Everything you know about Alternate Reality Games is wrong
December 27, 2008 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Everything I know about PowerPoint presentations as web pages is spot-on, though.
posted by bonaldi at 4:32 PM on December 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Everything I know about Alternate Reality Games comes from reading this FPP.
posted by Knappster at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can I make one last suggestion?
posted by iamkimiam at 4:39 PM on December 27, 2008

Say, if you run the page source through ROT13, the site yields three mysterious e-mail addresses and an enigmatic reference to the trailer for the new Clive Owen movie!
posted by Iridic at 4:42 PM on December 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

What's an ARG?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:47 PM on December 27, 2008

Wouldn't it suck if this were just viral hype for Powerpoint 2009?
posted by Artw at 4:53 PM on December 27, 2008 [7 favorites]

ARGs are condescending adventure games plus marketing, or maybe I should say marketing plus condescending aventure games, since the marketing comes first and the actual game is an afterthought.
posted by Pyry at 4:59 PM on December 27, 2008

What is this crap?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:00 PM on December 27, 2008

There are enough people making these things to hold a conference for? Well, I'm impressed.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:10 PM on December 27, 2008

Jesus, everything this guy knows about presenting ideas is wrong.
posted by delmoi at 5:20 PM on December 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

While I kind of like the idea of ARGs, I've never had the time to explore one. Plus, my reality is screwed up enough as it is, without following some trail of breadcrumbs to a made-up conspiracy.
posted by graventy at 5:24 PM on December 27, 2008

Everything you know about Alternate Reality Games is wrong

I don't see this statement reflected in his presentation, which seemed to be about ARG's currently sucking pretty massively and being about as mainstream as second life, which is practically dead.
posted by krautland at 5:40 PM on December 27, 2008

...I fail to see the point of trying to be Yahtzee via a blog post that regurges a PowerPoint presentation.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:09 PM on December 27, 2008

Way to make a craptacular post out of an interesting subject, fueled by a pseudo-presentation which talks more about it's own meta-format than the subject at hand.

Or am I just playing MefiARG now?
posted by butterstick at 6:42 PM on December 27, 2008

Talk Like A Pirate Day ARG.
posted by Artw at 6:54 PM on December 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

That wasn't a presentation so much as an apology mixed in with a "wow, I wish I had given a presentation like this," where this turned out to be a long list of things not to do, and precious little of things to do. If I go all meta and view that webpage as an ARG in and of itself, it's successful in that it makes me want to hunt for clues to the address of the "presenter," then get away from my computer and go to various hardware stores, then track him down and bury him in some shallow grave (while still alive), while pretending in reality that I've gone on a madcap and fun holiday jaunt.

Repeatability is high, since I am pretty sure I would like to give this gent a brutal tolchocking over and over again, but otherwise it seems driven to only one conclusion, that this guy is an insufferable prat who might as well keep screaming "MORE! MORE! YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!" without any variation in gameplay. Gamer Score: 67.
posted by adipocere at 8:12 PM on December 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Not an altogether horrible collection of ideas... I guess. I find Alternate Reality Games really interesting, and was involved in a few back in the day. I think it's a lot easier to point out what's wrong with a genre (any genre) than say what's right and how do we make the rest better. "Better storytelling" isn't easy. Neither is "don't follow all these formulas that have been established by earlier creators."

So basically... get a really good story, and invent a new formula to communicate it! And make it fun. Piece of cake!

Long story short, really interesting topic, so-so article. The author's know-it-all attitude rubs me the wrong way.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:57 PM on December 27, 2008

Fuck the haters. This is a good post. Thanks, nthdegx.
posted by sveskemus at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2008

Is that an alternate reality comment?
posted by smackfu at 10:29 PM on December 27, 2008

I'm real into The Game which is a weird cousin to ARGs. The puzzles made me briefly interested in Perplex City, before I figured out that it diluted interesting puzzles with all kinds of irritating bullshit.

I think that's the fundamental problem with ARGs. They mix up too much stuff. Pretty much no matter what your tastes, you are likely to feel you have to slog through a lot of bullshit to get to whatever aspect it is you like.

