Author: Nicko Demeter (page 2 of 3)

The rift between ARGs and interactive storytelling

56172457_cb498c60ea_mAs the Watchmen ARG (and for the purposes of this article I will assume it’s still an ARG) neared the movie’s release date, it became clear to the players that this was not necessarily an alternate reality game with something for them to do. It was more of a story, promoting the movie by giving the players a look into the world of the Watchmen before the premiere. After all, this was to be expected when an ARG deals with a story that is concrete and already clearly defined.

An interactive story seems clearly to be an acceptable way of generating marketing buzz around a product. But when the crowd of seasoned ARG players takes notice, there seems to be a desire from the player perspective for something more. When a player commits their time it should be for more something more than merely the act of lurking a site or subscribing to a YouTube profile.

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Skeleton Creek

For those of you looking for a great cross-media spooky mystery comes Skeleton Creek, a half book, half movie experience by best selling author Patrick Carman. Published by Scholastic Press, the book serves as the doorway to the world of Sarah Fincher and Ryan McCray as they try to solve the mystery of Skeleton Creek. Their challenges come in the form of ghosts, mysterious park rangers, and other discoveries that set the path for their adventure — to which the reader, of course, has a front row seat. Ryan is hurt early on in the story, during one of his and Sarah’s first escapades, and so he resorts to writing down his thoughts in his journal (which is the book) and watching the videos that Sarah provides him via her password protected website (which is the movie element).

Due to the nature of this work, one could not just read the book or watch only the movies and get the entire story. Both media are intricately tied together and work to give the reader/viewer a sense of the story and the world of Skeleton Creek. However, even as the reader reaches the end of the book and has watched all of Sarah’s movies, the Skeleton Creek experience is not over.

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It’s Tomorrow Calling. Do You Accept the Charges?

temporalkinephonics.jpgIf a relative from the future asked for your help to protect the Earth, what would you do?

This is the first line of the teaser email leading to a new alternate reality game called Tomorrow Calling which is aimed to bring environmental awareness to the ARG community. The game offers the usual (such as hidden clues on the sites, YouTube videos, and cryptic blogs) while the flavorful text speaks of an uncertain tomorrow, and an Earth that we must protect now for future generations.

While ARGNet could find no indication that there is any overlap in puppetmasters, characters in Tomorrow Calling link to sites from another environmentally sensitive ARG, World Without Oil, and refer to it not as a game, but as a “reality.”

The message is sent loud and clear within the text as much as within the actual clues. Do you need to find the next website? Then you must read the blog of a woman that muses about her fears for the earth as we know it. Do you want to know why the evil organization is… evil? Check out a Google Earth file with important dates and sites for the environmental movement.

According to its creators, the game so far has welcomed only a few players, in order to work out the kinks for a larger scale launch. With its beta launch back in May, the sites definitely look professional and the blog posts are well thought out. However, it appears to me to be an immersive, but mostly static narrative without a great deal of direct interaction.

The game has garnered some critical acclaim, as its (apparent) creators Jim Wolff and Andrea Sides have won the Grant Challenge Award at the 5th International Symposium on Digital Earth, held this past June in San Francisco. With its aspirations to educate as well as entertain, we are certainly looking forward to more from Tomorrow Calling in the near future.

Why We Eat Strangers’ Candy:  A Reflection on the ARGFest 2007 Keynote by 42 Entertainment

“Delivering a keynote address to this audience is really difficult.  What can we talk about?  We can’t talk about anything we’ve done in the past because you were all there experiencing it. We can’t talk about anything we’re working on right now because that would ruin the fun and the mystery of the experience. We can’t talk about anything we have planned for the future because frankly, you are the competition. All that’s left is self-deprecation and the elephant in the room…trust.” — Elan Lee

Those words kicked off one of the most fulfilling experiences of the ARGFest weekend, according to many of the participants. The keynote address by Sean Stewart and Elan Lee not only educated the audience (composed of players, puppetmasters, aspiring puppetmasters and other interested parties) but it also provided memorable insights into the successful games that helped establish 42 Entertainment as one of alternate reality gaming’s lead design companies.

Early on, the speakers noted that alternate reality gaming has a unique cability to evolve at any given time in accordance with the audience’s wishes.  That characteristic allows mistakes to be quickly assimilated into the game in a way that avoids the perception of failure (“Yeah, we meant to do that!”).

The discussion was split into three main sections:

— How is trust established?
— Why should puppetmasters care if the players trust them?
— Why do ARGs require trust?

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Vive La Resistance!

yearzero.jpgSwirling around the announcement of Nine Inch Nail’s upcoming album, Year Zero, are stories of mysterious finds related to the album: songs “leaked” on thumb drives left in bathrooms during concerts, unsettling websites and videos haunted by an ominous presence, and glimpses into a dystopian future not far removed from our own.

Unfolding from the websites, songs, and videos is a tale of oppression, injustice, and revolution. Fed up with increasing violence, civil unrest and terrorism, an unelected U.S. Government created a Bureau of Morality and restarted the nation’s clock at Year Zero. The First Amendment is now a thing of the past and the authorities have their thumb firmly positioned over all matters pertaining to art and culture. The quasi-totalitarian administration also utilizes the power of reactionary religious organizations to ensure that U.S. citizens are kept under tight control.

If history tells us anything, however, it is that such a restrictive regime cannot last forever. A resistance has been formed to speak out against the government’s oppressive intervention into its citizens’ lives. Using codes, flyers, USB drives left in restrooms across the world, spectrograms on MP3 songs, and a handful of websites, the faithful (or fanatics, depending on your point of view) are spreading their message and gathering in secret to discuss the latest salvos in their ongoing battle against The Man.

But there’s more going on here than just freedom fighters arrayed against the full tide of an overbearing and illegitimate leadership. A hand-like creature has been seen walking the desert, slipping downwards to earth from the heavens. The sightings started after a drug, Parepin, was added to the water in an effort to prevent bioterrorist attacks. Is it a hallucination? Divine intervention? The Angel of Death? Or, as clever Unfiction players recently suggested, might the Presence be a cross-temporal manifestation of the players themselves?

With speculation that this might be the latest production from 42 Entertainment, curiosity about the way the story is being told (is this a flashback hidden between clips of music, a la The Handmaid’s Tale? And how is it being transmitted back in time to 2007?) and a claim from Trent Reznor that this is not “some gimmick to get you to buy a record…this IS the art form,” which is “just getting started,” interest is high. The scheduled release of the Year Zero album is 4/17/07. Until then do not drink the water.

Get talking on the Unforums, or start at the sources: anotherversionofthetruth.com and www.iamtryingtobelieve.com

All is fair in cards, love, and ARGs

StudioCypher4.jpgAfter a brief break, Studio Cypher has launched Episode 4 in their “multiplayer novel.” High Stakes is described as a “comedic love story of cards, kings… and accountants,” and the players have already been introduced to a podcast producer by the name of Vox Diaboli. In his latest broadcast he explains the merits of playing (and losing) the mayorship of a city in a game of cards. And if you listen carefully some new characters are making a power play to steal City Hall.

Again, following their (now) traditional pay-to-play system, StudioCyphers have split the game into the people that pay (also called Wakeful Agents) and those that do not and presumably won’t get to experience everything this episode has to offer.

If you are interested, head over to the StudioCyphers website to sign up. It’s definitely early in the game, and the plot’s not yet to thick for you to comfortably dive in. Now, where did I put my smoking jacket?

Links:
StudioCyphers
In Game Website
Unfiction forum

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