In the past three months, players have demonstrated their willingness to pay for alternate reality games.
Taken in isolation, players reaching into their pocketbooks to pay money for alternate reality games is not news. Ever since the genre’s inception, opportunities to pay money for ARGs have emerged. Majestic, Electronic Arts’ venture into the world of alternate reality games, reportedly convinced about 15,000 players to pay $9.95 a month (or $40 for the CD) for access to its content. Studio Cypher adopted a similar model for its month-long multiplayer novels, which offered custom content to “Wakeful Agents” willing to pay $9.99 for a more immersive experience. Games like Perplex City tied gameplay to collectible puzzle cards that collectively unlocked additional content for approximately $5 per pack, while local interactive experiences like those produced by Accomplice, 5-Wits, and Ravenchase Adventures charge admission to their real-world adventures and hunts.
Having said that, the past few months have seen a resurgence of campaigns seeking players willing to pay for their alternate reality games, with more options of game experiences to buy into than ever before. The past quarter has been a busy one for alternate reality games with experiments in new storytelling platforms and additional institutional assistance for developers. This article will offer a taste of some of the campaigns that have caught my attention since my last broad look at the industry in April.
Last month, I presented you with a deceptively complex puzzle Stitch Media used to challenge ARGFest attendees. To date, only six puzzlers have managed to walk away with the solution. If you still want to attempt to join their ranks, stop reading here, because I’m finally going to reveal the solution below.
It’s been three months since ARGNet’s first look back at this year in alternate reality gaming, putting over half of 2011 behind us. Alternate reality games have continued to insinuate themselves into pop culture, spanning movies, television, music, video games, and books. The genre has stretched out beyond the entertainment industry to support social causes, provide more enriching museum-going experiences, and even sell packs of chewing gum. During the past three months a number of major campaigns have come to a conclusion, to be replaced by a number of tantalizing prospects. Read on for a few highlights from the quarter.
Growing up, my parents had me convinced that one of the local librarians lived the building’s basement. For years, Jim Caccamo was an archivist at the Hudson Library and Historical Society, and spent countless hours preserving the library’s collection of artifacts. He spent so much time there, it was a relatively simple matter for the librarians, with a little help from our parents, to convince many younger library patrons, myself included, that he never left the building. I suspect that one of the reasons we were so willing to believe this local urban legend was because the prospect of staying overnight at the library with all of its artifacts from history was such an exciting one. Sadly, Jim is no longer with us, but the legend he inspired stuck with me through the years. On May 20th, the New York Public Library invited five hundred people to stay overnight as part of the Centennial celebration. I was lucky enough to be one of the attendees at the launch of Find the Future, letting me live out the fantasy Jim planted in my head so many years ago.
Find the Future is a game developed by Jane Mcgonigal and her husband Kiyash Monsef along with Natron Baxter Applied Gaming and Playmatics, on behalf of the New York Public Library. The game itself involves a mobile scavenger hunt to discover one hundred artifacts including a fireproof copy of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Malcolm X’s briefcase, the stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Charles Dickins’ letter opener with a handle made from his cat’s paw. QR codes near each object can be scanned in using iPhone and Android apps to unlock writing prompts that ask players to think about their futures. The game provides individuals with a casual way of exploring many often overlooked details of the library along with prompts designed to make visitors think about how each artifact is relevant to their own lives. Interacting with the experience is a deeply personal, contemplative experience that plays out over time as players gradually return to the library and post their responses online. Players are rewarded with points for unlocking artifacts and submitting stories, allowing them to level up their writer level and receive achievement badges. Players can then assemble their favorite stories into an online Epic. Visitors to the public library can play the Find the Future game through the end of the year.
The Write All Night event invited 500 players to experience an intensely collaborative version of the Find the Future game. Players were selected from a pool of 5,000 entrants who explained what they would accomplish by the year 2021. The goal for the night was to create a 600-page book collecting player responses to each artifact prompt between 7PM on May 20th and 5AM on May 21st: in turn, the library promised to preserve and protect the book as long as New York City exists. Paper Dragon Books’ Gavin Dovey was on hand to bind the entries into a book before the night’s end, and editors made themselves available to help participants polish submissions. Before the event started, McGonigal assured players, “we have not rigged this game so you will win: it’s up to you.”
An old man stands behind a bar. Half butler, half mad scientist, he sports a three-piece gray suit, an all-knowing smile, and the frayed messy grey hair of an aging genius. He withdraws a deck of cards labeled with simplistic circles and lines, slowly shuffling the deck before placing a handful of cards in front of a patron at the bar going through a turning point in their life. Every time he touches a card, the card’s face is replaced by a glimpse into one of the patron’s many potential futures.
Welcome to the signature scene from Bar Karma, a science fiction themed television show on Current TV. This past Friday, Bar Karma ended its first season. The show features characters from different times and places as they unknowingly enter a bar outside time and space when they have a tough decision to make. The show repeatedly asks questions about fate and free will as the barkeep and his small but attractive staff attempts to help each new character while protecting their renegade consultation shop from a mysterious evil entity. Each episode’s narrative is created in part by an active portion of the Bar Karma audience that proposes and votes for plots.
Co-produced by former Nickelodeon executive Albie Hect and Sims creator and game industry legend Will Wright, the show is experimental TV on the bleeding edge of interactive storytelling. ”The mission is to extend to the viewing audience an unprecedented amount of input and participation in the development of the series,” says David Cohn, General Manager for Current TV. “To create the world’s first community-developed series.”
Clear your schedule. Cancel all of your appointments and hop on the next plane to San Francisco. Head straight from the airport to 580 California Street and tell the receptionist you need to go to the Jejune Institute on the 16th floor. You don’t have much time, as The Jejune Institute is closing its doors on April 10th.
Nonchalance, a hybrid arts consultancy, is the company behind The Jejune Institute. Their website describes the experience as “an urban interactive narrative set in San Francisco. Think of it as a way to discover a new side of the city, while being absorbed in an epic fantasy.” The experience is part alternate reality game, and part public art installment, with a dash of city tour thrown in for good measure.
For someone familiar with alternate reality games, it could probably be best described as an ARG occurring almost entirely in the real world. Almost all of the world-building details are found in the real world rather than on the internet. Instead of visiting a detective agency’s website, you visit the detective agency’s actual office. Instead of scouring a website’s source code for clues, you search through a parking garage. There are phone calls and websites, but they play a relatively minor role in the unfolding narrative, when compared to most other alternate reality games.