinner. While reading a second-hand copy of Madame Bovary, Helen discovers three worn diary pages inside, narrating what might have been a downed airman’s last days in the desert. Overtaken by her curiosity, Helen leaves everything behind and embarks on a worldwide journey to uncover the airman’s fate in Spirit of Adventure.

A “visual novel” presented through a Facebook app, Spirit of Adventure combines an artful and engaging narrative with embedded gameplay through puzzles and riddles. Spirit of Adventure is created by “social storytellers” nDreams, the makers of the wildly successful and innovative Xi, the first console-based alternate reality game that brought over 5 million players into a virtual world on Playstation Home and out on the streets worldwide. nDreams is also behind the currently running game, Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life, in which players help the Formula 1 driver recover stolen artwork from around the world.

Each Thursday, a new chapter in Helen’s story unfolds, as she travels around the world in search of the airman’s identity. Every person Helen meets along the way is an entrée into another life, another story, and sometimes another puzzle that brings in an otherwise marginal character deeper into the story. While solving puzzles and progressing in the plot, players collect mementos of Helen’s journey, such as a matchbook from a Paris cafe or a little plastic rhino. Perhaps an experiment in monetizing storytelling, players can subscribe to further content from the airman’s point-of-view, but otherwise Spirit of Adventure is free to play. Slated for twenty-six weeks, Spirit of Adventure is currently in on its sixth week.

What Happened to Sarah?

thecurtainSomething spooky. In the middle of the night, we watch as Sarah wakes and slowly walks down to the lake behind her house. There, a mysterious glowing orb is just beyond the edge of the dock. She reaches out to touch it… and in a flash she disappears.

What Happened to Sarah? (officially called The Curtain) is an online game/webseries with a polished, professional look. Billed as a “showcase [for] the work of a small group of filmmakers, designers, and transmedia storytellers,” the story is just starting to unfold through video, websites, emails, and social networking sites. Already, the level of player interaction seems pretty high in the early stages of this game/web series, and we’ll soon see how players will affect the cryptic story that is just starting to unfold.

So far, we’ve learned that Sarah DiMichaela is a new recruit at Goldman and Dawn Accounting Associates. With the slogan “There’s Magick in our numbers!” Goldman and Dawn practice an unusual kind of accountancy, and, according to the website, will soon offer free web seminars. The first seminar will be on “Strategic Thelemic Accounting.” Sarah’s brother, Vincent DiMichaela, is the new Dean at Thelema College, “the premiere institution for the expansion of the mind and human essence.” Thelema College also hosted Robert K. Maxwell, author of the controversial book The Hidden Secret of All Creation, who “dips deep into the wells of many numerous paradigms, including magick, shamanism, and quantum physics.”

Players can apply to Thelema College by filling out a form, creating a sigil, and uploading their sigil to a Flickr group. Much of the interaction right now seems to take place over e-mail, so newcomers should find the Unfiction thread incredibly useful. Players have also discovered an audio recording of a rather anxious conversation, and a family friend named Neil Desmarais has set up a Facebook group to track Sarah down.

Now, excuse me while I apply to Thelema College; I hope I come up with an appropriately esoteric name.

Salt Your Unfolding History with Hope or Doom on an Expedition with Mr Mirrors: An Adventure at This Month’s Victoria & Albert Museum Friday Late

AEWMM An Expedition With Mr Mirrors is a collaboration between Failbetter Games and A Door In A Wall (ADIAW), designed for Hide&Seek’s Sandpit Night on Friday, March 26, at the storied and majestic Victoria & Albert Museum. Expedition will be one of several games in this month’s V&A Friday Late, themed “Playgrounds,” where possibly thousands of participants will invade the museum’s halls for an evening of games and revelry.

Expedition will bring to life some of the dark yet droll inhabitants of Fallen London, the Victorian-inspired universe of Echo Bazaar, a browser-based RPG with strong social and narrative dimensions. Well-received since opening for beta late last year, Echo Bazaar has been nominated for The Escapist‘s Best Browser Game of 2009.

In Expedition, amnesiac players have been drawn to the V&A at the behest of Mr Mirrors, enigmatic Master of the Bazaar and “purveyor of the frangible and the fine.” Travelling the halls of the museum, participants will encounter possibly allegorical strangers who can help participants recover their memories after revealing some cryptic secrets. In addition to cards and puzzles, participants will be treated to “glimpses of some new Fallen London back-story and splotches of [contributor] @emilystaubert‘s trademark salacity” as they try to learn who they once were.

