Tag: Year Zero

Report from Austin Game Developers’ Conference 2008: In ARGs We Trust

magnets.JPGEditor’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.

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42 Entertainment to be Featured on Spike TV Program

unseen.jpgAlternate reality gaming has enjoyed a great deal of mainstream press lately, particularly for games like Year Zero and World Without Oil. Tomorrow night, 42 Entertainment will be featured on Spike TV’s Game Head, a “half-hour weekly program dedicated to everything that is happening in the world of video games,” according to the Spike TV web site. While the show description is interesting enough, a more intriguing tidbit of information game in a game tip sent in to ARGNet which states to watch the show closely, as there may be “something you are missing!”

If you are able to watch Spike, the show airs at 1 AM EST on “Friday” (technically, Saturday) / 10 PM PST on Friday. If you happen to miss it, there is a video archive on the show’s web site, but there’s no indication how long this episode will take to show up there after airing. So, just watch it!

The Darker ARGs: This ARG is Not Yet Rated

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a planned series of editorials exploring horror- and dark-themed ARGs from a number of different perspectives.

The saccharine lyrics and cheerful smiles of the popular Japanese pop group “Dessart” hide a dark secret: coded messages hidden within stage performances, websites, and promotional posters for the band lead concerned individuals to a cult inciting mass suicides among Japan’s disaffected youth. This is not a game. No, really — this time it really isn’t a game. Rather, it’s Japanese director Sion Sono’s award-winning film Jisatsu Circle. The movie paints a dark picture of what could happen within the alternate reality gaming industry.

Viewers never find out what drove Dessart to embed messages encouraging suicide within their seemingly upbeat music, but with song titles like Mail Me, it’s not too improbable to assume it was a viral marketing ploy gone awry.

This raises a question relevant outside the realm of fiction: what level of responsibility do PMs have over actions their players take?

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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