Archive for the 'Alternate Reality Games' Category

On meaningful engagement in participatory art

September 14, 2006

With the lonelygirl15 saga now history, the web is abuzz with talk of the birth of a new kind of narrative art form that is shaped as much by its originators as it is by the participation of its audience. Beyond the fact that there’s not really anything terribly new about this kind of interactive storytelling — ARGs, fanfic and MMOs come to mind as other examples of the same basic form, and they’ve all been around for a while — it’s important to note that audience participation alone is not enough to produce a meaningful experience. As Jane at Avant Game notes, game designers should be wary of fetishizing participation without asking serious questions about the nature and quality of the audience engagement that their works make possible:

I agree that serial drama on You Tube is a great art form (so are traditional ARGs, the more elaborate art form that lonelygirl represents a pared back style of, in my opinion), but the real conversation should be not about the realness, but rather: How do people want to participate in it? Do they want to be the makers of their own videos? To have role-playing style conversations in the comments? Do they want to directly influence the narrative or to just speculate and gossip about it so they can be proven right by what happens next? And most importantly how do we inspire participation that is more than hostile juvenile comments? How do we create a real participatory community around an entertainment property, and what forms of participation are possible… and desirable? (Avant Game)


Come Out and Play

September 7, 2006

New York’s first annual Come Out and Play Festival is an opportunity for people in the NYC area to try out a variety of ARGs and street games. The fest is a major event and likely to be a fixture on the scene for years to come. Many of the games don’t require registration, so if you’re just hearing about this now and you’re able to get to Manhattan, check it out. After all, who wouldn’t want to try going to spy school or playing Space Invaders on the wall of a building?

The festival’s four featured games are offerings from some of the best designers in the business. In addition to the second playtest of Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost’s Cruel 2 B Kind (see my earlier post), here’s what else tops the bill at COAP 2006:

Manhattan Story Mashup

Approximately 250 players will move around Manhattan, taking photos which match a given target. Targets are words from stories, written by visitors on the Manhattan Story Mashup website while the game goes on. The resulting illustrated stories are shown on large public signs in Times Square in real-time and on Manhattan Story Mashup.


Identity is a large-scale social game of secret organizations, covert intelligence, suspicion, trust, cooperation and betrayal. Over the course of three days, five teams will compete for world domination. The goal of the game is to discover which players belong to which team, without allowing your own allegiance to become known.


Plundr is a location-based game of piracy and black market trading. Start out as a bilge-spewing land-lubber in a leaky tub, explore the real world in search of riches and infamy, upgrade your vessel into a mighty warship and amass a fortune in ill-gotten goods. Arrrrr! (Come Out and Play)

TorGame’s Waking City

September 7, 2006

TorGame’s Waking City project is about to kick off, and looks to be a pretty thorough ARG effort set in the Big Smoke:

Waking City is a game unlike any other game you’ve ever played. Its setting is your everyday life. It takes place over phone calls, e-mails and letters — but more than anything, it takes place on the streets of Toronto. For two weeks in September, teams of 4-7 players will pound the pavement, solving fiendish puzzles, uncovering Toronto’s secret history, and interacting with the agents of a vast and ancient conspiracy. They’ll feel the tug of mystery, the fun of exploration, and thrill of being part of a dynamically unfolding plot. Watch the trailer! (TorGame)

Panthea at BlogTO has a good interview with TorGame founder David Fono. Here’s a snip:

What was the overall driving vision behind Waking City?
Our overall vision is to encourage exploration of public spaces, and to help build community through fostering a better understanding of the city. And to do that in a very fun way. From a game design perspective, we’re very focused on finding ways to convey a narrative that seamlessly blends into “real life.”

What do you think players will get out of the experience?
1) A better sense of the city, from having explored it.
2) The feeling that they’re the protagonists in an exciting story.
3) A lot of unforgettable memories.