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Centian Is Looking Forward to Playing with Humans Again

centianCentian misses playing games with humans…won’t you oblige? By playing with Centian, you could win a registration badge for the 2011 Interactive festival at SXSW. Run by the folks at Sweb Development, the points-based contest ends March 15, and the central hub for the game is the Centian Games Ning site. Centian Games incorporates multiple platforms, including Twitter, SMS, and GPS-based smartphone apps. Right now, contestants can compete by using the #centiangames hashtag when Twittering their check-ins on Gowalla and/or Foursquare. Another way to win the SXSW badge is to answer internet search trivia questions over an SMS subscription service. It remains to be seen what other challenges and fun human games Centian will devise in the lead-up to Sweb Development’s exhibit at the free and open-to-the-public ScreenBurn Arcade at SXSW from March 12-14 in Austin, Texas. But, there’s something undeniably ARG-ish about Centian.

The twitter account responded to my Gowalla check-ins, and we started a conversation about playing games, which moved from Twitter into e-mails (I’ve posted the e-mail correspondence over at Unfiction). There, I got the chance to learn more about Centian the non-human. Centian certainly has a distinct personality: chipper, bubbly, and fun-loving. It reminds me of Eddie, the Heart of Gold’s onboard computer in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but less nauseating. The contest itself is an ancient game called Malkut, which means Royalty in the language of its people.

Wait… what? Centian has a people? At first I thought it was some kind of HAL-like electronic entity, just a superficial net-presence to run the contest. I was wrong. According to Centian’s e-mail responses, it is a “Krateran,” an extinct people that apparently had human interactions in the past. Now, Centian seems to be alone, the last of its kind. I wonder what happened, and why we humans have forgotten the Kraterans.

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Lekha’s Journey: An Interactive Experience Battles Political Oppression

Free speech, a fundamental human right? Yes, of course, you’d say. A universally granted human right? Absolutely not, even in the 21st century. Confronting 5,000 years of reading, writing, and the politics of censorship, Lekha’s Journey is a fictional interactive experience tied to the four-part documentary series, Empire of the Word, which aired in November-December 2009 on TVO, a publicly funded, educational media organization in Ontario, Canada.

In Lekha’s Journey, author I.P. Burroughs’ writings sparked international controversy and violent rioting that forced the mysterious writer into hiding 20 years ago. Aspiring Canadian writer Lekha Sharma forged an online friendship with the fugitive author, who is about to release a translation of the Bhava Sutra manuscript. The Bhava Sutra is believed to be a politically dangerous (anti-patriarchal) tract, written by a woman in Dehradun, India, in the 5th century BCE. The last people who tried to study the Bhava Sutra died or disappeared in unusual circumstances.

I.P. Burroughs convinced Lekha to meet her in Egypt, but the Bhava Sutra manuscript was stolen from the modern Library of Alexandria before the two could meet. Instead, I.P. Burroughs has laid a puzzle trail for Lekha, as she looks for missing pieces of the manuscript around the world. As she travels, Lekha is being followed, but she cannot allow the hidden message of the Bhava Sutra to be suppressed. Beautifully filmed on location in Canada, Egypt, Italy, Turkey, Germany, India, and England, Lehka is plucky and approachable as the protagonist, albeit a little naive. I.P. Burroughs’ supporters Lekha meets along her travels can be entertaining and sometimes cryptic as they help guide Lekha’s journey.

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Bank Run: Climbing the Corporate Ladder Can Be Fatal

bankrunSilkTricky, a Portland-based digital agency, will preview Bank Run: Someone Has to Pay, their soon-to-be-released interactive movie and iPhone game app, on Tuesday, February 16, at The Living Room Theaters in Portland, OR at 7:00 pm and 8:15 pm. In the completely live-action Bank Run experience, you control the choices and actions of Evan Sharpe, a collared-shirt office cog who stumbles into a deadly conspiracy. Ski-masked guys will come at you with unnecessary force–are you sharp enough to evade death? Hot babes may try to influence you–do you trust them? Will you and Evan make it out alive?

