It’s been a long time since ARGN.com posted my article entitled Building Fences: An Editorial, the subject of which was the topic of adversarial play within Alternate Reality Games, in theory and in history. We invited you, the reader, to tell us what you thought about the subject, and we were nearly immediately inundated with responses, spanning the entire gamut of opinion. We read every letter, rant, and lesson. Here are some highlights from the responses we received:
“…The problem with past approaches to the player v. player tactic in ARGing is that it almost always has come across as either a minor, player induced (i.e. not meant by the PM to happen) event, or has been quickly toned down by PMs who did mean to do it in the first place. The outcry from the community is always rather dramatic when a PM attempts to purposely divide players.
What I think needs to happen is for a PM team to make a quality ARG that incorporates this tactic, and run with it – to not give in to the community’s cries, and to just go with what they planned. Nothing against the community – I count myself as a member of it in most aspects – but sometimes everyone gets worked up about small things, while forgetting the bigger picture.” – Dave
“Eisner comes down in favor of splitting the player base, arguing that this makes for a more powerful approach to mysteries (think open source), and richer plot developments (think restaurant menu). I would add that increasing the number of player parties, from one to many, could increase the amount of player creativity (i.e., more wikis, more fiction, etc).
As Web 2.0 storytelling emerges, this is precisely the sort of thing we’ll see.” – Infocult
On April 11, 2001, Cloudmakers was founded as a discussion group for the interative web game centered around the film A.I. We officially solved the game on July 24, 2001. I first joined the game in late May and found the experience to be an entirely new one to me. When the game ended I looked around for more. First through Lockjaw and then Majestic and on and on since then. Personally, I have never been able to fully recapture the sense of community and comradery that Cloudmakers had achieved but I keep looking. Had I the financial backing, time and a suitable set of co-conspirators I would rectify the situation by creating my own game but in the meantime I have made a few general observations about what the ‘perfect ARG’ would be for me.
1. The beginning of the game should be hidden in plain sight.
Basically the first part of the game must be the discovery. This would probably be the most uncertain and aggravating part of the game for the puppetmasters. However, from a players point of view this aspect starts the game off with a feeling of mystery and achievement. A good example of this is The Beast concealing a phone number via the inclusion of dots in actual posters and trailers for the movie A.I.
In a perfect ARG universe nobody would ever know who the puppetmasters of games were. Not before the game started, not during the game and quite possibly not after the game. The PMs would fade into oblivion with only their logs from chat, archives from forums and a deep sense of satisfaction for a game-well-played to gratify them.
In a not-so-perfect ARG universe PMs are often challenged to keep their identities secret but are seduced by the interaction with players to reveal themselves. It’s not difficult to seduce PMs, especially if they don’t have a corporate shield to hide behind and don’t have a lot of experience being published and appreciated for their creativity.
Corporate shield PMs, creators of such games as AI (Microsoft), Alias (Touchstone), PUSH (Live Planet) and :K: (ad company for BMW) appear to have more incentive to stay hidden. Perhaps by mandate, perhaps by achieving a collective discipline, these PMs managed to succeed in maintaining the integrity of the alternate reality they create.
Lockjaw and Metacortechs went a long way toward preserving the concept of anonymous PMs. Granted, there were isolated players who knew the identities of some or all the makers of these games, but for the most part, they both succeeded admirably in keeping alive the belief that players can create games that achieve the high standards set by the Corporate shield PMs.
What sets the anonymous PMs apart from the PMs who can’t resist identifying themselves and interacting directly with players? Why are the anonymous PMs able to retain their discipline and professionalism while others succumb to socializing with players and taking their bows (in some cases) before the game has even begun? Having wondered this many times and having some experience with first-time writers, I’m inclined to believe that inexperience, intense need for recognition and possibly loneliness might be considerable contributors to this lax in discipline. Dare I say, even an over-inflated sense of the value and quality of one’s work plays a significant part in the failure to fortify the boundaries around an alternate reality.
Maybe the fault lies with the ARG community at large for not cultivating a greater sense of the importance of anonymity to the overall quality of the genre. I hope the real issue isn’t that players simply don’t care anymore if PMs invade our playing space and force us to interact and contend with their egos. I know I’m not alone in my desire to find a way to enforce these boundaries. We need to speak up often and deliberately and without letting up if we’re to succeed in pushing PMs back behind the curtain, once and for all.