Game enthusiasts are all about the games they play being “realistic,” with higher resolution graphics and smarter AIs. One of the more alluring features of alternate reality games is their ability to blur the lines between reality and game to the point where you question where one ended and the other began, exemplified through the “TINAG” (This Is Not A Game) philosophy. Of course, we all knew it was just a game, but hid that knowledge away back in the “suspension of disbelief” part of our brains, and let ourselves believe it was all real. But what if we could experience a game that was so real, you honestly didn’t know what was game and what was real? David Cronenberg would like to offer you an opportunity to do just that, via a personal on-demand biotech recommendation engine (“POD”) designed to enhance your everyday experience.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it draws on the plot of past Cronenberg films like eXistenZ, where players of a game would use gamepods, flesh-like instruments that allowed them to “jack into” and interact with the game on a real-time. Now, Cronenberg has joined forces with Body/Mind/Change Labs to create PODs similar to the ones in the movie, and you are encouraged to sign up for your own.
In Lance Weiler’s Culture Hacker column in Filmmaker Magazine, he states Cronenberg has “quietly licensed the fictional technology and science found within his films Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and eXistenZ for a mind-bending eight-figure sum.” Reporting from the BMC Labs building in Venice, CA, he describes the lab as looking like “something out of a sci-fi film” and describes the company’s previous biotech achievements and their goal “to enhance humankind by harnessing biotechnology to make us smarter, faster and more efficient.” Cronenberg himself released a trailer describing the POD and his collaboration with Body/Mind/Change Labs.
Dig a little deeper and the truth becomes evident – Weiler’s article is the opening salvo for a digital extention of the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) David Cronenberg: Evolution exhibit set to debut in November 2013 and run through January 2014, and includes “artifacts, props, documentation and audio-visual interviews, as well as reconstructed set-pieces from Cronenberg’s films”. The Body/Mind/Change experience is co-produced by CFC Media Lab and directed by Lance Weiler (Head Trauma, Pandemic, Reboot Stories), and “features plot lines and game mechanics involving biotechnology start-ups, body enhancements, and emotional learning systems.”
According to the project’s press release, the experience is scheduled to launch on October 25th, but there is plenty to do and see while you’re waiting. Visitors to the BMC Labs website are encouraged to sign up for their own POD. After signing up, registrants are presented with a confirmation page hard-coded with a message congratulating them for being “8,743 of 137,234 in line for a POD implant.” The website’s POD Challene page, which is currently “OFFLINE” displaying a field of static, hints at things to come later this month.
Check out the discussion of Body Mind Change on the Unfiction forums to see how the project evolves, and schedule your trip out to Toronto to see the installation for yourself to get the full experience.
Pemberley Digital’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries recently took home a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Program for its web adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The web series reframed Austen’s classic in a modern setting, allowing the characters to live out their fictional lives outside the show’s main YouTube channel, interacting freely across dozens of social media platforms. On October 7th, the team at Pemberley Digital will be returning to play in Jane Austen’s universe with the release of their next major production, Emma Approved. But between The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, Pemberley Digital turned to one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known works for an experiment in transmedia storytelling with Welcome to Sanditon.
As one of California’s many Gold Rush boomtowns, the town of Sanditon California was no stranger to rapid change. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, William Darcy’s company Pemberley Digital developed an experimental video recording platform, Domino. Sanditon’s mayor Tom Parker met up with Gigi Darcy at SXSW, and signed up his town as a partner community, giving interested townsfolk the chance to share their lives on the platform through blogs, pictures, and videos. Mayor Parker’s aspiration for Sanditon was to transform the city into a vibrant, health-conscious vacation spot, and much of the plot revolved around complications that arose for townsfolk and business owners when the mayor’s idealized version of the city conflicted with its reality.
This comes to the fore through the story’s main plotline, following the interactions between Sanditon Scoops owner Clara Breton, whose ice cream parlour is targeted for a mayoral-encourage rebranding to juice bar, and Parker’s reluctant assistant Edward Denham, who shows a delightful passion for obscure British television. Glitches in the early release of the Domino platform also resulted in bringing a budding romance between the two to the town’s attention, resulting in equal parts consternation and glee. While Gigi Darcy has largely stepped into the town to serve as an embedded narrator, Welcome to Sanditon allows her to complete her own narrative arc. Executive producer Jay Bushman viewed Gigi’s character as the strongest test cases for transmedia storytelling in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, making her reprisal through Welcome to Sanditon the end of an 18-month long journey.
