Thursday was the official kick-off of the Austin Game Conference, a trade show primarily directed at companies who produce Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs. This morning, Jane McGonigal from 42 Entertainment gave a talk in which she outlined what ARGs are, how they are a type of MMO, and why they are so interesting.
And the best part, other than the Massively Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling? The unofficial nickname for the talk: “Too Weird for GDC”.
Jane began the session with some explanations of what ARGs are. They are interactive narrative, or immersive drama. They are played out online and in the real world, taking place over several weeks or months. Tens, hundreds, sometimes tens of thousands of people play, forming collaborative social networks and working together to solve a mystery or problem which is impossible to solve alone. Platforms utilized include e-mail, websites, SMS, phone calls, radio, IRC, instant messages, newspapers, real world artifacts and events, and Elan’s dream: toasters that print messages on your bread. Since this is the second time in two days that a 42 staffer has mentioned toaster messages, extra vigilance is recommended when cooking your breakfast. Be prepared.
Today saw the opening of the Game Writers Conference, a subset of the Austin Game Conference which opens tomorrow. Of particular interest to ARGers was the discussion by Maureen McHugh from 42 Entertainment about the work that went into The Beast and I Love Bees.
Maureen was contacted in 2004 to write for I Love Bees. She has a background in teaching English and writing science fiction. She made some interesting points about the emergence of varying types of entertainment being dependent upon what technology is available. As the printing press made novels possible, so has the internet made Alternate Reality Gaming possible. Additionally, she spoke about the emergence of the novel in comparison with the different ARGs we’ve seen so far. In the beginning were fake memoirs – Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders – which were originally published as actual diaries rather than a made-up story. From there, novels moved to an epistolary form (such as Clarissa) where the reader eavesdropped on conversations between strangers. She compared this with The Beast, where the players dropped in on writings which were originally intended for other in-game characters. Next in history, the novel moved into an art form with an omniscient narrator, such as Tom Jones. Could this be where ARGs are headed?