Yes an ARG – and over there, and over there too

All of a sudden ARG’s are everywhere – it’s like when you learn a new word and suddenly it’s everywhere? It feels like Rachel and I presented on this topic ten minutes before the Internets done exploded with it!

Michael dropped me some great links in my del.icio.us about this — game designer Elan Lee presented about ARG’s at the O’Reilly ETech conference just yesterday. Most interesting to me was Cory Doctrow’s liveblogged notes on the talk – but his summary at Boing Boing is worth looking at – and there are comments! Three short things about this talk -

1. I love the magnet metaphor. I think that idea that magnets “push, pull and charge” resonated – I can’t wait to see more of the actual talk. But the “charge” idea seems to get at that essential thing about the ARG experience – that it is something co-created.

2. This from the Boing Boing comments got me thinking – “The only problem with ARG’s is once you’ve played one and know how they work it ruins the rest of them.” At first that kind of sounds true. Rachel and I spoke at length about how hard it was to try and go back and describe games that have already been played. As much as we could retell the narrative and show the websites, it was clear that we were missing something about the experience of having played the game. And those kinds of things are often best the first time you do them.

But I wonder if maybe this statement isn’t more interesting in that what it really does is show the importance of the narrative to the experience, as well as the social act of creating the experience with others similarly immersed. It might be hard to recreate one’s first transformative experience with a novel or a movie, but that doesn’t usually ruin the act of reading for the rest of time.

3. I need to think more about the scalability aspect at the end – and by that I mean “I need to see more of the actual talk.” This idea from Doctrow’s notes – “It can’t just be “let me use all the elements of your life to tell you a story. It has to be, ‘Let me look at all your channels (browser, phone IM, etc.) and find a way to turn that channel on specifically for you.'” I want to hear more about how this preserves the social aspect of ARG’s.

And then Wired yesterday speculates that this is part of the rabbit hole to an Olympian-sized ARG – with the Olympics and McDonald’s behind it. And asks – if McDonald’s is involved are ARG’s totally part of the mainstream? There is something simultaneously disturbing and fitting about the idea that McDonald’s couldn’t manage to keep their involvement quiet because they had to cover themselves with the law talk on the website. Some things are just more important than T.I.N.A.G, I guess.

5 thoughts on “Yes an ARG – and over there, and over there too

  1. Busted! I gave McDonald’s no benefit of any doubt, it’s true. And I’ll probably do that again sometime :-)

    And this is a really interesting point when it comes to these games — however you want to look at this, multi-platform or platformless, the chances of good ARG’s totally contained by the borders of nation-states seems pretty unrealistic, which leads to a lot of tricky and interesting legal questions. And I’ve been over on the unforums at unfiction tonight and one of the coolest things about this game is how multi-lingual it is — there are some great cross-language collaborations going on over there.

    I guess I’d first want to know what it would mean for this kind of campaign to be “taking part in the EU” The law in question specifically targets “aggressive marketing” and the examples in the link provided are essentially manual comment spam – that’s very different than an ARG that shares the universe of a commercial product but doesn’t directly point you there — marketing that’s about as direct as fanfic is marketing, except for the who-pays-the-bills part. If the servers used by the bill-payers aren’t EU is that enough? Who knows.

    And I’m also struck that the legal language in question comes from a section of the website that focuses on what the players must agree to — it’s not “here we are fulfilling our legal agreements” so much as “here we are specifying your legal obligations.”

    But this is all debate fun with words in one sense – your essential point that avoiding lawsuits is the motivation here is very well taken and I appreciate the reminder that the risk of lawsuits might be more real than I was suggesting.

  2. Everywhere!

    I found out a few days ago that an online video game that half of my brain is addicted to, Chain Factor, was built as part of an ARG related to the tv show Numb3rs, which I had never heard of until this week.

    The video game part itself is fabulous, but it also has all kinds of ARGy clues all over it. I first chalked this up to eccentric anti-capitalist programmers, who it turns out are part of of an ARG that has come and gone. It’s kind of disappointing, actually, for those kinds of programmers not to exist in the real world.

    Or do they?

  3. caleb – jason was playing that game all the time a few months ago and one day he exclaimed “crap! I’m playing an ARG!”

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