Last year, William Sawtooth III embarked on a great experiment: he sold off 100 shares in his personhood in exchange for a billion dollars. Being a savvy investor, I managed to secure a 6% interest in Sawtooth prior to his untimely demise at the hands of a masked henchman from the Secret Games Society. Yesterday, I received word from Sawtooth’s legal counsel informing me that Sawtooth’s death was confirmed after a thorough investigation, and my shares were reverting back to the Mega Hard Wood Group Board of Directors. As a courtesy, the Board sent me a framed certificate commemorating my brief status as a Majority Stockholder. They also unknowingly sent out an invitation to this year’s FestQuest, an annual puzzle hunt held during ARGFest.
Sawtooth’s misadventures in personal corporate governance were the focus of the alternate reality game Boom the Moon, an extension of Steve Peters’ crowdsourced alternate reality gaming thought experiment World Without Helium by Synth-Bio Productions. For two weeks, players tricked Sawtooth’s silent investors into handing over their shares to prevent a plan to use Sawtooth’s newfound wealth to solve the impending helium shortage by detonating a nuclear bomb on the moon’s surface. Players secured a majority stake in William Sawtooth III, and staved off plans to blow up the moon. While celebrating the win, Sawtooth was shot and presumed dead. The correspondence from the Mega Hard Wood Group only served to confirm that presumption, pronouncing his death a suicide.
After closer inspection, I discovered an invitation to FestQuest 2013 slipped in between the certificate and the frame’s backing. The secret message cordially invited me to join the Sawtooth Circus in Seattle on July 27th. Sawtooth also offered his handwritten assurance that “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” It also included an introductory puzzle to whet players’ appetites for the main course this weekend. The return of William Sawtooth III should be an exciting one for ARGFest attendees, as Sawtooth is one of the most colorful characters in alternate reality gaming to break the fourth wall I’ve seen.
Synth-Bio Productions is resurrecting Sawtooth through their role as host of this year’s FestQuest. Pre-registration for FestQuest is mandatory this year, with groups of 10 asked to provide their email address along with a “Circus Name”. The experience is only available to ARGFest attendees, and is expected to take approximately 2 hours to complete.
In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services deployed an agent to the European theatre of World War II on an assignment codenamed the “Archimedes Mission.” His task: infiltrate the Soviet Union, and extract a man targeted by the Germans to a safe location. It’s been 70 years since our unnamed American operative’s mission. After the war, he returned to England and settled in as the lighthouse keeper at Blackhollow Point, faithfully looking after the local landmark long after lighthouse operations were modernized, rendering his services moot. What drove this unnamed American spy to move to England and take up residence in a lighthouse for most of his life? And what does it mean now that he’s gone missing?
Yesterday, I received a battered metal box bearing an OSS spearhead insignia in the mail that may shed some light into the curious tale of this World War II veteran. According to a weathered correspondence from the OSS, the goal of the Archimedes Mission was to smuggle a Soviet codenamed “The Mathematician” to safety, taking the RMS Galatia from Southampton to New York. A USB drive taped to the lid of the box contained an audio recording instructing the operative to use a portable audio recorder to provide updates on the mission’s progress. The first stage of the mission was apparently a success, as the metal box was adorned with a luggage tag on the box from the Hart & Cornwell Steamship Company: however, the fields for personal information on the inside were left blank. No further details are provided about the mission, although a scrap of paper slipped in between the framed picture of a ship and the frame’s backing raises the question, “What is the Blackhollow Project?”
The exact nature of the Blackhollow Project is unclear, but it’s likely associated with the Blackhollow Point lighthouse. A postcard taped to the lid of the box featured the historic site. On the back of the postcard, an impassioned letter, “The Spy” declared his intention to keep his promise and wait for his love. If a news clipping about the Blackhollow Point lighthouse keeper is to be believed he kept that promise, waiting at Blackhollow Point for decades.
While the story of a lovesick soldier pining for a lost love is a compelling one, the truth might not be quite so simple. According to the Blackhollow Project website, the lighthouse keeper has gone missing. And while the former OSS operative was unquestionably pining after a lost love, he was also standing watch over a device constructed in parallel with the atomic bomb to ensure victory for the Allied Forces. With quantum fluctuations striking 16 different locations across North America and Europe, piecing together the details of Project Archimedes has become essential. The first quantum anomaly is expected on July 27th, just in time for ARGFest.
Interested in learning more? Head over to BlackhollowProject.com and start putting together the clues.
