Alternate reality games that use kidnapping as a theme have been subject to varying amounts of controversy over the years. In November 2006, the adult-themed game The Human Pet was temporarily banned from YouTube for its fictional videos about a sadistic kidnapper. Last June, the CourtTV campaign “Save My Husband” faced a similar backlash after encouraging visitors from Cute Overload to help solve a kidnapping case. Now, a new ARG launched on Stage6 (part of the DivX network) is facing its own share of controversy.
San Francisco resident Hope Wilcott is missing. At least, that’s what visitors to Stage6 thought when a mysterious video appeared on the streaming video network’s front page on October 3rd. Posted by Richard Chambers, a user claiming to be Hope’s fiance, the two videos currently available follow Hope’s quest to find out what is wrong with her mother, and document her subsequent disappearance. The story continues to unfold at Richard’s Blogspot page at HopeIsMissing.Blogspot.com. According to Matt Staggs of Skullring.org, this campaign is run by Lance Weiler as a “Horror 2.0 ARG” serving to promote the DVD release of his film “Head Trauma”. The Head Trauma website notes the campaign will encompass “myspace, xbox, twitter, eyespot, stage 6 and opera” leading up to “live cinema games” in 10 cities on October 20th.[
Following a rather heated debate that took place within the video comments on Stage6, the producers edited the video tags to include “cinematic game” and “arg”. In addition, the header on Richard’s blog now prominently labels the project “an alternate reality game”. However, some video viewers continue to raise concerns that this makes light of real Missing Persons cases and the people affected by it. In a response to similar concerns regarding the Save My Husband campaign, Rachel at Behind the Buzz addresses this reaction as an issue of framing, noting “anyone with the slightest acquaintance with any entertainment, books, TV, films, plays etc know that dramatic situations like this are often used for entertainment. Looking at the top TV shows in the US, such as CSI or Law and Order, they use murder, kidnapping and worse as the premise for their entertainment.”
As long as the team behind “Hope is Missing” can find an acceptable compromise to viewer concerns, the game has the potential to be both successful and engaging if the videos are any indication of what to expect. Indeed, the changes that have already been implemented are likely sufficient to help Studio6 and the game producers weather any criticism sent their way.
So, while you keep your eyes peeled for Hope, remember to think twice before calling the police. After all, if Lonelygirl15 has taught us anything about the line between reality and fiction, it’s that the troubled girl in the weird video may very well be an actress from new Zealand looking to make a name for herself.