Will there be interaction between the teams?
Not so much at first. But as the game progresses, teams will be brought together more and more. Part of our driving vision is the idea of fostering community, and that’s very much a part of the way the game will play out. (BlogTO)

There’s been a lot of coverage about this in the past month or so, and according to TorGame’s website, registration is now closed thanks to a healthy public response. I wasn’t planning on being in Toronto for the game, but now that it looks like I might be there after all… (registered teams in search of a member can email me at remotedevice at gmail dot com)

NYMag on LG15: “Birth of a new art form”

September 2, 2006

Novelty is the mother of hyperbole, I suppose. New York Magazine’s Adam Sternbergh pipes in on YouTube celeb lonelygirl15‘s travails with teenage love and (possibly) satanism, touting the participatory buzz around her marketing ploy/alternate reality game/drama class project as the birth of “WikiTV:”

The best scenario is that she’s a sleeper agent in the employ of MTV, or VH1, or some as-yet-unidentified entity, and that others will follow her fictional lead. Imagine how much fun J. J. Abrams of Lost could have with a YouTube-based conspiracy story. Or forget that—imagine what fun you could have with a camera, a computer, and a catchy idea. Of course, as a necessary side effect, YouTube will be flooded with crap. (Or even more flooded with crap.) But the weak story lines will wither and the smartly crafted ones will blossom, just as Lonely­girl’s have. And maybe this, and not some NBC shows for sale on iTunes, is the future of television—or the promised land of a new narrative form. If so, we might look back at Lonelygirl15 as Moses with a monkey puppet. (

Brian Flemming: lonelygirl15 jumps the shark

September 2, 2006

Snarky filmmaker and blogger Brian Flemming deconstructs the narrative mechanics behind the lonelygirl15 saga and offers advice on how future YouTube hoaxsters can avoid “jumping the shark:”

Avoid all hints of professionalism. The lighting on Bree is incredibly good, certainly ranking among the very best webcam lighting ever. The video quality is also quite good for a webcam — almost no noise at all in the signal. Real webcam videos have flaws. And casual vidbloggers tend to be pretty inconsistent — they don’t put out a steady stream of similar-looking videos on a regular schedule. Having Bree not post for a month, or having her videos look very unpolished when Daniel isn’t around to edit them would have added verisimilitude.

The story is not king. In conventional film and TV writing, a commitment to Aristotelian principles wisely ranks story at the top of the list. All other elements are subordinate to the plot. But in mock-doc, the style takes story’s place at the top. Not one single idea should make it into the piece if it is not 100% consistent with the central conceit. Because in this form of fiction, unlike most others, one inconsistent part can destroy the whole.

Know that you’re going to be investigated. Bree’s first video was posted in June. A fan website called, purportedly created by an independent fan, appeared in July, after Bree became popular on YouTube. But YouTubers discovered that the domain was registered on May 12, 2006 — before the world even knew lonelygirl15 existed. Oops. The excuse offered by the fan website’s apparent proprietor sounds like desperate backfilling:

I didn’t register it (wish i HAD!!!) daniel did. he said it was only 20 bucks and he did it to get a rise out of LG (she kept going on about how popular she was gonna be and he said she was FOS) I PM’d him a bit, said i was doing a fansite, he wasn’t using the url and he said to use it. simple really.

Strange, he didn’t mention this intriguing fact at the start. And he would have.

YouTube is a conversation. The Bree videos so far all could have been shot within the span of one or two days. That may work financially for the production, but it wreaks havoc on verisimilitude. If the lonelygirl15 saga were real, Bree and Daniel would be far more specific in responding to the comments of other YouTubers. In fact, Bree mentioned specific YouTube denizens in her first videoblog post, but she hasn’t mentioned a single YouTube user in the weeks since — even though many users have posted response videos. She and Daniel only make vague references like “you guys were asking about…” Not good enough. If Bree and Daniel existed in real time, they’d be referencing specific comments and videos, both inside and outside YouTube. It was a serious mistake not to have Bree available 24/7 during the run of the YouTube episodes. (

Bitter, bitter, bitter!