When MTV chose to add a horror movie to its programming schedule, it was with the understanding that the film would be a stark departure from the reality shows that currently dominate the network. The venture was carefully fleshed out and the pulse of the people was examined: MTV used Eventful.com to see if 100,000 people would express interest. When the counter reached that magic number, Savage County was slated for broadcast on October 7th, at 11PM EST/10PM CST.
Savage County features a group of teens that drive over to the Hardell residence on a dare to pull a knock-and-dash. This prank goes horribly wrong when the eldest of the Hardell clan ends up dead, setting in motion a vengeful killing spree as the rest of the Hardell family seek to impose their kind of vigilante justice on the residents of Savage County.
And where the movie ends, the alternate reality game begins. Head of MTV’s New Media division, David Gale, was inspired to continue the thread of the Hardell story through an online extension, and hired writer and transmedia producer Nina Bargiel to flesh out the experience. Bargiel was kind enough to come out from behind the curtain and offer her perspective on this on-going project. “The ARG is part of the overall transmedia experience,” Bargiel said about the background of this storyline. “When I was hired, there was some pre-existing prequel narrative – the great Sinner’s Medicine comic by Director and Co-Writer David Harris.”
Crafting a horror story often means that the creators must consciously pick their demographic, namely lovers of the genre. And what about the transmedia content? Bargiel states there that their intended audience seeks to couple horror and alternate reality gaming fans with people new to both arenas. Where the average member of the Hardell family would not know what to do with a computer, the average player of this ARG can utilize the internet to directly connect themselves to the rest of the tech-savvy Savage County residents.
The main experience started with the discovery of an in-game blog, helpusescape.com, and a website featuring the fictional town’s newspaper, the Savage County Gazette, after Savage County aired on MTV2. However, the transmedia experience started forming much earlier. “Dorothy’s “secret” blog and the Where’s Dorothy Kramer? blog had ARG elements but there wasn’t a traditional ARG,” Bargiel says of the early stages. “At this point, it was mostly ARG elements with a few story threads sticking out to see which one they’d pull.” When the ARG finally kicked off, followers started to interact with the main characters via Facebook, Twitter, and email. The updates come almost on a daily basis and grant the audience the ability to experience first-hand what it is like to be in a small community that has a secret to keep. So far the game has allowed individuals to interact completely and freely with the characters, even to the point of exchanging some harsh messages over Twitter, but it is unclear as of yet if the mass intellect will be called to resolve any nefarious riddles to stop their Hardells from their murderous intentions. For those interested in joining, it’s worth noting that the game might be nearing a quick end-date: “We only imagined it about a week to ten days” says Bargiel. Such a timeline allows for a much faster-paced ride towards the end game. Does that mean the end of the story, though? Bargiel does not doubt further efforts: “MTV and David Gale in particular really get this arena, the whole transmedia/ARG thing. I’ve worked with them on two projects and I’m excited to see what’s next.”
You can still catch up to the Savage County ARG by checking out HelpUsEscape.com, the Savage County Gazette, and following the UnFiction game thread. While the movie has already aired on MTV2, there may be an upcoming re-run in the works as well as a further expansion into the horror genre from a network that had thus far shied away from such efforts. But casual players should not be concerned about a visual blood bath or lack of information if they have not watched the movie. By Bargiel’s own admission she opted for “something incredibly casual, because I knew that there would be new people coming in post-movie and I didn’t want to scare anyone off. Even though I want it to be somewhat scary.”
So if you find yourself driving through a big country side where the only sign of life is a remote cabin and you find yourself gripping the wheel tighter as you accelerate past the area, Bargiel and the team at MTV New Media have certainly done their job well.