This article is the fifth in a series, providing summaries of the panel presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston
In 2004, Sean Stacey was traveling through France with a friend. Walking along the Champs Elysees, he encountered a man on the street making the most incredible whistling sounds he ever heard. For the next few days, Sean diligently practiced his whistle, contorting his face in new and unfamiliar ways, attempting to duplicate the sound that fascinated him so much. Finally, his friend explained to him that the man on the street was selling bird whistles. He didn’t say anything before because, “well, you were getting pretty good.” Unfiction is kind of like that. The moral of this story is that Sean C. Stacey is one heck of a good whistler.
The story also helps explain the twists and turns in the evolution of Unfiction.com, the largest discussion board devoted to alternate reality games on my bookmark list. When Sean created the website during the alternate reality game Lockjaw in 2002, running a forum was the last thing he wanted to do. He still harbors hopes that Unfiction will not live forever, because the genre will expand beyond needing a single resource.
Sean credited Adrian Hon, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Six to Start, with creating the first alternate reality gaming wiki. He followed that up by noting that no one actually used the wiki. Using wikis, he claims, augment community rather than create it. Thus, the only way you can get Sean to create a wiki on his new website, Despoiler.org, is by requesting one. People like to teach others, and wikis can lower entry barriers for complex topics: but only if a community exists to develop it. One of the true pleasures of the Unfiction community, Sean explains, is that reputation is not an issue in how discussions are handled. Everyone, no matter how well known or well liked, must rely on persuasion to justify their thoughts and opinions.
It takes a lot of people to keep the ARG community running. ARGNet is a news organization, and as such we tend to focus our reporting on the people who grab headlines, to indulge in a cliché: puppetmasters, players who win prizes, and so on.
However, many of the people who make the community what it is — and ARGs what they are — work nearly invisibly, quietly creating essential resources, keeping websites updated, and using their skills and talents in other ways to benefit the community and games that they love.
ARGNet would like to take this opportunity to recognize some of these individuals and their contributions. We would like to make this a regular series, and hope our readers will keep us informed about other people from whose work we all benefit but who may not get the credit they deserve.
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.