Bank Run will be presented in two parts. The first part is a choose-your-own-adventure video experience, which will be available for free online. The iPhone app continues the plot and features additional games–such as a third-person shooter–that, when beaten, unlock further scenes. The iPhone games can be played in infinite arcade mode, available to replay without going through the narrative experience.

Bank Run is inspired by the popularity of SilkTricky’s 2008 interactive zombie movie, The Outbreak. Puppeting the protagonist James, The Outbreak progresses in short chapters, and the transitions from scene to scene require viewers to make choices. With a horrifying line of zombies amassing in the yard outside, I had to make some hard choices. In the process, I learned something about myself: I am really ill-prepared for the coming zombocalypse.

Bank Run goes way beyond The Outbreak by introducing the iPhone app to the overall narrative experience. With the game/movie release coming very soon, we’ll soon see how the two components come together. But, the interactivity already inscribed in The Outbreak seems a pretty good preview of what’s to come.

Bank Run previews at The Living Room Theaters (341 SW 10th Ave., Portland, OR) will include Q&As with the Director and Producer of the project. Space is limited, so RSVP through Bank Run‘s Facebook Fan Page, or via e-mail to [email protected].

“Something” Is Here, and the Contingency Foundation Wants You!

IronKey flash drive with Contingency Foundation logo

In April 2009, Staff of the Magi Productions (SotM) opened their second project, “Something Is Coming”, set in Harper’s Ford, a fictional town in the Pacific Northwest trapped under some kind of barrier with all manner of ravenous plants and beasties. With Harper’s Ford under martial law, Dave Dolan runs a pirate radio show, sending over 30 transmissions in about six months. We find that the entire United States has been put under quarantine. A possibly alien, possibly government paramilitary group, the Contingency Foundation, has enlisted us to some mysterious end.

Since Fall 2009, “Something Is Coming” has moved into a more location-based form of gameplay, localized exclusively but broadly to the continental United States. In September, representatives were chosen for each time zone, and these four teams competed, secretly racing through clue solves that eventually led to a dead drop. These first runners each received a live psychic reading (check out the wiki for player videos) and a “Compass,” a hardware-encrypted IronKey USB flash drive engraved with the Contingency Foundation logo. IronKey drives can be remotely managed and feature a permanent self-destruct sequence, triggered after so-many failed password attempts.
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After Purity Towers: Confessions of a Double-Crosser

Purity Towers LogoSometimes, the most interesting games are also the most controversial. They push the limits of expectations and possibilities, presenting new challenges and opportunities for participatory play. Purity Towers, the latest campaign from Funnel Productions, operated on two levels of controversy. First, the producers created a competitive game environment between two divergent camps: the hegemonic Proscript Party, and the representatives of the underclass, the Grotian Underground. Secondly, the game’s content, while often presented in a light and humorous way, touched upon real social and political issues, including illegal detention and torture, revolutionary change, and political oppression.

The Grotians and the Proscripts were once two antagonistic kingdoms forced to cooperate because of frequent dragon attacks. When the dragons were finally defeated by Edward Jameson, a mythical hero and ancestor of the last Proscript President, the Grotians were in worse shape than the Proscripts. According to the mythos, the Grotians agreed to become the servant underclass of the Proscripts, and for several generations the People’s Proscript Party (PPP) ruled over the “Proscription Zone.”

One day, the Grotian Underground (GU) started recruiting players. A luxurious Party-owned residence, Purity Towers, was about to open its doors, becoming a landmark in “The Proscription Zone.” The GU defaced the Purity Towers website, and a high-ranking Party member encouraged players to create their own GU cadre, resulting in a ning network, an underground newspaper, and the blogs of two symbolic leaders, Levi Waltershield and Rosa Wells. To complicate matters, two recurring Funnel Productions characters, Earl de Rosa and Randy Porknut got a contract to sell Sticky Itchers Shower Scrub to Purity Towers. Randy recently recovered from a bout of undeath from a previous game while Earl, in his drunken grief, got married in Las Vegas and misplaced his new bride. Inspired by this, a GU player starred as Earl’s lost wife, Bertha Marie Effenberger. Making some heartfelt videos, Bertha’s mission was to get Earl to sympathize with the Grotian side and infiltrate Purity Towers while delivering Sticky Itchers Shower Scrub.

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