Making Alternate Reality Games Accessible

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It’s been a while since I took a look at American Vampire League. But after learning that the alternate reality game was a promotion for HBO’s new series True Blood (premiering September 7th at 9pm), I stopped following the campaign for a while.

Sure, I read about io9 receiving a vial of Tru Blood before they grew to dislike ARGs. And I enjoyed reading Scott Sigler’s impressions of the campaign on the AMC blog. But sadly, I lost track of the campaign somewhere along the way. I missed reading about vampires going public, and didn’t realize that the American Vampire League passed out promotional materials in mid-town Manhattan.

Luckily, Campfire Media, the team behind the True Blood alternate reality game, created a series of videos to catch players up on the campaign. And while I was working on my last article, I overheard my father watching the Blood Copy Report on HBO. The series of weekly videos summarized the game’s progress and caught me up on recent developments in less than an hour.

Increasingly, ARG developers are releasing simplified summaries of their games to get the word out and attract a broader audience. Campfire Media has created videos summarizing past campaigns as case studies, such as the 4400’s Battle over Promicin and Audi’s Art of the Heist. Millions of Us released a series of videos on BoingBoing TV summarizing Enitech Labs, the campaign for the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Brian Clark has gone on the record saying that the planned revenue model for Eldritch Errors includes releasing graphic novels and a television show based on the experience.

My first encounter with an alternate reality game-like experience was watching the Japanese film All About Lily Chou-Chou. The movie was about fans of the charismatic signer Lily Chou-Chou and their interactions over BBS and in the real world. In an interview with Shunji Iwai, the film’s writer and director, he explained that while writing the story, he conducted an experiment:

I concocted a website named Lily-holic and tried to imagine what kind of messages a Lily Chou-Chou fan would post to its BBS. Through their exchanges, they would try to solve the mystery of a murder that took place at Shibuya Quatre. The simulation worked so well that after that, the script just kept expanding. It wasn’t long before I had enough to publish a book. I knew that I had found the missing piece. All I had to do then was to assimilate Lily-holic with All About Lily Chou-Chou. And the story was completed.

The process was totally unexpected, but this was how this innovative interactive novel was conceived. Since its debut on April 1st, All About Lily Chou-Chou has been endlessly multiplying, incorporating the messages posted by the users/readers into its original story. This was certainly a project that experienced quite a few twists and turns, even for me. It started as a script for a prank then became a novel, then an unfinished screenplay, and then an Internet novel. And now, I am finally seeing All About Lily Chou-Chou as a film.

I speak very little Japanese, and never saw the BBS forums following Lily-holic. But through the film, I was able to share in the experience at a casual level. I would imagine that people reading Project Mu or listening to the Lost Games podcasts share similar emotions. Trent Reznor is currently pitching a tv series based on Year Zero that will be heavily influenced by the alternate reality game. Could media based on alternate reality games provide a sustainable model for alternate reality gaming, bringing the stories to the mainstream?


  1. Loved ‘All about Lily Chou-Chou’, we’re Iwai fans too.

  2. Glenn Rubenstein

    August 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Excellent article. I think that a large part of the appeal of an Alternate Reality Game is the actual experience of taking part in the story. However, well-produced video summaries can be a good way to communicate what is going on to a larger audience, while also encouraging casual viewers to participate.

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