laramie.jpgThe Laramie Project was a unique ARG experience that took place during this year’s Blogathon charity event. We were fortunate enough to have Xara Roberts, the creative mind behind the game, email us with some of her thoughts about the experience.

“I first did Blogathon 2 years ago when I was 17 – so many people who participated that year managed to pull off some amazing projects whilst still staying within the rules. Despite not having a properly functioning blog for about a year, I intended to do this year’s Blogathon. Raising money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis has been important to me since my mother was diagnosed with the disease in 2000. I also knew that because I had dropped off the blogosphere for so long I would run into problems outside of my circle of friends when trying to raise money, and since most of my friends are students, it wouldn’t be the most lucrative campaign. So when thinking about what to do to get my cause out, I realised I could combine this with running my first ARG.”

“I’ve been playing ARGs for about 9 months, having started when I followed the trailhead in the Firebox catalogue that led me to Perplex City. I have never really been active in the genre, just lurked and played along by myself and with a friends. When I started thinking about what exactly I would do for Blogathon, I thought that I could turn an abandoned story I tried to write on livejournal into an ARG. That story, The International Terrorist Café, had many similarities to the Blogathon project (mostly in that I cannibalized the characters out of it to put into the ITC) and I started plotting out how I could turn the narrative into a functioning game. However, following the terrorist attacks on London, I decided that a game based around international terrorism would not be the best thing to do, so I changed the basic storyline from terrorists to cults and restarted my plan.”

“However, I’m pretty much broke, so I didn’t want to have to shell out for a new hosting package so I could host more than one site; the story was subsequently further streamlined so that it could be run out of my personal domain. I knew that it had to be a small game because I had only managed to come up with a few puzzles (I have next to no head for puzzles) and I had only a few weeks from signing up for Blogathon until it started. I created a multi-character back story to structure it around and a vague outline of the mysterious cult, the Interred Technology Council, rounded up a few friends to pose for pictures as Gillian and Mark and spent many hours in Photoshop creating in game images and sites. Altogether it probably took me about 3 weeks from deciding to do Blogathon to having a mostly fully finished ARG.”

“I ran into many, many snags planning and running the ARG that could have been easily prevented had I had someone to run it with. Take for example the 2.html puzzle. This involved using a long error code number as co-ordinates to get a keyphrase from a strange ‘server error’. I wrote this at 2AM many weeks before the ARG started and assumed it was fine. I did a check on it the day before, found that there was a slight error and corrected it. On the day of the ARG it was solved and the answer emailed…and it was the wrong keyphrase. I had forgotten to upload the corrected version to the server. Also SIM Cards – the puzzle where players had to find the ITC recruitment pack was initially supposed to be done by decrypting a phone number and then calling it to hear Gillian’s voice mail, which pointed them at xmail hard drive where it was stored. Instead of taking control and going out and buying a brand new SIM, I used one I had lying around that I had won in an online sweepstakes ages ago to save money. I put it in a phone and I assumed that because it gave me a number it worked. Of course, it didn’t, and when I went to record a message and found it was disconnected, it was too late to go buy a new one, so the puzzle had to be completely rewritten with 2 hours to spare to involve email auto-responders (which ended up not working and all had to be sent out by hand).”

“Another big snag was the fact that it was running over 24 hours and the rules of Blogathon are that you have to post at least once every half hour or you will be disqualified, nor can you pre-write posts to be posted later. By 2AM the players were starting to hit a wall and I was already crashing, and I was quickly running out of plot and puzzles with 12 hours left to go. I managed to get my players to take a 4-hour nap as I frantically wrote riddles and set up another sub-site in order to delay the end. I still finished an hour and a half ahead of schedule, however, and so made 3 out-of-game posts at the end that I hope people overlook.”

“Despite running into problems with the puzzles, plot and one quite embarrassing out-of-game bleed where I had forgotten to delete some test emails out of one of the in game accounts, I felt it went well. The snappy every-half-hour pace of the game worked to everyone’s advantage, and as far as I can tell it was played mostly in chat on unfiction, but there were a couple of blogathoners who were playing along independent of that. Communicating in real time with the players by both email and through the blog meant that I was kept in the loop as to how they were solving everything and how far they were coming along, which let me gauge how fast to let the game run, when to set up stops and hurdles if it was going too fast, and to drop hints if it was running too slowly. My players were excellent and we managed to raise $250 in both pledges through the Blogathon site, and donations to the justgiving page.”

“I would like to run a proper full length ARG some day or at least one that would let me get some sleep once in 30 hours, maybe later in the year after I’ve started university and recharged my ideas. If people would still like to donate to the cause they can do so at and can read the now finished ARG at”

Thanks a lot for the insight, Xara. We hope to hear from you soon — sooner than next year’s Blogathon, anyway. 🙂