Editor’s note: Brandie was ARGNet’s press presence at this year’s Austin Game Developers Conference. This is the first in a series on her experiences at the conference.
At the Austin GDC‘s only session devoted exclusively to Alternate Reality Games, Elan Lee of Fourth Wall Studios shared his thoughts on trust between ARG designers and players along with anecdotes from some of the most well-known cross-media experiences like AI and I Love Bees. In an interactive, real-time game-story experience, the level of trust between the designers (Puppet Masters, if you will) and the players can have a profound effect on the outcome of the game and the memories the players carry away at the end. “ARGs: Fake Websites, Invented Stories, Automated Phone Calls, and Other Methods to Earn the Trust of a Community” examined the building of trust as an integral part of the game-story experience.
Elan Lee opened the session with a look back at “The Beast” the promotional experience designed for the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Steven Spielberg came to Microsoft and said he wanted to do something promotional that would familiarize his audience with the A.I. world before the movie opened. What evolved from this was a series of websites, puzzles, and events that attracted thousands of dedicated players – who, incidentally, solved several weeks worth of content in a matter of hours. The designers had to scramble to keep adding content, altering the storyline as needed, and even responding to their audience by taking an initially unimportant but player-beloved character (The Red King) and promoting him to the character A-List.
After “The Beast” ended, Elan was surprised to receive three wedding invitations from players who had been deeply affected by their experience with the game. He realized, he said, that something magical was happening, when an audience felt close enough to a total stranger to invite him to participate in their real-life celebrations. “The Beast” and its designers had evoked a trust that transcended the anonymity of the internet and crossed over into the real world. What builds this intense sense of trust? According to Elan, one of the keys to trust is… a magnet.
On April 11, 2001, the murder of Evan Chan caught many people’s attention. Somehow, after the game wound down to an end 12 weeks later, there was the birth (or resurrection, or redefinition, depending on who you talk to) of an entirely new gaming genre we now know as Alternate Reality Gaming. For anyone who got a chance to play The Beast (go to www.cloudmakers.org for more information), the game that revolved around the story in the movie A.I., they were experiencing something that was exciting and new and encapsulating. Even as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the beginning of The Beast, it’s easy to recall the characters, the puzzles, and the story that captured the imaginations of many and led the way towards a new frontier.
We would like to celebrate this occasion with you, and get your thoughts about what this anniversary means. So, we’re opening up the comment area for this article, in the hopes that our collective spirit brings back the feeling that so many felt when they became part of the Cloudmakers group. Whether you were a lurker or posted 10 messages a day to the Yahoo! group, or were even around at all, your comments are valuable. Please keep in mind that well will be moderating comments to eliminate inappropriate language, so be nice and respectful.
Editor’s Note – We are aware of the format issues concerning the Comments section, and are working hard to solve the problem. In the meantime, scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the comment text box.
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?
Landmark day! Two years ago this very day, the premiere Alternate Reality community, the Cloudmakers, was founded. Little did they know what they were in for! Three months, over 7000 members and a ride we’ll never forget, thanks to all of the tireless moderators and mysterious puppetmasters.
You can still stop by the Cloudmakers Yahoo Group to see where it all happened. Read The Guide, browse The Trail, visit Jeanine Salla, Evan Chan, and re-live a little ARG history. Nothing since has approached the amazing mystery and awe felt as players stumbled upon an extensive alternate reality world set in the future.
To the Cloudmakers Moderators and to the folks behind the game, especially Elan Lee and Sean Stewart, we say thanks again! We lift our glasses to you all