In 1923, Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded a company that would eventually become The Walt Disney Company. Out of respect for that seminal moment in the company’s history, Disney’s official fan club adopted D23 as its name. With the company’s 90th anniversary fast approaching, Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development has partnered with Walt Disney Studios to produce The Optimist, a six-week long alternate reality game culminating in an event at the D23 Expo.
The Optimist focuses on a young college student named Amelia as she strives to learn more about her recently deceased grandfather, Carlos Moreau, for a documentary film she’s planning on shooting. To Amelia, her grandfather Carlos was an inveterate storyteller whose life remains a mystery. Her efforts to learn more about Carlos’ life and legacy through his personal effects are documented on her blog StoryOrbit.com. A series of documents are beginning to paint a picture of Carlos Moreau’s life: after selling a short story called Orbit’s Story to Disney, Carlos fostered a close relationship with the company that saw him collaborating with Disney’s Special Projects team on the 1964 World’s Fair. While the focus of the game so far lies squarely in uncovering Carlos’ past, Amelia provides a personable front for the investigation as she balances research into the annals of Disney with her college studies.
According to Disney Parks, over the next six weeks players will piece together “an imagined story of Walt Disney, the Imagineers and other visionary thinkers and their potential involvement in a secret project that sought to build a better future.” Through this fictional lens, players are given the chance to share their familiarity with Disney’s often unbelievable history. For instance, when The Optimist introduced players to the Lott Family Construction company as a fictional collaborator on Disney’s exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair, players were quick to point out that M.T. Lott Real Estate Investments was the name of a shell company set up to purchase land for Walt Disney World. Similarly, a phone number written on the back of a napkin led to players discussing one of Walt Disney’s favorite restaurants.
Because this blending of real world people and places might make it difficult to identify the line between fiction and reality in the narrative, all confirmed in-game sites and social media profiles include a disclaimer letting players know when they are interacting with fictional pages in the game’s universe. This way, real establishments can coexist with fictional constructs without creating unnecessary confusion. Trowbridge mentions that the game will extend beyond the web, with interactions ranging from “social media and mobile devices to visiting unique physical sites from the story in and around Los Angeles,” making the distinction all the more important. Upon registering, players are given the option to provide their physical or email addresses for potential mailings, opening up additional avenues for gameplay.
The Optimist has maintained a steady update schedule with new content every day: however, the game is still in its early stages, so there’s more than enough time to dive in before the game’s finale in August. To get caught up, read StoryOrbit’s in-game recaps and Inside the Magic’s collaborative Google Doc summarizing theories and events so far.
ARGFest-o-Con is a yearly conference that provides the opportunity for fans and creators of alternate reality games and transmedia experiences to gather together and reflect on the genre’s evolution. This year, the roving conference will touch down in Seattle between Thursday July 25th and Saturday July 27th for a long weekend of panels, puzzles, and games.
This year’s list of speakers are a diverse crew. IARPA will be discussing their exploration of whether alternate reality games can be used for behavioral research. At the same conference, Groundspeak co-founder Jeremy Irish will discuss the growth and evolution of the geocaching community, puzzlemaker Mike Selinker will discuss the art of puzzlecraft, Haley Moore will talk about injecting tangible objects into stories, and Ken Morris will introduce attendees to the wonders of glitch art. Past ARGFest Keynote speakers Jordan Weisman and JC Hutchins will be returning, along with the team behind TVTropes.org’s alternate reality game The Wall Will Fall, and indie game developers at Silverstring Media and Lazy 8 Studios. This year’s keynote speaker is ARGNet and No Mimes Media founder Steve Peters, who will be reflecting on the ups and downs of a career that spanned some of the biggest companies in the industry.
Three ARGFest traditions will also be returning for 2013. Synth-Bio Productions will be producing the first of those traditions, FestQuest. Every year, ARGFest attendees team up to explore ARGFest’s host city in a real-world puzzle trail. The puzzle trail gives attendees a fun and lighthearted way of putting some practical experience behind the conference’s often theoretical talks. For the second ARGFest tradition, ARGNet’s previous owner and senior editor Jonathan Waite will be stepping into the role of Grand Inquisitor, responsible for facilitating conference discussions with a twist. Finally, ARGFest Seattle will see a return of the ARG Museum, a collection of artifacts from past games.
Regular registration rates for ARGFest are available through July 19th, priced at $90 for a conference pass and $150 for an all-access pass that also includes the kick-off party and keynote address. Head over to the ARGFest-o-Con 2013 website for more information.