About two months back, I was watching the Conan O’Brien show on a whim, when I was treated to his story about hornymanatee.com. As Conan related to his audience, he had used the URL as part of a joke on a Monday night, but when the standards department of NBC got wind of the situation, things got complicated. Conan was told that if a web site URL is used on-air and doesn’t already exist, then NBC may be liable for the site’s content, which means that they must go out and purchase the URL themselves. So, in summary, NBC is the proud owner of a fake manatee porn site because of an ad-libbed joke.
As fans of alternate reality gaming already know, assets of any ARG must be secured before a game utilizes the asset in a live situation. If a game is going to use a particular email address, then the creative powers behind the game must secure that email address well in advance of the game being launched, and the same goes for web site URLs, phone numbers, addresses, and so on. At ARGFest 07 in San Francisco, Evan Jones commented about this type of situation, recounting a story about how a dot-com email address used in the ReGenesis show had originally been written into the script as a dot-ca address. A well-meaning editor thought “dot-com” sounded better and changed the script without notifying the extended reality creators. Fortunately for the creative team behind the ARG, the dot-com site was registered by someone on their team ahead of time, and everything worked out.
Fast forward to this week, in which a similar situation has unfolded.
Scenes for next week’s ReGenesis mention a website: censorthenet.org. No need to go there: you’ll just end up back here. You see, after I saw last week’s previews for tonight’s episode, I got curious. I knew that there wasn’t a extended reality associated with this season of the show, which disappointed me, but upon hearing this URL mentioned in the previews, I thought that perhaps something interactive had been planned for fans of the show. Imagine my surprise upon discovering that there was no registered owner of censorthenet.org — no Xenophile Media, no Shaftesbury Films, no Movie Network or Movie Channel. It was a free and open URL, ready for purchase. So, I bought it.
Admittedly, I’m feeling a bit frisky, having done such an 1337 hax0r thing as to pluck this URL off the open market (and yes, I know it’s neither 1337 or hax0rish). However, I’m also a bit surprised that The Powers That Be at ReGenesis left this site unregistered. There is potential for misuse of an unprotected asset — in the ARG world, when people who are not part of a game’s creative team use unprotected/similar content to mislead the game’s player base, we call it “gamejacking.” It can happen, but thankfully there are many knowledgable people playing ARGs who help to debunk fake game sites and gamejacking attempts. In the world of cross-media promotion, should major media companies follow NBC’s lead and assure that all Internet-based references are secured before episodes air?
All this being said, the last thing I want to do is to sound preachy, so I’ll leave it that the domain registration is safe and sound, and hope that this little tale reminds those who create ARG assets to also protect them.