In a perfect ARG universe nobody would ever know who the puppetmasters of games were. Not before the game started, not during the game and quite possibly not after the game. The PMs would fade into oblivion with only their logs from chat, archives from forums and a deep sense of satisfaction for a game-well-played to gratify them.

In a not-so-perfect ARG universe PMs are often challenged to keep their identities secret but are seduced by the interaction with players to reveal themselves. It’s not difficult to seduce PMs, especially if they don’t have a corporate shield to hide behind and don’t have a lot of experience being published and appreciated for their creativity.

Corporate shield PMs, creators of such games as AI (Microsoft), Alias (Touchstone), PUSH (Live Planet) and :K: (ad company for BMW) appear to have more incentive to stay hidden. Perhaps by mandate, perhaps by achieving a collective discipline, these PMs managed to succeed in maintaining the integrity of the alternate reality they create.

Lockjaw and Metacortechs went a long way toward preserving the concept of anonymous PMs. Granted, there were isolated players who knew the identities of some or all the makers of these games, but for the most part, they both succeeded admirably in keeping alive the belief that players can create games that achieve the high standards set by the Corporate shield PMs.

What sets the anonymous PMs apart from the PMs who can’t resist identifying themselves and interacting directly with players? Why are the anonymous PMs able to retain their discipline and professionalism while others succumb to socializing with players and taking their bows (in some cases) before the game has even begun? Having wondered this many times and having some experience with first-time writers, I’m inclined to believe that inexperience, intense need for recognition and possibly loneliness might be considerable contributors to this lax in discipline. Dare I say, even an over-inflated sense of the value and quality of one’s work plays a significant part in the failure to fortify the boundaries around an alternate reality.

Maybe the fault lies with the ARG community at large for not cultivating a greater sense of the importance of anonymity to the overall quality of the genre. I hope the real issue isn’t that players simply don’t care anymore if PMs invade our playing space and force us to interact and contend with their egos. I know I’m not alone in my desire to find a way to enforce these boundaries. We need to speak up often and deliberately and without letting up if we’re to succeed in pushing PMs back behind the curtain, once and for all.