freya.jpgEvery once in a while, the staff of ARGN are approached by people wanting to share their talents and ideas with the ARG community. When Michael Betcherman, a co-creator of approached us with an opportunity to experience the mystery of The Daughters of Freya, I jumped upon the chance to try something a little out of the ordinary.

ARGers, when not in the midst of a game, usually spend their time honing their puzzling skills by creating or playing puzzle trails and dunking their pens into the ink well of the internet to find some similar puzzle game. Rarely do they find the chance to indulge themselves in the “other side” of ARGs, the more literary, story and character driven half. Michael and his co-creator, David Diamond, have tapped the proverbial beer keg of immersive story greatness that allows even the most hardcore, plot-driven ARGers the opportunity to flex their brainpower on something other than vigenere or the latest Dan Brown novel.

Email Mystery revolves around the story of a journalist, Samantha Dempsey, who finds herself embroiled in a mystery surrounding the cryptic group of young women, The Daughters of Freya, and their pursuit of bettering the world through “creative” treatment sessions.

The story unfolds daily in a series of emails delivered to your inbox. Running 3 weeks, the emails tell the story through exchanges between Samantha and her friends and family as the mystery of what she’s reporting on slowly engulfs her.

As a reviewer, I had the opportunity to skip ahead in the story to see what happens and get the article out faster. I found that once I got into the story and the way in which it is both told and delivered, I couldn’t force myself to read ahead. So I sat through the entire thing, one email at a time. In the middle of finals week, I would jump up from my exam to “take a break” and run to the nearest computer to check my gmail and find out the latest tidbit of information from Samantha and her friends. I was truly disappointed when it ended, because suddenly, I had no reason to check my email obsessively anymore. I’d check only to find… nothing, as if my friends had forgotten to email me.

I sat in a bit of a depressed state for a while, Steve harping in my ear “Where’s the story? Where’s the story? Where’s the story?” like some kind of warped Wendy’s commercial. Despite my reluctance to really believe the story was over, I bucked up, took charge and appeased my inner curiosity by calling Michael, whom was kind enough to put up with me asking him some questions about his work and future plans.

Conceived of during a bicycle trip, the co-creators set out to write a novel in email format. As the online writing community grew, some were trying out emailing novels to subscribers in chapters – Michael and David wanted to try something a little different: Using emails themselves as the format for the story structure. Books, whether online or in print format, place the reader in the role of an observer, emotionally distanced from the story. By creating a plot that integrated the way people use the internet and use email, the creators managed to close that distance between character and reader, making the reader feel more of a participant in the story. On the other hand, emails themselves are often sent “after the fact” or after the drama or action in our lives has taken place, limiting the ability of the writer to portray real time action. The authors overcame this obstacle by giving the characters BlackBerry portable devices, linking the characters more intimately to the current action.

The response to Michael and David’s creativity with storytelling has been widely favorable, and I, for one, found it both stimulating and fascinating. Based on the success of The Daughters of Freya, they are currently also working on the development of two other stories using this format, one in particular being aimed towards 10-12 year old boys who usually shy away from reading, the so-called “reluctant readers.” Michael hopes that this untraditional format will be more effective at engaging this group in reading, and plans on increasing the amount of visual reinforcement to the story by integrating both audio and video.

From the casual ARG lurker to the more relentless ARG pursuer, I would highly recommend Email Mystery to anyone looking for a break from the norm and an excellent story. The Daughters of Freya is currently running, and costs $7.95 for the full experience. For those less inclined to randomly drop $10 on an internet venture, a free preview is also available.