He's all "don't waste my time with codes and puzzles" but to some players that's where all the fun is.
posted by aubilenon at 10:31 PM on December 27, 2008

I really like the comment about how video is not the future of the web, but rather playing into the hands of the erstwhile content kings, TV. Low barrier to entry on the web is one of the things which makes it so transformative, so let's not lose that.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:44 PM on December 27, 2008

Do not hire.
posted by fleacircus at 11:10 PM on December 27, 2008

I got a bit into NIN's Year Zero ARG back before the album came out. The various websites that were created were pretty cool, but nothing really all that mindblowing; but I did like how USB flash drives would be left at random shows, containing "leaked" songs from the upcoming album, along with URL clues and whatnot.

As for this presentation... meh. Too long, too condescending, and I couldn't find anything actually informative in it. Maybe it's all in the delivery or something, but it was just really not interesting at all.

Concept for the post was definitely much more interesting than the provided link.
posted by agress at 11:47 PM on December 27, 2008

Speaking as someone who answered enough God damn payphones to be a Lt. Commander in the Halo universe, he has some points, but mostly I think he's a little to proud of them.

That he could type the phrase "Magical Pony Unicorn Land" without becoming ill (I just did) makes me think he's going to take ARG's to where, just like television, I'd rather just take a nap.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:51 AM on December 28, 2008

"which talks more about it's own meta-format than the subject at hand."

Yes, the meta-commentary was lame - especially the mention of Charlie Brooker, but no, he doesn't talk more about its own format than the subject, not by a long shot.
posted by nthdegx at 3:25 AM on December 28, 2008

I have no idea what this guy is going on about; reading this makes me feel like I've just woken up from a 5 year coma.

Funny thing is, it actually feels quite nice.
posted by the bricabrac man at 3:26 AM on December 28, 2008

"I have no idea what this guy is going on about"

It would seem that we're just not weird enough.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:42 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

How disappointing - this has nothing to do with the true Alternate Reality whatsoever... bah! :(
posted by Chunder at 6:32 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like how his examples of successful ARGs are all games that have some other, more popular game embedded in it. This is a fallacy I've written about in tabletop RPGs that I call the media utility problem, where somebody says, "We'll make this games just like this more popular game!" to which the answer is, "Great! I'll just skip all the bullshit with your game and play that other game!" This is what's happening to D&D compared to WoW right now (and it's specifically relevant because ARGs have some serious tabletop RPG stuff in their menome).

The last time I consulted for something ARG-like I also made a chart with two axes for my client to describe the tradeoff between development of the property over time and mass appeal. Basically, the deeper you go, the fewer people you'll have making that journey. On the other hand, lots of shallow points of entry (like single pages with straightforward clues, or media tie-ins like Dr. Who's) tend to get abandoned pretty fast.

In ARGs, one major problem is that the design principles expressed by fandom are a serious straitjacket and limits participation from the outset. TINAG is far and away the worst offender, since it basically demands we not tell people what to do, which kind of sucks. It also creates a class of ARGerati that we get to talk to over and over and over again, which is why stunts like Youtube videos become more and more appealing. But ARGs still need the complexity to require many hands, and can't just be about one story -- they need to be documents with room for interpretation so that they are rewarding on every level of participation. So there's food for thought here, but the observation that it's cool to play poker online is such a non-contribution the whole thing kind of self-destructs.
posted by mobunited at 7:10 AM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

Disclaimer: I used to be on staff at Six to Start, the ARG company Dan Hon runs.

Mobunited is basically on the money: unless you're marketing to ARG players, the format as it exists is not working. I call it the gobstopper model: concentric rings of players, getting more intense as you move towards the centre, until you end up with a very small, very strong seed at the middle. But the chances of anything growing from that seed are minimal. In terms of bang per marketing buck you'll be lucky to get a small whimper.

Since working at Six to Start I have completely lost interest in ARGs, either playing or designing them. I think there are ways to create interactive cross-media narrative games with a potentially unlimited international audience, financed by advertising or marketing. I don't think ARGs or their direct descendants are it. In his talk Dan says basically the same thing (and I said it seven months ago at Gamecamp, a conference sponsored by the Guardian, in a talk called 'ARGs: Are They Fucked?'). I'm not sure he has any solutions. He has bits of solutions, but that's like assembling a big pile of interesting cogs, springs, spark-plugs, Lego, polished driftwood and bits of stained glass, and trying to build a race-car out of them. Best of luck, Dan.
posted by Hogshead at 12:16 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

It should probably be noted that Dan Hon is also known as user number 3740. Although Adrian Hon, who also works at Six To Start, is more active here. And a very nice chap.
posted by flashboy at 3:04 AM on December 29, 2008

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